Bressan E. 2001: The Profession is dead – was it murder or suicide? Quest, 1979, 31(1), 77 – 82.
The Case for Murder
Cases of murder are usually approached through the identification of a motive. Who wanted the profession dead? Who would think they might profit from its demise? Close relatives often become prime suspects in these instances, so let us examine the behavior of the theoretical discipline that ostensibly supported this profession.
1. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a proliferation of graduate programs that focussed on the development of "disciplinary skills of inquiry." These programs in many cases refused to offer any professional training of its students.
2. In the late 1970s undergraduate programs in the "theoretical discipline" were developed. Students of these programs studied "cross-disciplinary" concepts and developed expertise in formulating and solving cross-disciplinary problems.
3. By the 198Os college and university faculties were composed primarily of young members fully prepared as researchers in the discipline. Each time that matters of curriculum and pedagogy came up, they supported the expansion of disciplinary studies at the expense of professional studies.
4. By the 1990s the members of the discipline had fully taken over all national and regional organizations. Hiring criteria at the colleges and universities revolved about the production of publications and the ability to attract grant monies. The profession was seen as an anti-intellectual faction that was incompatible with the erudite goals of the discipline. In an effort to "purify" themselves, these faculties re-assigned all of their professional preparation responsibilities (and faculty) to colleges of education.
5. Once re-located in the college of education faculty, the profession of physical education came under instant attack. Its discrete methods courses were taken away. Many credit hours of participation in physical activity were replaced with courses in general educational theory. Any attempt by the out-numbered physical educators to protest was met with challenges of "prove it" and ‘where is your theoretical support." When the professionals turned to the disciplinarians for such proof and support, they were met with silence. The discipline was not concerned with questions of applied research or pedagogical difficulties. It was dealing only with "basic research" regarding physiological, sociological or psychological questions.
6. The late 1990s saw the few remaining professional physical educators retire from college teaching. They were replaced by new faculty that "fit in" with the structure of the college of education. Certification still occurred in physical education, but there were in fact no specific courses dealing with its content. Theories of education were studied and then, quite separately, theories regarding human movement studied.
Several aspects of this presentation point to the murder of the profession by the discipline. First, the motive. Members of the discipline took over power on the faculties. The constant reduction of professional interest led to the generation of new courses (hence new faculty) in the discipline. The disciplinarians—who had little or no teaching experience themselves—were offended by the presence of "practical problems" in their midst. Second, the opportunity. They saw what they considered their "big chance" for academic respectability and took it— they forced the profession out and into a situation in which there was no chance for survival. That is murder.
The Case for Suicide
Perhaps the murder explanation is too easy. Since we actually found no "smoking gun" in the hand of the discipline, the possibility of suicide must not be overlooked. Suicide is considered self-induced death. What actions by the profession may have brought its death upon itself?
1. In the late 1960s and early1970s professionals avoided the responsibility of generating their own body of knowledge. There was no opportunity to evolve sophisticated programs without such a base in knowledge and technology, so the future of the profession on the college level was doomed.
2. In the late 1970s the development of noncertifying undergraduate major programs was allowed to be effected by members of the discipline alone. Despite their knowledge of human movement and curriculum, the professionals did not lend their expertise to program development. By leaving program decisions to inexperienced disciplinarians. They created a climate in which they presented themselves as uninformed and disinterested. They were inviting a separation.
3. By the 1980s, professionals felt so overwhelmed by the intellectual banter that marked most faculty meetings that they accepted their status as subordinate to the discipline. They allowed disciplinarians to represent them in faculty senates and campus committees. They withdrew entirely from the academic community.
4. By the 1990s the members of the profession all but dropped out of national and regional organizations. They claimed that the programs had become too theoretical and difficult to understand. Whenever asked if they would like to put on a program, they replied that they did not have the time what with all of their practical responsibilities.
5. The re-assignment of the profession to colleges of education was not fought. The profession had long since given up attempts to share its problems with the discipline or to assist the discipline when it did make attempts at applied research. The profession was unwilling or unable to express its rationale for remaining outside the general education community.
6. The late 1990s brought "blessed retirement" to the remaining embittered professionals. They had accepted their subordinate role in education. Their inability to elucidate their unique contributions to education had left the college faculties with no other choice but to redistribute their credit hours.
The portrait here is of a profession that is asking for its own demise—allowing itself to be bullied, even inviting it. The skills needed to survive in the academic community are reasonably well known, yet the unwillingness of professionals to acquire and employ those skills is the manifestation of a death wish. That is suicide.
There is some pronounced irony in this case—perhaps a touch of justice. If the profession dies on the collegiate level, the deterioration of public school programs will follow. This in turn may lead to the removal of physical education from school curricula, hence its removal as a "major" in colleges of education. This would result in a severe reduction in the population of students taking courses in the "discipline." Put into such an enrollment crunch, members of the discipline will have to align themselves more closely with the "parent disciplines" of psychology, sociology, etc. Their research questions methods, financial support, and students will become "psychologists interested in movement" or "sociologist interested in sport." To any administration, this would be a clear sign that there is no unique discipline there at all, and maintaining it as a separate faculty is a waste of funds. Then, the discipline will be dead as well. Where is the irony? Well, if the discipline murders the profession, it is actually committing suicide. If the profession commits suicide, it is committing (albeit post mortem) the murder of the discipline.
Do We Treat the Symptoms, or The Cause?
We can spend our next 30 years trying to remedy the difficulties caused by the schism between physical education as a discipline and physical education as a profession. Numerous proposals have been to foster peaceful coexistence: theory into practice journals, research, development task forces that would produce applied research, advanced graduate degrees in the professional aspects of physical education, the provision of methods courses in college teaching for aspiring disciplinarians, an improvement in the disciplinary background offered in teacher certification programs, and so on.
