In colonial America there was no physical education as we think of it. The colonies made attempts to start schools, bat their primary concern was to provide the rudiments of a practical education: learning to read, write, end handle basic mathematics. Physical education activities (such as those being developed in Europe) would have been considered a frill at that time. The colonies of the New World were expanding into wilderness areas, and the pioneers, who frequently faced the threat of attack by Indians, usually got more outdoor exercise than a European would receive in the most educationally advanced school of the day. During this period the non-work physical activities of the people were primarily recreational activities.
The developing colonies were diverse culture, a mixture of many nationalities and religious groups. The Puritans in New England were opposed to many activities that might be seen as pleasurable. They considered such activities to be either distractions from more serious concerns or questionable because they might eventually lead to sin. The Puritans were the most negative group of the colonial settlers regarding the pursuit of physical pleasures, but the Quakers, who settled in Pennsylvania, were also strict in their outlook. The Virginia colony, predominantly Anglican, was officially opposed to many recreational activities in Its early days. Other groups in the New world, such as the Dutch in today’s New York City and Hudson River valley areas, were more inclined to allow such activities. However, official policy and public practice rarely agreed with each other. People still participated as they pleased.
The colonies, which were widely separated in their early days, might be compared to the ancient Greek city-states: All were of the same nation, but they were more competitive than cooperative. The spirit of cooperation among the states was noticeably thin even during the Revolutionary War.
After the revolution, the national was still largely rural and widespread, so there was little spirit of nationalism. People were from Massachusetts, or Virginia, or Pennsylvania, rather than from the United states.
The hard nature of the life of the settlers led to the gradual development of a society far more tolerant of differences among people than had been the case in their native European countries. Ancestors had little to do with a settlers ultimate survival or value to colonial society.
As the political development of the colonies proceeded, strong regional antagonism developed among three groups of people that were established in many states.
In colonial society, the new elite were the residents of the coastal areas that had been settled earliest.
Many of the these people were well-to-do traders. They were better educated than the other groups, and they had regular contact with Europe. The second social group included the people of the piedmont and foothill areas, who were primarily farmers.
They lived in less settled areas than the coastal dwellers and had little in common with them, either in wealth or in politics, The third group, the settlers of the still-unopened areas, was gradually moving into the mountains and beyond.
They were almost as out of touch with the coast as they were with Europe. They had some ties with the Piedmont farmers, for often they were farmers themselves. but they had nothing in common with the coastal people.
The result of the differences among these three groups of people was a long period of political struggle in the state legislatures between the people in the East, who had the power, and those In the West, who did not.
The school in the colonies were copies of the European schools of the time. The first were Latin grammar schools, which proved to be of little value and were gradually replaced by academies that focused primarily on basic instruction.
Advanced educational institutions, also modeled after European schools, were primarily for men who were going Into the ministry. An example is Harvard university, which was founded in Massachusetts in 1636.
Physical activities served almost no official function in colonial education, but many unorganized recreational games and sports were a form of entertainment. The daily activities of the pioneers involved the survival skills used in hunting, fishing,
and swimming and required physical activities such as running, jumping, lifting heavy objects, and fighting. Dance gradually became more acceptable as the Puritans became more affluent.
Although no real physical education existed in colonial times, the idea was supported by some-prominent men. Thomas Jefferson wrote in support of physical education, and Benjamin Franklin was a swimming enthusiast, although swimming was considered a quaint but questionable custom in his time.
O ne of the few educators who supported physical activities in the schools was Samuel Moody, headmaster of one of the first private boarding schools in America. He promoted physical activities as vital to the health of the students,
but most activities were the strictly traditional ones inherited from European backgrounds.
There was little nationalistic spirit in the United States until after the War of 1812. Americans shared a basic reluctance to submit to any centralized form of government. Thus nationalism was not the strong force in promoting physical education that it was in the European nations in the late 1700
The second impetus in Europe, pursuing physical training to serve the military needs of the country, was also weaker in the United States. The Americans were concerned with the strength and fitness of the military only in times of war,
so physical training was of no concern during the rapid expansion across the Appalachian Mountains and on toward the great American Midwest. While some military school were being formed during the early 1800s,
the idea of military instruction did not become popular until the time of the Civil War in the 1860s.
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