Frankl in his book, Man’s search for Meaning (1946), proposes that one of our central concerns in life is to find meaning and purpose and he goes on to suggest only the individual can uncover their own life’s true meaningfulness and significance.
It is Frankl’s book that has stimulated the making of a link between the search for meaning and purpose in life and the idea of developing a ‘commitment to something’ in Physical Literacy. I feel that we never explain what a commitment actually is or how it is acquired and this has triggered this blog. As a result, this blog will explore a number of ideas associated with meaning and purpose. However, I will not be addressing the search for meaning of life or what is the purpose of life.
Meaning and Purpose in Physical Literacy
Physical Literacy provides the inspiration for encouraging young people to engage in physical activities of certain kind as an integral part of their lifestyle because it is important for their health and wellbeing as well as providing opportunities to enrich their life. A central part of this process is enabling them to build a sense of purpose and acquire the capacity to make informed choices: a major component of the educational validity of Physical Literacy. This is a purpose that they can pursue and one that can become a commitment that can be sustained and improved. In order to develop this capacity, however, there is a need to consider what kind of a package of educational experiences is needed to promote such an aspiration and how they can be nurtured. These experiences should focus on enabling young people to make choices that they have carefully considered and have learned to value.
Nevertheless, making choices can often be difficult because young people encounter many competing choices that are often complex and can instil a sense of being unsure and uncertain. Thus, the challenge of searching and finding purposes, that one can fully commit to, needs to be recognised as an important process in young people’s lives. As a result, it requires careful thought and deliberation by all practitioners to understand how to nurture and acquire an ability to scaffold young peoples learning and the process of ‘developing a commitment. A process that we tend to take-for-granted and assume that it is some kind of innate process. As a consequence, little attention has been paid to articulating what it means in practice.
Young people tend to choose from a menu of options that they have encountered recently or some experience that has generated a sense of exhilaration. These are important considerations in which young people need the confidence to pursue a purpose and use their own personal resources to underpin a ‘developing commitment’.
In addition, observing purposeful role models can be inspiring for young people but they need to acquire first their own personal aspirations in order to find their own purposes. Parents, practitioners or significant others can provide a strong influence by their own dedication to a purposeful pursuit or goal. This is an important modelling process.
A purposeful activity is always meaningful (it has significance) to the self and it has also the capacity to promote, vigour, resilience and determination as young people learn to contribute something to the effort of engagement. However, it is important to recognise that what is seen as purposeful for one individual may be ethically unacceptable and how to address this needs to be built into a teacher’s pedagogy.
The challenge of learning to find purposes in ‘something that one can truly commit to’ is essentially a personal challenge (as Frankl has pointed out). As such, this presents practitioners with a complex practical problem in scaffolding the learning needs of young people. This is a particularly significant problem in the context of striving to meet the diverse needs of a whole class of young people.
The pedagogical challenge is one of creating enabling environments in which young people can develop a sense of belonging and where engagement is about connecting with content that can generate interest, satisfying experiences and emotional attachment. It is about a caring and ‘can-do culture’ in which individuals have a voice and they can recognise that they have opportunity to thrive.
This will entail:
Learning to value purposeful physical pursuits in a rich and fundamental way by coming to care about them.
Demonstrating ways in which purposeful physical pursuits can contribute to leading full and valuable lives
Illuminating their understanding of what to do with their lives by helping them to make informed choices about how they could spend their time
Acquiring the power to make choices of a certain kind (informed and rational) and arrived at in a certain way (i.e. no –coercive and non-indoctrinatory) requires a different sort of curriculum in order to allow young people to explore ad recognise the constraints on their capacity to fit purposeful physical pursuits into their lives.
Modelling: Observing and coming into contact with people who have a sense of purpose and a commitment to engage in purposeful physical pursuits
This is not a pedagogy in which we expect young people to devote time to reflection, thinking and discussing. It represents a practical pedagogy in which the nature of the experiences of engagement in purposeful physical pursuits with others becomes ‘the teacher’. For example in TGFU, the game form with its puzzles and problems represents the challenges that young people learn to master. In other words the game has been designed so the ‘game is the teacher’ as in electronic game theory. This is exactly what the teacher ‘as facilitator’ has to learn to acquire in order to enable young people to develop a sense of purpose and meaning. They need to be aware of what it means to enable young people to learn how to build purposeful physical pursuits into their lives as they discover reasons that they value. In this process, young people can acquire a sense of purpose (that they can commit to) something they are able to pursue and as a result it becomes meaningful to them.
In addition to ‘learning to engage young people’ in purposeful physical pursuits, we have to recognise that the context provides the opportunity for creating the means for young people to develop autonomy, agency, responsibility and a feeling of empowerment: something that only the young person can acquire for themselves.
In the idea of learning to ‘commit to something’ such as purposeful physical pursuits, a sense of purpose and meaning take on a specific role that has significant implications for practitioners who are inspired by Physical Literacy. Learning to value and engage in purposeful physical pursuits as an integral part of one’s lifestyle entails building a commitment that is sense of purpose that a person can pursue that has become meaningful to them. However, such an enterprise means that pedagogical skills become a major challenge because enabling young people to acquire a sense of purpose they can pursue that can become meaningful to them is complex and demanding. Nevertheless, such a pedagogy is concerned with engagement in terms of the content young people encounter and the interpersonal relationships they entail. This enterprise introduces an entirely new concept ‘playing the game is the teacher’ that I use in Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU). This challenges the traditional role of the teacher but it is essential for cultivating a commitment in which one builds a sense of purpose that a person can pursue that is meaningful to them.