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John Franklin Bobbitt.

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Intellectually, they are rich in stores of the world's wisdom
and their mental horizon and outlook are as wide as the
world itself. Their social presence is stimulating, exhila-
rating, contagiously uplifting. They seem to be a revela-
tion of the nature of complete manhood. On the other
hand, the members of the hard-handed army of unskilled
labor, especially if they have reached middle life, in large
portion present a different picture. Physically they all too



210 THE CURRICULUM

often appear worn, hard, and misshapen. Heavy, impassive
features reveal an all too frequent sluggishness and vacancy
of mental life. Too often they have little information be-
yond that picked up at random in the course of a meager
and sordid experience. Their mental life too often has but
a narrow horizon, and but little sky. Their pleasures too
often are upon a sensuous level. With exteriors so hard and
impassive, with conversation so crude and materialistic,
with minds so circumscribed or vacant, their social presence
is often wanting in many desirable factors. One feels in-
stinctively that these do not represent the norms of person-
ality. Both high and low turn instinctively to the other
type as the norms of what men might and should be.

The differences are largely due, not to heredity, but to
differing developmental conditions. The large place of play
in the process is well stated by Professor James in one of his
striking paragraphs:

Compare the accomplished gentleman with the poor artisan or
tradesman of a city: during the adolescence of the former, objects
appropriate to his growing interests, bodily and mental, were
offered as fast as the interests awoke, and, as a consequence, he is
armed and equipped at every angle to meet the world. Sport came
to the rescue and completed his education where real things were
lacking. He has tasted of the essence of every side of human life,
being sailor, hunter, athlete, scholar, fighter, talker, dandy, man
of affairs, etc., all in one. Over the city poor boy's youth no such
golden opportunities were hung, and in his manhood no desire for
most of them exist. Fortunate it is for him if gaps are the only
anomalies his instinctive life presents; perversions are too often
the fruit of his unnatural bringing up.

" Sport came to the rescue." Play is Nature's method of
building out those aspects of personality that are left fallow
by an otherwise incomplete and barren experience. Play is
Nature's normalizer.

Defects of personality may be due, not merely to lack of



THE FUNCTION OF PLAY IN HUMAN LIFE 211

developmental opportunity, but also to failure to maintain
gains that have previously been made. The classical illus-
tration is presented in Darwin's autobiography :

Up to the age of thirty or beyond it, poetry of many kinds gave
me great pleasure; and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight
in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said
that pictures formerly gave me considerable, and music very great,
delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of
poetry. I have tried lately to read Shakespeare and found it so
intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my
taste for pictures or music. . . . My mind seems to have become a
kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections
of facts; but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part
of the brain alone on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot con-
ceive. ... If I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule
to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every
week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus
have been kept alive through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss
of happiness and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and
more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional
parts of our nature.

If this dying away of certain of the higher portions of the
personality should be so marked in the case of a studious,
scholarly man like Darwin, who had traveled widely, read
widely, and who was in constant association with the leaders
of science, it is reasonable to suppose that in the case of that
great majority of men and women of lesser opportunity
in whom the original developments were less complete, the
atrophy of the higher powers might well be much more
marked. Thus the large gains during school-days are lost,
soon or late, if there is not continuing exercise for mainte-
nance. Things must be earned before one can possess them;
but they must be re-earned continually in order that posses-
sion may continue. One's work-activities are usually too
narrow and specialized to provide for the necessary protec-
tion against the decays of disuse; and the conditions grow



212 THE CURRICULUM

worse as specialization increases. Interest-driven leisure oc-
cupations alone can provide the necessary counteracting in-
fluences. In the face of the maleficent influence of special-
ization upon personality, play is again Nature's normalizer.
It maintains the personality against decay.

Play is as normal for adulthood as for childhood. During \
childhood it is to unfold the potential powers and make
them actual; and at each level to maintain the gains of
earlier levels. During adulthood it is to maintain for a life-
time all of the awakened and expanded aspects of person-
ality so as to prevent withering and disappearance.

It is probable that in the newer schools of the oncoming
humanistic age, education for leisure occupations will be
recognized as one of the most serious educational tasks if
not the largest and most vital of all. Vocational education is
receiving enthusiastic and liberal support because it prom-
ises increased production of corn and cotton, of machinery
and clothing, and the other material means of life. Leisure
occupations relate to the production not of the means of
life, but of life itself; of fully rounded character; and the
continuing maintenance of that character. If we are to
educate for efficiency in producing the means of life, we
should also educate efficiently for the production of life
itself.

