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The impact of colonialism

The previous blog explored the fundamental elements of the Sport Education model and asked us to consider what the key aspects are of sport that helps people come back again and again. It isn’t just winning or scoring the winning goal or making the winning pass. Instead it is about affiliation and rivalry (would Bjorn Borg have been such a great player without the rivalry of John McEnroe?), about festivity and formal competition, and about fair play.

This week’s blog explores how what we do and what physical activities we participate in are shaped by the culture in which we exist. While there are varying forms of activities, what is participated in is shaped by the dominant culture. In many cases, Britishness.

 

Volume 4: The curriculum and the subject matter of physical education

 

Paper 91:

Vertinsky, P., McManus, A., & Sit, C. (2007/2012). ‘Dancing class’: schooling in colonial and post-colonial Hong Kong. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume IV. (pp. 355-376) London: Routledge.

 

My take home message the implications of the research on practice

I’ve spent much of my life playing and teaching people to play games and engage in physical activity. In doing this I have engaged in the things I was ‘expected’ to engage in. I played rugby and cricket but didn’t play football (soccer), I watched rugby and cricket but I didn’t watch ice hockey or Kabaddi. I loved the rivalry between England and Commonwealth countries such New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia and India. ‘My’ sports were popular, they were on TV and millions of people played them and watched them.

When I exercised I also did the things I was expected to do. I lifted weights and went running. I swam and rode my bike. When I relaxed and/or went on holiday I ate ice cream on the beach and rode donkeys. I played on the slot machines and did British things.

What I didn’t do was question why?

Why did the Indians and the Sri Lankan’s play cricket? Why did the Australian’s and South African’s play Rugby? Weren’t there other native games that they could or should be playing? I didn’t consider the effect that the globalisation of sport was having on sport. Instead I just played.

Had I questioned the status quo then perhaps I would have wondered at the rich tapestry of sports or activities that I could be involved in. I might have been a Morris dancer or competed in the highland games or, had I lived in India I might have played Kabaddi.

The fact is that there was a sporting consequence of the British Spanish and Portuguese empires. There was a cultural impact and a loss of diversity. Hip-Hop and Ballroom replaced bush dance and Bhangra (at least on a global scale) while aerobics and running replaced Tai Chi and Yoga (I am taking a few liberties here to make my point but I hope you can see where I’m going). There is an impact now because of the spread of the World Wide Web and the technological revolution. The world is getting smaller and so are our choices. I’m not saying this is a bad thing but I do think we are losing some of the cultural richness.

So, next time you get to make a choice between activities or sports take a minute to think of its origins and its history and think what you might be doing instead.

 

The Paper

Vertinsky and colleagues explore the cultural consequences of dance in colonial and post-colonial Hong Kong. Specifically they explore the fact that a) “dance has not played a significant role in Hong Kong Schools and teacher education” and b) dance practices that included western folk dance, social dance and modern educational dance were used to rework national, ethnic, class, gender and personal identities. In other words, dance has been a means of converting thinking and cultural identity to ideals valued by the dominant class (in this case the British).

Positioning dance as a form of “social mediated practice” or as an intervention, Vertinsky and colleagues argued that Hong Kong has been caught between two dominant cultures – British Colonialism and Chinese communism – and as consequence has suffered an identify crisis (my words). Settlers (seeking to provide moral and spiritual guidance and enhance physical well-being) saw dance (among other things) as a vehicle to impose western ideals on the population. In doing so they were able to match their ideas of ‘right’ and good’, ‘wholesome’ and ‘cultured’ to the population.

Vertinsky and colleagues suggested that the consequence of this social manufacturing was that British systems and practices became Hong Kongese practices and systems. Dance was/is not a huge part of the physical education curriculum in Britain and neither was/is it big in Hong Kong. Like Britain, dance for Hongkongers is marginalised in school physical education and has come to be seen as “a frill, a rhythmic motor skill activity and a form of recreation” and “western folk dance and social dance, including hip hop and jazz, continue to dominate the dance curriculum.”

The one place where this is being challenged is in the annual School Dance Festival. This festival, dominated by Western dance prior to Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, has seen an upsurge in the performance (now dominance) of Chinese dance. Yet, Vertinsky and colleagues write, this dominance is not replicated in school physical education. The core curriculum still sees dance marginalised and still remains largely unchanged with its emphasis on Western and not Chinese dance. The truth seems to be that Hong Kong, as a Special Administrative Region of China, continues to operate somewhere between its colonial past and its Chinese future and in doing so it loses sight of its cultural heritage.

What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor and Routledge (part of the Taylor and Francis group) for donating a copy of the Physical Education: Major themes in education series. Their respective help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. However it is important to note that any mistakes that remain are mine.

 

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