George Ellsworth Johnson: contributions to play and public recreation in America, 1881-1931
Freedman, Robert Edwin
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George Ellsworth Johnson, a modest, well-educated man, was an educator and recreation administrator whose professional and intellectual life spanned the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He was the first faculty member in the Play and Recreation program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. His ideas about play and education have never before been fully discussed in published literature addressing the history of play, play theory, and recreation. Johnson believed that play has an important role in the education of children. He believed in equal rights and opportunities for girls and women in sports and play. He visited America's southwest to study the recreational practices of Native Americans. Johnson was critical of popular play theories, yet never produced a coherent, scientifically-based theory of his own. His beliefs and ideas reflect the teachings of Plato, William James, and John Dewey. What is important about Johnson is not his just his critique of play theory, but his dedication to promoting play opportunities as a public trust consistent with democratic ideals. Johnson argued that of what children need to be taught, democratic ideals and civic virtue are better learned through play. The playground is no less important than the classroom as the place for moral training. In Johnson's view, play is immensely important to all human life; it is essential to the physical and mental development of children. The play values cherished by Johnson might well prompt those entrusted with play and recreation today to rethink the fundamental values of their work. Why there has been so little attention to Johnson in the written histories of play in America, given his contributions, is hard to explain. Although he was exposed to the racist political and philosophical thought commonly accepted by the NeoDarwinists, he never accepted the racist theories of his day. This study concerns the contributions of one of the pioneers of the American playground movement.
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