301. Somatic Education

I rarely liked gym class as a child or adolescent. I remember dodge ball games, where I was supposed to try not to get hit with the ball. If (when) I did get hit, I usually got knocked over. I remember the trampoline,
where I was supposed to rely on my sense of balance and my sense of adventure. As far as that kind of activity, I didn’t have much of either. We played team sports, and sometimes that was a little more fun, but we knew we were being graded on how good we were, and I didn’t have
a clue about how to get good at football, basketball, and all that. (I was okay at baseball. I think that was because my neighborhood was more of a baseball neighborhood.)
Al Capasso, on the other hand, was great at gym, and loved it. He was usually in my gym class – the only class I shared with him. When the gym teacher introduced new skills, he used Al Capasso to demonstrate. Al made it look easy – easy for him. The muscles on his arms bulged and rippled as he did pull-ups or climbed ropes, and the rest of us, to varying degrees, felt inadequate. Al smiled as he did what seemed impossible to us. But I’ll bet he couldn’t spell worth beans.
There were moments of glory for me. When we did cross country, everyone was supposed to run three miles – up to a dirt road, down the road to a path, and eventually back to the track, where we were supposed to finish with a lap. I was always one of the first ones done. So was Al,
but it clearly wasn’t his forte. He was embarrassed to have people like me finish soon after he did.
Not much of what happened in gym class counts as what I consider education. “Physical fitness” was stressed, but we were taught that the way to get “physically fit” was to exercise. That’s all. As far as I’m concerned, we didn’t need a teacher for that. In fact, we usually referred to the “teacher” as “coach.” And if we didn’t go out for any sports after school, “coach” shouldn’t have been such an appropriate title.
I know I’m not the only one with bad memories of physical education. I’ve talked with many friends who went through what I went through. But I wonder whether there’s a better way to approach it. Caleb Gattegno, one of my mentors, used to talk about “somatic education.” He described it as a way to help children get to know their own bodies. I’ve seen teachers who do that well. Their classes include football, yoga, dance, mime, basketball, cooperative games – anything that might help children get comfortable with their bodies. In my senior year in high school, I came down with mononucleosis. I couldn’t participate in physical education classes for the rest of the year. I got my choice of several electives to take instead. Mostly for that reason, it was the best year I had in high school. But I’m convinced that a good somatic education program would have helped me, with or without mononucleosis. And it would help everyone else, too. Everybody has a body. That’s why we’re called “everybody.

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