Coherence: “Good” Physical Education Depends on Our Purpose(s) of Life.

Nate Babcock
Sep 10, 2018 · 6 min read

[Heads-up: This is a series of tweets that I copied and pasted into this blog. Hence the disjointed, choppy writing style.]

How can we possibly know if we’re doing a good job in Physical Education if we don’t know if we’re doing a good job in Education?

How can we know if we’re doing a good job in Education if we aren’t clear about the purpose of it?

And how do we (or can we) know if the purpose is good in the first place?


I think we lack coherence.

PE lacks it. Every subject lacks it. Education lacks it. Politics lacks it.

What’s the point of life? The point of governance? The point of politics? Of Education? Of each subject?

I think all these, to be effective, to be coherent, need to be in alignment.


It seems to me, and I am probably wrong, that this all depends on the point or meaning of life. That point determines the point of everything else that follows: government, economics, politics, education, etc.

But is there A point to life? Or is this something that is personal? Something we have to decide for ourselves? Are there as many points as there are people?

What if one person decides on the point of life (or doesn’t), but that point interferes with MY ability to decide on the point of life?

Or what if freedom is the point? But what if your freedom interferes with my freedom? And what if OUR freedoms were intertwined?

Well, our freedoms, our lives, ARE intertwined. That is the fact of the matter. It would be nice if we could point to an objectively true point of life somewhere, but we can’t, so we have to devise our own. But we have to consider others in the process of doing so. This is hard to manage.

It requires that we understand our interdependence and it requires the time and space to DIALOGUE so that we can not only better decide on our own purposes (that do not interfere with the purposes of others), but to also INCLUDE them in our purposes (because they are always already included).


Here is the way I see it…

The point of life, of all forms of life, is to 1) live 2) live well 3) live better.

There is always something that threatens this urge, or this will.

Humans organize structures to manage these threats.

One such structure is Government.

Another is Education.


Education prepares people to govern themselves.

It prepares people to govern IN RELATION TO WHAT IS AT STAKE.

What is at stake is always: our urge to live well IN RELATION TO what threatens that urge.

Education must explore and understand these threats in order to respond to them.

Right now the greatest threats to all of us are global warming and other humans.

By other humans I mean: war, tyranny, etc.

But there are other threats that vary on micro, meso, and macro levels and contexts: racism, sexism, extreme poverty, slavery, genocide, unhealthy drinking water, refugees, other injustices, etc.

Education must primarily concern itself with these threats.

Education, then, is about building/enabling the capacity to manage & prevent these threats.

It must produce people who KNOW, KNOW HOW, & DO specific things (in context).

But the ability to do these things depends on HOW PEOPLE FEEL.

People who feel SIGNIFICANT are constructive (more than they are destructive). They respect life and enable it to respond to its urge to live well.

People feel significant when they are heard, validated, respected, and able to tap into their strengths, interests, creativity, etc.

Education, then, must provide people with opportunities to understand their world and themselves. And to BE and BECOME themselves.


This is why we have multiple subjects!

Each subject provides a different perspective and understanding of the world and the self (in relation to that world).

Each subject provides an opportunity to imagine and practice a future, together in dialogue, through the medium of that subject.

And each subject provides an opportunity for people to tap into, activate, and express their latent capabilities so that they feel significant.

By providing all these conditions, education enables the capacity to confront the threats to our urge to live well, and to do so TOGETHER.


As it stands now, Education is FOR JOBS. Jobs are for MONEY. And money is for significance/power. The whole socio-politico-economic system runs off this profit drive, and education supports it. And these systems are destructive. They are a threat.

And yet, we act as if education is inherently a GOOD THING! We argue about which pedagogies are best, the best ways to assess, etc. We train future teachers how to FIT into this system, and then how to be better WITHIN it. But is it a good system? That rarely gets questioned.

So we keep educating in ways that perpetuate a broken system that keeps adding more depth & width to the threats that we are actually facing. We keep educating as if WHAT IS AT STAKE is NOT ACTUALLY at stake. We educate blindly to follow blindly.


My own subject, Physical Education, is guilty of this. I am guilty of this. We think what is at stake is test scores and obesity. We think what is at stake is physical literacy, movement competence, skill development, or whatever. Rarely do we acknowledge what is really at stake.

Rarely do we ever discuss how we can address what is at stake.


How CAN PE address what is at stake?

It has to primarily be about joy and meaning through, in, & with movement.

It has to be about knowledge of self, other and of the greater movement cultures we find ourselves in.

It has to be about creating BETTER movement cultures that are more JUST.

It has to be about functionally activating and expressing our playful/animal urges.

It has to be about practicing and creating the NEXT SYSTEM in playful movement.

It has to redefine COMPETITION as COOPERATION.

It has to be about the deeper integration and coordination of the person, which definitely includes motor coordination, but is not limited to an instrumental purpose like PERFORMANCE. Better coordination is part of building better people. It is a HOLISTIC, INTEGRATIVE coordination


I worry that PE is becoming more & more aligned with a system of education that supports a greater socio-politico-economic system that is too destructive. I worry that we are becoming MORE COHERENT. We don’t need to be in greater alignment with this system.

We need don’t need LESS ALIGNMENT either though. We need alignment and coherence with a BETTER PURPOSE, at all levels of public life. And all life is public. All education is public. That’s why all education is POLITICAL.

So why teach kids how to kick a ball? Because they have to be graded ON SOMETHING? Because the standards say so? Because the experts say so? Because we have to have something to measure? Because LEARNING? Because they have to be COMPETENT? Because someone decided they have to be PHYSICALLY LITERATE? Because we have to TEACH SOMETHING?

Why is kicking a ball EDUCATIONAL? Why is running a timed mile in class? We PE teachers have to be able to answer that, don’t we? If it’s because THEY HAVE TO LEARN THE THINGS WE TELL ’EM TO, then I think we miss the point. I think we reinforce the dysfunctional system when we do that.


Why learn anything in school?

Because a lot is AT STAKE, and school should cultivate a shift in the capacity to RESPOND to that.

PE should do the same, by democratically helping people become their best selves, joyfully, through movement, embodying the next system, together!

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