Ted's teaching tips

16th February 2001 at 00:00
The very word "exercise" sends a shudder down the spine of many adults, probably ricking their unfit backs in the process. To most people it means vigorous action, sweat and pain, but Eastern slow exercise is different.


What is the purpose of exercise (physical and mental fitness, developing strength, endurance, flexibility, suppleness)? What sort of exercise is beneficial (must be specific, closely related to the sport or activity eg increasing weights for muscular strength, running further for stamina)? What are the snags (failing to warm up and wind down can lead to muscle strains and injuries, as can progressing too fast, or trying to start at a higher level than your current fitness justifies)? How often should you exercise (regularly, say three times a week for 20 minutes or more; no use being inactive for months and then running a marathon)? What is special about the slower exercises customary in Eastern countries such as China (related to mental well-being, balancing the forces of Yin and Yang - opposing forces, such as light and dark, active and passive; precision and control help tone the muscles with little risk of injury; poise and posture benefit, often done in small or large groups in unison; may be related to martial arts, such as kung fu and t'ai chi)?


China is a huge country with more than 1 billion people; find it on the map. This photo was taken during the Cultural Revolution. What was that (1966-76, Mao Zedong wanted young people to experience revolution, so millions joined the Red Guards, a mass youth movement, and attacked "bourgeois" intitutions)? Chinese exercise is unusual to us. Can you think of other interesting differences (medicine, using acupuncture and herbal treatment; food, such as bean sprouts, sweet and sour sauces, thin pancakes, noodles, bamboo shoots; music; painting; clothing; influential thinkers like Confucius)?


What is "conformity" (fitting in with others)? Are you a conformist (clothes, leisure activities, behaviour, beliefs) or a rebel (buck the trend, go your own way)? How do you feel about seeing masses of children all performing the same exercises? Do you know anyone who is a non-conformist? What impact do they have on other people?


Imagine that a new headteacher makes your school day start with mass exercises such as this and write the story of it. How did you and other people react? Paint a picture with lots of Lowry-type figures in it.


Our society values individualism, but should we do more en masse?


We all belong to a wider community, so too much emphasis on the individual plays down team spirit, creating selfishness. We have to live and work harmoniously with our fellows. Ants are highly successful as a species because they work together for the collective good.


Humans are all individuals; differences are our strength, as we are versatile and adaptable. Conformity kills originality, and countries such as South Korea and Japan now prize individualism. We assert our independence but can still work in a team when necessary.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University

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