In order to develop sufficiently the educational implica-
tions, we must introduce a little of the physiology and psy-
chology of play. The first thing to be noted is the relation
of exercise to the development and maintenance of structures
and functions. Everybody knows that muscles require
exercise for normal development of both structure and
function; and for maintenance. It is not so well known, but
just as true, that exercise is necessary for mental function-
ing, social functioning, aesthetic activities, religious and
philosophic contemplation, appreciations of science and lit-



THE FUNCTION OF PLAY IN HUMAN LIFE 213

erature and art, sympathies and emotions in general; and
for maintenance of the power to function.

A second thing to be noted is the instability of growth-
results. Structures and functions disappear when unused:
and relative to man's needs, the atrophy is rapid. It would
be a fine thing indeed and make enormously for economy
if structures and powers once developed remained perma-
nent and constant. Our educational problem would then
be to bring the muscles to their proper level of development
and then simply leave them there with a constant strength
and power, whether used or unused, for an entire lifetime.
The task would further be to develop one's mental powers
in desirable measure and then- to leave them with unchanged
strength during the rest of one's days, whether used much
or little, regularly or irregularly. It would be a beautiful
arrangement; and it sometimes appears that educational
practices presuppose that such conditions exist. But un-
fortunately man is not so constituted. The moment he
relaxes his normal exercise of muscles, heat-producing ap-
paratus, and nerve-structures, or his mental, social, aesthetic,
and other activities, whether he be child or adult, that mo-
ment the structures begin to atrophy and the powers to
decline; and the loss is more rapid than generally realized.

Relative to the abruptness of frequent need, the upbuilding
or re-upbuilding is slow. This is well illustrated in the pres-
ent training of our national army. It was predicted that
should ever national danger arise, an efficient army would
spring into existence overnight. The need came with
suddenness; but the men in general were found to be in-
sufficiently developed in muscular strength, endurance, and
resistance to climatic conditions. In part they represent
incomplete physical development; in part atrophy due to
sedentary life. They may assemble under the colors in a
few days, but they cannot so quickly call into existence the
necessary powers.



214



THE CURRICULUM



A further principle is that heredity provides the possibility
of a much fuller development than demanded by the conditions
of civilization; and play must make up the deficit. Rightly to
appreciate this we must look first to the place of play in pre-
civilized life.




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FIG. 8. The varying degrees of intensity in man's primitive biological
struggle. Represented by the height of the vertical lines.



Figure 8 is designed to represent crudely the varying
intensity in the demands of the primitive biological struggle
over a period of time. In those early ages the winter was
often a period of scarcity, of famine, of struggle with cli-
matic elements and with competing hostile tribes. Condi-
tions often demanded the expansion and exercise of one's
full potential powers. The demand for effort is represented
by the distance between the horizontal lines. With the
coming of summer, the increase in the food-supply, the
decrease in the competition with hostile tribes, and the
temporary disappearance of the climate struggle, the de-
mands for strenuous exertion were relaxed. This was so
complete that there was no need of the men's doing any-
thing for months at a time. But the seasons brought recur-
rence of the struggle. The figure indicates that conditions
may precipitate the struggle very suddenly; and thus after
months of inactivity call for instant functioning of the indi-
vidual's full powers.



THE FUNCTION OF PLAY IN HUMAN LIFE 215

Let us for a moment suppose that there were under such
conditions no instinctive tendencies to play. Then in pro-
portion as the demands of the struggle relaxed, the indi-
vidual would grow correspondingly quiescent in muscular
effort, in observation, in thought, in invention, in conver-
sation and development of ideas in conversation, and in
other social activities. As exercise thus relaxed, the powers
would atrophy in proportion to the degree of disuse. Figure
8, therefore, shows what the rise and fall of the actual
powers of the individual under such conditions would be,
provided the atrophy of unused powers was as rapid as the
diminution in the demands of the struggle, and the recovery
of those same powers could be as rapid as the onset of the
struggle where it is relatively sudden.

Unfortunately the latter supposition is not true. Recovery
of atrophied powers is relatively slow; yet the need of rapid
recovery under primitive conditions was frequent. War
came unexpectedly; famine also. Men had always, there-
fore, to be in a state of preparedness to meet the sudden
onsets. Nature could not permit man's exercise, therefore,
to diminish in proportion as the struggle grew relaxed. The
loss of powers would make the individual the prey of any
sudden and unexpected attack. If caught unprepared he
would find himself in the condition of an army that has not
kept up its drill and which when called to sudden and un-
expected war finds itself weak, flabby, and lacking in endur-
ance. Such a condition would not only invite, but under the
circumstances would result, in destruction. The man, there-
fore, during those days had to be kept drilled during the
period of relaxation in the biological struggle in order that
he should be ready for the times of stress. He must not be
caught unprepared.