Treating the symptoms of a disorder, however, is only an acceptable procedure when either the root cause of the malady is unknown or when we have no way of effectively dealing with it. I would like to propose that the schism between our profession and discipline is an artificial one – one that we have created through careless philosophical examination and the inertia of his— tone-al precedent.
The primary philosophical misconception surrounding our difficulties is the acknowledgment of two "disciplines" that deal with physical education: the "academic" discipline that is concerned with knowing a phenomenon through the processes of logic, reason, and controlled experimentation, and the "professional" discipline that is concerned with knowing how a phenomenon may be controlled and manipulated through the application of specific skills and technology. These are in fact two of Aristotle’s Classes of Disciplines (Schwab, 1967). These two types of disciplines are antithetical – one is the theoretical, the other the practical. It should follow, then, that the members of the respective disciplines would find many of their interests, needs and modes of expression antithetical. Such a schism – were it an accurate one – would be natural and appropriate for physical education. It is, however, an arbitrary division and its origin can be traced to the scramble to identify a disciplinary basis that characterized physical education in the 1960s.
Physical education was put in the position of having to justify its existence in academic circles. The pressure was intense and time did not allow for rigorous philosophical examination of the consequences of many proposals. It should not be surprising that the structures of other academic disciplines became immediately attractive. Sociology, physiology, psychology, etc., were all academic disciplines that dealt with questions which held interest for physical educators. These disciplines also recognized the possibility that some individuals would want to become teachers in these areas. The potential for analogy to physical education was almost too good to be true. So the model of physical education as "Two Disciplines" was conceived. It was accepted in most quarters – not because it was right, but because it sounded right. It promised both academic and professional rationale.
The current situation in physical education holds the seeds for the "death scene" offered at the beginning of this article. It is almost impossible for antithetical interests to co-exist in any effective system. Acceptance of dual disciplines must ultimately result in dual organizations. The impending "death" of one or both organizations need not follow, of course, but fundamental changes in their structures and functions would be required for survival.
There is an alternative, however, that remains almost religiously ignored. It is based upon the position that an initial mistake was made in the conception of physical education as both an academic discipline and a professional discipline. Instead, physical education is a Productive Discipline like fine arts, engineering, or architecture. All of the disciplines in this class are concerned with the "making" of their phenomena (Schwab, 1967). Unlike an academic discipline that requires content that is reasonably static and predictable, a productive discipline deals with malleable subject matter. Unlike a professional discipline that is concerned with the control and modification of its given material, a productive discipline seeks to release the inherent potential of its material in a wide variety of contexts and situations.
The acceptance of physical education as a productive discipline would force a reconceptualization of both our substance (precisely what we deal with) and our syntax (the methods of discovery, criteria for proof, means for implementation of knowledge. etc.). The human performance of movement and the kinds of questions relating to that performance would become the substantive structure. This implies a value position on "what questions are worth pursuing" that an academic discipline need not invoke, for if the enhancement of the subject (i.e., performed human movement) is the thrust of a productive discipline, then relevant questions are those that addresses the enhancement of performance. The acceptable syntax for such a discipline would adhere to an intellectual ethic that demands the enhancement of the inherent potential of its material (i.e., an individual who is moving). Within this redefinition physical education establishes itself as a single productive discipline that is concerned with the making movement patterns that help realize the inherent potential of each individual as a performer. Basic research exists only to support the generation of designs and formats to facilitate this process. Methods and techniques are seen only as tools to be continuously refined and replaced according to the expanded knowledge of individual potential revealed in research. Lest this sound like a simple "sandwich" of an academic with a professional discipline, take note: the individual who produces knowledge is also a designer—he takes his knowledge and structures it into realistic contexts so that it may be observed as it actually manifests itself in the performance of movement. The worth of that knowledge—not its truth necessarily, but its worth would be assessed upon its contribution to the purpose of the discipline—the enhancement of individual potential in movement.
The implications are equally compromising for the current "professional disciplinarian." The knowledge of techniques and methods is insufficient, for the "teacher" must be a designer as well. He must be able to take basic knowledge and propose alternative patterns for including that information in realistic contexts. The worth of his efforts is determined by his accurate and continuous incorporation of new knowledge in the attempt to enhance individual potential in movement. Both the "scholars" and the ‘practitioners" in a productive discipline must be skilled at designing environments where individual performers seek their own potential. Both the "scholars" and "the practitioners" must keep abreast of knowledge about the attainment of human movement potential and be able to offer new environmental designs to reflect advances in that knowledge. The major difference, then, between a "scholar" and a "practitioner" would be the amount of time the former spends seeking new knowledge while the latter is implementing current designs. The two responsibilities require the same skills hut in different quantities.
Is such a proposal of a productive discipline—were it deemed desirable—impossible to implement? Not at all. Go to the School of Engineering or School of Architecture at your own institution. Examine their criteria for the employment of faculty, their standards for promotion and tenure, the nature and type of research they value. Take a look at the manner in which they organize their undergraduate and graduate programs. You may find you are much more comfortable with their schemes than any you have seen proposed for physical education. Schwab (1967) noted that one of the most difficult problems in education is that we try to deal with every discipline as though it were theoretical. Human movement is not theoretical—it is actual. It is performed, it is "made’ by human beings. It is intimately productive . . . and so should we be.
ELIZABETH S. BRESSAN
(Quest, 1979, 31(1), 77 – 82)
Schwab, J. Problems, topics, and issues.
Quest, 1967 (December), 9, 2-27