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Margarete Streicher | Man’s Dominion Over Nature
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Margarete Streicher | Man’s Dominion Over Nature

Today I picked up Margarete Streicher’s wonderful 1932 book “Reshaping Physical Education”, and I wanted to share a passage and my thoughts inspired by it.

“One thing we must learn again is: To fall, patiently resting in gravity…

Physical education could well be described as applied biology, so it is not to be wondered at that a similar course of development is to be seen in both.

The great upswing of science in the second half of the last century resulted in an immoderate presumption on the part of man, clearly expressed in the slogan of ‘man’s dominion over nature’. All questions were thought to be answerable, all forces manageable, just because man had been successful in fathoming several natural laws in quick succession which had up to then been hidden. We are now able to see a retreat from this attitude— more and more there is a modest bearing towards nature: we know that behind every puzzle solved by science another one appears.

The same change of attitude is to be felt in gymnastics. The unacceptable aspect of many methods of gymnastics, the disregarding of the inner demands of the body and the carrying through by force of the demands from outside, date without exception from the time of ‘man’s dominion over nature’. The modern approach involves a completely different attitude to the body: the human body is now considered one of the miracles of nature, whose laws must be discovered, for in them is recognized the basis of all educational work. From such an attitude a quite different form of gymnastics is bound to grow than from that of desiring to subjugate the body to the mind.”

I love this quote so much, and what is striking about it is how very easily it could be applied to today.

The idea of man’s dominion over nature was not so easily conquered as Margarete might have anticipated. Sadly the natural movement renaissance of the early 20th century with figures like Striecher, George Hebert and Nikolai Bernstein, was not to be realized fully in the latter half of the century. Rather bodybuilding, aerobics, and the treatment of the body as a machine would dominate the later half the century.

While dynamical systems theories have been becoming more influential, our technological focused culture continues to labor primarily within the Cartesian frame that nature will be reducible to mathematical certainties.

This is clearly failing us in many ways, so I can only hope the moment is now ripe to catalyze a movement that understands, as Streicher did, that movement practices that respect our evolved nature are the foundation of all education.

We must learn to respect human development as gardeners, not try to force it to obey our dictates top-down like an engineer.

More from Streicher next week but let’s leave it there for now. There is plenty of rich fruit to ponder there alone.

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