The level of needed preparedness is roughly represented
by Figure 9. The segments of the vertical lines below the



216



THE CURRICULUM



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FIG. 9. The relatively constant degree of preparedness needed for the
inconstant conditions of primitive life. Needed preparedness represented
by the total vertical lines. The portion above the curved line AB to be
provided through play-activities.

curved line AB represent the portion of his preparedness
provided for by his serious activities. The segments above
the line AB represent the portions of his preparedness that
could not be taken care of by his serious activities and which
therefore had to be otherwise provided for. So far as the
struggle of the moment was concerned, this surplus of powers
was mere luxury. Primitive man was not intelligent enough
to know that during periods of biological relaxation he must
keep his body and mind in a. continual state of preparedness
and that continuing functioning ,was necessary for the pur-
pose. He was notoriously lacking in foresight; and what is
more, his knowledge of educational processes was not suffi-
cient to enable him wisely to choose the best means. When
enlightened twentieth-century individuals are so lacking in
these things, obviously it could not be expected that prim-
itive man would be continually looking forward to the re-
newal of the struggle and consciously keeping up his gym-
nastic exercises of mind and body in order that he be always
prepared. And yet the great variety of exercises had to
continue. For this reason Nature provided man with his
wealth of play tendencies. He was impelled to play at
fighting when real fighting was no longer necessary ; to hunt
and fish for pleasure when not required for the food-supply;
to travel about over the region; to move among his fellows;



THE FUNCTION OF PLAY IN HUMAN LIFE 217

to converse concerning the tribal experiences; to observe
the actions of men and animals and the elements; and all
for the mere pleasure of the activities. Although not de-
manded by the struggle, he ran and jumped, swam and
climbed, shouted and danced, in obedience to the prompt-
ings of Nature that he exercise and thus keep himself ever
ready for serious action when it came. The pleasure was
not the end; but it seemed to him to be the end. It was the
lure. The man who did not so exercise hi play by way of
maintaining the necessary surplus of powers was cut down
in the next onset of the struggle; and his heredity was cut
down with him. Only those endowed with strong play-
tendencies were preserved; and to their sons were trans-
mitted the same play-tendencies. In those days as well, play
was Nature's normalizer, disciplining individuals whose
intelligence likewise hereditary was too frail to direct
the process.

In those early ages children were differently situated. In
periods of greatest hardship, the burden fell first and most
heavily upon them. More than with the adults, they had
ever to be as completely prepared as possible. With them,
therefore, the play-tendencies were urgent and incessant.
Not only was there for them this purpose of vigilant main-
tenance of all of the gains, but there was also the original
unfoldment of their abilities. For both purposes the in-
stincts needed to be certain in their action and strongly im-
pelling. Seen biologically, children's play was and is
the most serious function of childhood. It was then and
to-day should be the largest factor hi the child's educa-
tion. We refer here, of course, to play in its wider sense, as
it includes social, intellectual, and aesthetic activities as well
as the physical.

This discussion of the primitive situation is for the pur-
pose of bringing home to us a realization of the present sit-



218



THE CURRICULUM



uation and the nature of our educational problems. The
potentialities of man developed during those early ages have
been handed down to our own generation in heredity. The
possible degree of unfoldment of our powers was largely
determined for men of the present within those early days.
We are but the living portion of the same series of genera-
tions. The types of activities which they needed to perform
for their full unfoldment, we yet need to perform, though
with modifications to meet artificial conditions. The im-
pelling tendencies which actuated them are also the only
ones given to us to-day.

Although man's original nature has not greatly changed,
his external environment and the conditions of the struggle
have been greatly transformed. Figure 10 roughly indicates






FIG. 10. The relaxed and relatively unchanging intensity in man's
present-day biological struggle.



certain changes in the struggle. The distance between the
two horizontal lines is intended to represent schematically
the magnitude of man's hereditary potential powers; the
vertical lines, the quantity of energy to be expended in
the twentieth-century type of biological struggle. In large
measure, the struggle has been evened over the year. The
labors of factories and mines, commerce and transportation,
etc., are now much the same from year's end to year's end.
In our abundant provision of clothing, fuel, and shelter, we
have mostly banished winter and evened the climatic strug-



THE FUNCTION OF PLAY IN HUMAN LIFE 219

gle. In developing a world agricultural community, systems
of transportation and storage, we have banished famine.
In spite of the present atavistic European outbreak, we
think that we have done most of the things necessary for
banishing war. In the invention of labor-saving machinery,
in the specialization of industry, and in organization under
trained direction, we seem to have banished the necessity
for thought, judgment, observation, accurate and detailed
information, and comprehensiveness of understanding of
things about us, for the great majority of men. Primitive
man had to be watchful, alert, and thoughtful as to the sig-
nificance of a host of things within his environment. He
had to keep informed as to what other people around him
were thinking and doing. He had to be kept alive in his
social sympathies so as instantly to rally to the support of
his fellow tribesmen in sudden emergency. Civilization has
diminished the need for these things. A man can now be
little in body, in mind, in social responsiveness, in moral
responsibility and yet survive in the relaxed conditions
of the modern struggle. Specialization can hold us in such
narrow grooves and provide us with such meager opportuni-
ties for experiences that we can pass through life in a state
of littleness. It is to live but half a life or less.

