Why PE?, And How to Make a Hero

Dear Reader,

I will be hosting the next Charlotte Mason blog carnival. Isn’t that exciting? It will be on the 10th chapter of Charlotte’s third book which is entitled “Some Unconsidered Aspects fo Physical Training.” You can read the text of it at Ambleside Online here. I am pleased that this topic fell when it did. It seems very timely. On one hand, it is the new year and one’s thoughts often turn to getting in shape or perhaps getting one’s kids in shape so exercise may not be far from some minds. On the other, the winter olympics are just around the corner so we also have another good reason to think about sports and what role they play in our society and in our children’s education.


This section of Charlotte’s is a long one, and it covers quite a range of topics (we’ll get to that in a bit). But I think we should start by being clear about what Charlotte is talking about here. I have often extolled the value of play for children, but that is not what this section is about.

If you will allow me to step aside for a minute, I recently read an opinion piece from CNN called “Make 2014 the year your kids play” by John Bare. It is about a program which gives kids more recess time and thereby also helps their academics (they are less fidgety, etc). I was glad to see it and glad to see that the idea of play is making a resurgence in mainstream thought. I am happy those schoolkids are getting more recess again and that their teachers are seeing the benefits of that in the classroom. But the article emphasizes that this is not PE class, that it is not enough to just make them do exercises and games decreed by teachers. They really need the freedom to play. And I completely agree with this idea. Kids do ned that freedom. But to return to Charlotte Mason, I want to  be clear that such unstructured play time (which she also would have found a place for) is not what Charlotte is talking about here. She is talking about rigorous physical training.

So the first big question is why? Why does Charlotte say such physical training is necessary? The short answer is that we want our children to have, as Charlotte says, “serviceable bodies.” That is, they need to be equipped, physically as well as mentally, for what may come in their lives. I say “what may come”, but what I really mean is “what God may call them to”, because, as Charlotte goes on to say, none of us are our own. We belong to our Creator and we owe it to Him to make the most of what He has given us and to be ready for whatever He may call us to. Really, I see this as the whole purpose of my kids education. I do not know what God has in store for them so I lay a broad foundation which they can draw on and build on through life.

Charlotte talks  quite a bit in this section about the ancient Greeks and their reverence for heroes. She laments that we, who know so much more of God and His ways and will overall, have lost the idea of the hero which they saw so clearly. As a side note, this is another reason for us to study the ancients and their stories (see my post on why to study the ancients here). We must not be so self-important as to think that we have nothing to learn from these people just because they had less of God’s truth.

But to return to the subject of physical training, I would like to spend a little time on this idea of heroes. Who are the heroes of our culture? The most prominent ones, the ones we hear the most about, are athletes. But too often we find that they are heroes only on the playing field. Again and again one hears stories of their moral failings. (Of course, we are not unique in this. The ancient Greek heroes had their flaws too.) I think a big part of our problem is that we have taken one aspect of heroism, physical prowess, and equated it with the whole. A hero (usually) needs to be strong, but in reality that is a small part of what a hero is. His strength enables him to do the task set before him but it is not why he is a hero.


Here we get into what Charlotte is saying again. Her argument is that physical training is valuable because of the moral qualities it produces, things like perseverance and self-control. The physical discipline needs to translate into discipline in other areas of life. For our modern sports heroes it is often the opposite. Their discipline in their sport seems to be license to have less discipline in other areas of life. Neither should we think that extreme physicality equals greater heroism. (Charlotte cautions against the beserker.) One must not go to excess even in this area, either taking risks with one’s body that are too great or concentrating on the physical to the detriment of other areas of life.

So why do kids need PE and not just play time? Play alone, if it is active enough, may keep them physically fit, but we also need to stretch ourselves, to drive ourselves beyond our natural limits. In such a way we improve not only our bodies but our characters as well.

I am not getting too much into the specific benefits Charlotte sees from physical training. This is a long section and I think I will do another post which addresses these.

Until then


8 responses to this post.

  1. […] own post here at Letters to Nebby, “Why PE? And How to Make a Hero?”, discusses what physical training is, why we should do it, and what makes a […]


  2. ‘Physical discipline needs to translate into discipline in other areas of life.’ Very interesting. Are you going to do a post n this??


    • I didn’t. I can think about it. I am not quite sure what more to say. Just to be clear the “physical discipline” we are talking about here is the discipline one needs to say do 100 push ups or to run a marathon. I do not mean spanking or anything like that which might also be termed “physical discipline.”


      • Actually, as I wrote more, I found I have two more posts on this topic which do begin to touch on this issue. You will have to let me know what you think. They should be published in the next week or so.


  3. How timely! Our pastor preached on Romans 12:1 which dovetails nicely with this topic: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” This, of course, leads to the renewing of the mind.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and hosting the carnival.


  4. Posted by Wendy on January 22, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I love this! I have gotten a lot of flack over the years for putting my girls in rhythmic gymnastics since they were very young. Three plus days a week of practice and competing all over the US. It is a rigorous sport and practice can easily end in tears. But the endurance and perseverance my girls have gained is huge! Being alone on that floor being judged, facing victory and defeat has been awesome for them. They have learned so many things I could not have taught them. Being able to overcome is so important! Thanks for writing this! Looking forward to the next part!


  5. […] a previous post, I discussed why Charlotte Mason, in her third book, says that children need physical training. […]


  6. […] section of her third book on “Some Unconsidered Aspects of Physical Training.” In the first post, I talked about what we mean by physical training and in a more general way about its benefits. […]


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