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The Signs of the Times

June 29, 1882

Importance of Physical Training

By Mrs. E. G. White

The present age is one of unparalleled interest in education. The wide diffusion of knowledge through the agency of the press, placing the means for self-culture within the reach of all, has awakened a general desire for mental improvement.

While we acknowledge with gratitude our increased facilities, we should not close our eyes to the defects in the present system of education. In the eager effort to secure intellectual culture, physical as well as moral training has been neglected. Many youth come forth from institutions of learning with morals debased, and physical powers enfeebled; with no knowledge of practical life, and little strength to perform its duties.

As I have seen these evils, I have inquired, Must our sons and daughters become moral and physical weaklings, in order to obtain an education in the schools? This should not be; it need not be, if teachers and students will but be true to the laws of nature, which are also the laws of God. All the powers of mind and body should be called into active exercise, that the youth may become strong, well-balanced men and women.

Many students are in so great haste to complete their education that they are not thorough in anything which they undertake. Few have sufficient courage and self-control to act from principle. Most students fail to understand the true object of education, and hence fail to take such a course as to secure this object. They apply themselves to the study of mathematics or the languages, while they neglect a study far more essential to the happiness and success of life. Many who can explore the depths of the earth with the geologist, or traverse the heavens with the astronomer, show not the slightest interest in the wonderful mechanism of their own bodies. Others can tell just how many bones there are in the human frame, and correctly describe every organ of the body, and yet they are as ignorant of the laws of health, and the cure of disease, as though life were controlled by blind fate, instead of definite and unvarying law.

Physical health lies at the very foundation of all the student’s ambitions and his hopes. Hence the pre-eminent importance of gaining a knowledge of those laws by which health is secured and preserved. Every youth should learn how to regulate his dietetic habits,—what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat. He should learn how many hours to give to study, and how much time to spend in physical exercise. The human body may be compared to nicely-adjusted machinery, which needs care to keep it in running order. One part should not be subjected to constant wear and pressure, while another part is rusting from inaction. While the mind is tasked, the muscles also should have their proportion of exercise.

The proper regulation of his habits of eating, sleeping, study, and exercise, is a duty which every student owes to himself, to society, and to God. The education which will make the young a blessing to the world, is that which enables them to attain a true and noble manhood or womanhood. That student who is studying hard, sleeping little, exercising little, and eating irregularly of an improper or inferior quality of food, is obtaining mental training at the expense of health and morals, of spirituality, and, it may be, of life.

The young naturally desire activity, and if they find no legitimate scope for their pent-up energies after the confinement of the school-room, they become restless and impatient of control, and thus are led to engage in the rude, unmanly sports that disgrace so many schools and colleges, and even to plunge into scenes of actual dissipation. Many of the youth who left their homes innocent, are corrupted by their associations at school.

The young naturally desire activity, and if they find no legitimate scope for their pent-up energies after the confinement of the school-room, they become restless and impatient of control, and thus are led to engage in the rude, unmanly sports that disgrace so many schools and colleges, and even to plunge into scenes of actual dissipation. Many of the youth who left their homes innocent, are corrupted by their associations at school.

Every institution of learning should make provision for the study and practice of agriculture and the mechanic arts. Competent teachers should be employed to instruct the youth in the various industrial pursuits, as well as in the several branches of study. While a part of each day is devoted to mental improvement, let a stated portion be given to physical labor, and a suitable time to devotional exercises and the study of the Scriptures.

This training would encourage habits of self-reliance, firmness, and decision. Graduates of such institutions would be prepared to engage successfully in the practical duties of life. They would have courage and perseverance to surmount obstacles, and firmness of principle that would not yield to evil influences.

If the youth can have but a one-sided education, which is of the greatest importance, the study of the sciences, with all the disadvantages to health and morals, or a thorough training in practical duties, with sound morals and good physical development? We unhesitatingly say, the latter. But with proper effort both may, in most cases, be secured.

