ICSSPE Newsletter Summer 2006
Developing the Concept of Physical Literacy
The motivation to develop the concept of Physical Literacy arose as a result of my philosophical study and my perception of the trends that were evident in physical education work in schools in many countries.
Research into the areas of phenomenology and existentialism revealed views of highly respected philosophers that championed our embodiment as absolutely fundamental to very many aspects of life as we know it. These philosophers all contested Cartesian dualism and advocated a monist approach. In their different ways they argued cogently in advocating the indispensable contribution made by our embodiment in, for example, self-realisation, perception, concept development, language formulation, rationality, emotion and the development of interpersonal relationships.
None of these philosophers addressed the implications of these views to how we might so nurture our embodied dimension to further enrich the human attributes mentioned above. This was in no way part of their agenda. However the respect they showed for our embodied dimension was clear to see and authoritatively argued. From the perspective of a physical educationalist this was exciting as well as reassuring as in many ways these views put into words much that the profession has been trying to articulate for many years.
From studying these C20th philosophers, as well as C21st philosophers, sociologists and psychologists who have developed these ideas, my reasoning took the following form:-
- these views provided unequivocal support for the recognition of the value of our embodied dimension in fully realising our human potential
- that a knowledge of the axial role of our embodiment should be able to inform how this dimension should be nurtured.
- as a common human attribute this nurturing should be enacted with all humans
What I had in mind, as I continued with my study, was both to grasp fully, the insights of these philosophers with reference to the way our embodiment is the foundation of, and continued axis around which, the development of many aspects of our humanness is realised, and, just as importantly, to make a case for appropriate attention being given to our motile potential in education, in order for us to become more fully human, in the widest possible sense.
Papers on the website www.physical-literacy.org.uk record the development of my thinking over the last fifteen years. Different papers take up issues such as monism, our nature as essentially beings-in-the-world, the role of our embodiment in perception, cognition, reasoning and emotion. Other papers look at the contribution of our embodiment to self realisation and to developing effective relationships with others.
At the same time as studying the views of others, I began to formulate a definition of a human attribute capitalising on our embodiment that would both contribute to our human nature as a whole and also offer every individual the opportunity to enrich their lives through capitalising on their motile potential. This development can also be seen from the papers in the evolution of the concept identified as Physical Literacy. This study has also been supported by reference back to the aforementioned philosophers. Their insights were drawn on in discussing such problematic areas as the universality of the concept and the place of propositional knowledge for an individual attaining Physical Literacy. I am continuing to work both to understand philosophical thought and to refine and clarify the concept. My current concerns are related to gender considerations and expressive movement.
As of May 2006 the short definition of Physical Literacy is:-
The motivation, confidence, physical competence, understanding and knowledge to maintain physical activity at an individually appropriate level, throughout life.
Physical literacy can be described as the ability and motivation to capitalise on our motile potential to make a significant contribution to the quality of life. As humans we all exhibit this potential, however its specific expression will be particular to the culture in which we live and the motile capacities with which we are endowed.
An individual who is physically literate moves with poise, economy and confidence in a wide variety of physically challenging situations. Furthermore the individual is perceptive in 'reading' all aspects of the physical environment, anticipating movement needs or possibilities and responding appropriately to these, with intelligence and imagination.
A physically literate individual has a well established sense of self as embodied in the world. This, together with an articulate interaction with the environment, engenders positive self esteem and self confidence. Furthermore, sensitivity to and awareness of our embodied capacities leads to fluent self expression through non-verbal communication and to perceptive and empathetic interaction with others.
In addition the individual has the ability to identify and articulate the essential qualities that influence the effectiveness of his/her own movement performance, and has an understanding of the principles of embodied health, with respect to basic aspects such as exercise, sleep and nutrition.
As indicated in the opening remark, my study related to the concept of Physical Literacy has also been motivated by a perception that while advances in the establishment of high quality physical education have been made in some areas, there seems to be a drift towards teaching competitive sport and towards catering particularly for those with the most potential in the physical domain. All my study points towards the situation that attention given to the embodiment is of enormous value, whatever level of physical competence an individual can achieve. Hence I am developing the concept of Physical Literacy with the intent of persuading those with responsibility for education, that every young person has the right to become physically literate.
The most recent work on the concept has been the collaboration with colleagues to develop a curriculum that would deliver Physical Literacy and the create a conceptual map that shows the relationship between Physical Education and Physical Literacy. Generic proposals related to the former can be found on the website and a paper detailing the latter is shortly to be added.
The website is intended to be a meeting ground for all those with an interest in the concept of Physical Literacy and I would be delighted for papers from across the world to be included.