Such a state of half-life means, not merely half-realization
alone, but also subnormality or abnormality of even that
which is realized. It is not good physically to have powers
only half-developed. It means flabbiness, incoordination,
inaccuracy, lowered physiological inhibitions, susceptibility
to disease, lowered reserves of vitality, and a consequent
imperfect foundation for one's mental, social, aesthetic, and
moral life.

Intellectual half-life or quarter-life is not good for one
mentally, even though under another's direction he perform
the tasks that fall to his lot. It means intellectual flabbiness,



220



THE CURRICULUM



a leaning upon others, uncertainty, inaccuracy, lack of con-
fidence, depleted stores of information, an unobserving
mind, lack of initiative and inventiveness, inadaptibility,
inertia, and most other intellectual weaknesses. Such an
individual lives within a petty environment and fails even
to see the things within that environment. He lacks out-
look upon the wide world, upon the past, and imagination
as to the possibilities of the future. Such a man is not of the
type demanded by twentieth-century conditions.

In the same way the half-exercise and half-realization of
one's social powers results equally in social ill-health: social
disintegration, enfeebled social sympathies, incoordination
of individuals within the group except as enforced by exter-
nal authority, social unresponsiveness, lack of consideration
for others, lack of tact, social irresponsibility, and other
social ills.




FIG. 11. To represent the portion of man's potential development that in
our present civilized state is dependent upon continuing play-activities.

Figure 11 is designed to represent schematically the pos-
sible and desirable additional expansion of one's powers. The
unbroken segments of the vertical lines below AB represent
the fraction of one's possible powers that is sustained by
one's serious activities; the broken segments above AB, the
fractional portion that is to be added and sustained through
play or not at all. Herein lies man's opportunity to live
above and beyond the ineluctable dictates of stern natural
necessity.



THE FUNCTION OF PLAY IN HUMAN LIFE 221

The vocational, civic, and hygienic education already dis-
cussed seek to lower the level AB, and thus still further to
reduce the call for serious activity; and to increase both the
opportunity and the necessity for leisure occupations.

Just as in early days, this further expansion is to be
effected through activities of the play type. Now as then
it is to be at the prompting of normal play-instincts
though the artificial conditions of modern life will make a
large amount of conscious guidance necessary. No less than
then, the pleasure-motive under guidance must be the
impelling force in childhood and adulthood; even though
this pleasure be now, as then, but a lure and not the end.
It is unhealthy to be too conscious of the nature of the ends.
The play should long be unsophisticated. It should be
largely so throughout life.

Rightly to appreciate the place of play in adult life, one
has to examine the activities of men among those social
classes where from childhood into adulthood the play-
impulses have had full opportunity to function; where they
have not been Stifled by adverse conditions and barren
opportunity. It is best revealed by men and women of the
leisure classes and of independent means. They have all
they need, and there is therefore no call for them to act.
The general social machinery protects them in their idleness.
They might sit at home in year-long undisturbed quietude
without thought or care. But they do not; and they cannot.
They are most miserable if they are not doing something
most of the time, and filling life to the brim. They must
travel, or attend the opera, play bridge, speculate on the
stock exchange, attend dinners, dances, and other social
functions, deck themselves in gorgeous plumage, read the
latest novels, go cruising in their private yachts, motoring
from coast to coast and beyond the seas, hunting in the
Adirondacks, fishing in the wilds of Canada, lion-hunting in



222 THE CURRICULUM

Africa, climbing the Alps, placing their money at Monte
Carlo, or traveling in the war-zone to get the thrills. In
their restlessness is revealed the driving power of the play-
tendency in adult life. The results are beneficent. This is
particularly true if they have been wise enough to select a
balanced assortment of experiences; and if there has been
intermingled enough of serious effort to give them ballast.
They are instantly recognized to be larger men and women
than those who have been held within the narrow grooves
of serious vocational, civic, and family duty. They are felt
most nearly to approximate the full desirable stature of
manhood and womanhood. They may be social parasites,
consuming in their play what others have earned in sweat
and blood. Nature's rewards on the side of personality are
not in proportion to one's economic usefulness and produc-
tiveness; but rather to the volume and variety of one's
experiences. It is not the conscientious individual who tries
to do nothing except what is demonstrably useful who most
fully realizes himself.

Professor Groos's volume on The Play of Man shows that
man is a many-sided creature with plays of great number
and diversity, involving all levels of his being. There is, in
fact, a hierarchy of plays ranging from the gratification of
physical appetites and the pleasures of simple sensation at
one end of the scale up to the highest forms of intellectual


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Online LibraryJohn Franklin BobbittThe curriculum → online text (page 16 of 22)