Those who combine useful labor with study have no need of gymnastic exercises. And work performed in the open air is ten-fold more beneficial to health than in-door labor. Both the mechanic and the farmer have physical exercise, yet the farmer is the healthier of the two. Nothing short of nature’s invigorating air and sunshine will fully meet the demands of the system. The tiller of the soil finds in his labor all the movements that were ever practiced in the gymnasium. His movement-room is the open fields. The canopy of heaven is its roof, the solid earth its floor. Here he plows and hoes, sows and reaps. Watch him, as in “haying time” he mows and rakes, pitches and tumbles, lifts and loads, throws off, treads down, and stows away. These various movements call into action the bones, joints, muscles, sinews, and nerves of the body. His vigorous exercise causes full, deep, strong inspirations and exhalations, which expand the lungs and purify the blood, sending the warm current of life bounding through arteries and veins. A farmer who is temperate in all his habits, usually enjoys health. His work is pleasant to him. He has a good appetite. He sleeps well, and may be happy.

Contrast the condition of the active farmer with that of the student who neglects physical exercise. He sits in a close room, bending over his desk or table, his chest contracted, his lungs crowded. He cannot take full, deep inspirations. His brain is tasked to the utmost, while his body is as inactive as though he had no particular use for it. His blood moves sluggishly through the system. His feet are cold, his head hot. How can such a person have health?

Let the student take regular exercise that will cause him to breathe deep and full, taking into his lungs the pure invigorating air of heaven, and he will be a new being. It is not hard study that is destroying the health of students, so much as it is their disregard of nature’s laws.

In institutions of learning, experienced teachers should be employed to instruct young ladies in the mysteries of the kitchen. A knowledge of domestic duties is beyond price to every woman. There are families without number whose happiness is wrecked by the inefficiency of the wife and mother. It is not so important that our daughters learn painting, fancy work, music, or even “cube root,” or the figures of rhetoric, as that they learn how to cut, make, and mend their own clothing, or to prepare food in a wholesome and palatable manner. When a little girl is nine or ten years old, she should be required to take her regular share in household duties, as she is able, and should be held responsible for the manner in which she does her work. That was a wise father, who, when asked what he intended to do with his daughters, replied, “I intend to apprentice them to their excellent mother, that they may learn the art of improving time, and be fitted to become wives and mothers, heads of families, and useful members of society.”

Washing clothes upon the old-fashioned rubbing-board, sweeping, dusting, and a variety of other duties in the kitchen and the garden, will be valuable exercise for young ladies. Such useful labor will supply the place of croquet, archery, dancing, and other amusements which benefit no one.

Many ladies, accounted well-educated, having graduated with honors at some institution of learning, are shamefully ignorant of the practical duties of life. They are destitute of the qualifications necessary for the proper regulation of the family, and hence essential to its happiness. They may talk of woman’s elevated sphere, and of her rights, yet they themselves fall far below the true sphere of woman. It is the right of every daughter of Eve to have a thorough knowledge of household duties, to receive training in every department of domestic labor. Every young lady should be so educated that if called to fill the position of wife and mother, she may preside as a queen in her own domain. She should be fully competent to guide and instruct her children and to direct her servants, or, if need be, to minister with her own hands to the wants of her household. It is her right to understand the mechanism of the human body and the principles of hygiene, the matters of diet and dress, labor and recreation, and countless others that intimately concern the well-being of her household. It is her right to obtain such a knowledge of the best methods of treating disease that she can care for her children in sickness, instead of leaving her precious treasures in the hands of stranger nurses and physicians.

The idea that ignorance of useful employment is an essential characteristic of the true gentleman or lady, is contrary to the design of God in the creation of man. Idleness is a sin, and ignorance of common duties is the result of folly, which after-life will give ample occasion to bitterly regret.

Those who make it their rule of life to serve and honor God will give heed to the apostle’s injunction, “Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Such students will preserve their integrity in the face of temptation, and will come from school with well-developed intellects, and with health of body and health of soul.

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