A Forgotten 1932 Book on Education and Recreation


I have something against the popular culture of “work/play” balance. When I was a freshmen in college, a friend of mine who was a senior, sat me down and told me that the key of happiness in college is the clear separation of work and play time. “Your work should not be your play and when you play, it has to be free from the attachment of work.” Baffled by what he said, I nodded and only said yes.

I am only in my early twenties and might be too young to know what that concept actually entails. However, across the years, the people that have been the source of my inspirations do not subscribe into that notion of “work/life” balance. I have observed from the corner of my eyes the way they manufacture their lives. One common denominator that is pronounced from their lives is the union of their work and play. One is barely standing an inch away from the other. Their work and play are indistinguishable–becoming the same entity under the same being.

Long time ago from the years of 1930 and 1931, Lawrence Pearsall Jacks (1860 – 1955), an English educator and a philosopher, travelled to sixty cities in the United States to give a public lecture under the sponsorship of National Recreation Association to address some issues regarding education and recreation–the two topics that had become separated.  Jacks stood in public aiming at uniting the concept of recreation and education. He wanted to make the recreations of the people more educational than before and give education some of the interest and the joy that belong to recreation. His insights on the topic of education and recreation, despite the passage of time, still sound profoundly true for me. Later in 1932, a book from his lectures that he had given a year earlier was published by Harper & Brothers titled Education Through Recreation (Public Library)

On his first essay in the book, Jacks expressed his strong conviction on what he believed as the art of living:

“The art of living is one and indivisible. It is not a composite art made up by adding the art of play to the art of work, or the art of leisure to the art of labor, or the art of recreation to the art of education. When life is divided into these or any other compartments it can never become an art, but at best a medley or at worst a mess. It becomes an art when work and play, labor and leisure, mind and body, education and recreation, are governed by a single vision of excellence and a continuous passion for achieving it. “


Costumi Della Provincia (Napoli). 1850 – 1859. Via (Jerome Robbins Dance Division of The New York Public Library)


The art of living according to him is accomplished by people who believe that there is no distinction between their work and their play, their labor and leisure, their mind and body, education and their recreation. Their lives are led by the conviction that there is no separation in whatever endeavors they are doing. When people do separate in what they believe as work and play, or education and recreation, or try to compartmentalize their lives into different kinds of small entities, Jacks argued that they are frankly dividing themselves.

He wrote:

“Man the worker and man the player are not two men, but one. Not two halfs of one man, either, but one man viewed in different aspects; so that if you train him for his work by one method and his play by another, you will find that you are not training him at all, but dividing him against himself. So mishandled, he is certain to miss the art of living and find himself in a world of confusion where his duties and his pleasures are in conflict. His leisure occupations will not reinforce his labor occupations, but will disturb them, and his recreation, far from promoting his education, will blot it out.”

Then he went on offering an example of a violinist as the true embodiment when play has become work or when work has become play.

He wrote:

“What is work, and what is play? When you listen to a master performing great music on the violin, or watch a Pavlova visibly enacting the music of the human body, arts acquired by years of the sternest discipline, is it work, or is it play that you are witnessing? It is both. Work and play have joined hands labor and leisure have combined their natures. Art and industry have become one. The highest kind of work and the highest kind of play are indistinguishable one from the other. They are two names for the same thing. . .”


Words matter. They reveal what we want to know about ourselves and our relationships with others. The words that we have for education and recreation, unfortunately, are not in synergy, making them hard to merge. Jacks argued that education, once this word is being uttered, people will remember their stern teachers, standardized examinations, expensive textbooks that they have kept unopened from the day one. Mostly, their memories are filled with the boredom of long meandering lectures. On the other hand, the word recreation ignites people’s consciousness of summer being away from school when they are void of school work or when the bell rings, signaling the end of the class. He believed that to be able to savor the fruit of education and recreation, people should not segregate the meaning of the two word, rather believing that those two words live inseparably.

He wrote:

“I shall contend that to understand the meaning of education and of recreation we must see the two in union and not in separation. The education which is not also recreation is a maimed, incomplete, half-done thing. The recreation which is not also education has no re-creative value.

Then he said:

“Recreation we shall then see is not an escape from the toil of education into the emptiness of a vacation, but a vitalizing element in the process of education itself.”

When we do not put recreation into one compartment and education into another, embracing them wholly, we do not have to worry about what to do with the excess of leisure time that we have.

He wrote:

“In the life of a rightly educated man there is no such vacuum. By combining his education with his recreation we fill up all possible vacuums in advance, and so save nature the trouble of “abhorring” them.



Kleno Dance captured by Claire Holt. Via (Jerome Robbins Dance Division of The New York Public Library)


Speaking of leisure time, Jacks drew a point in which the kind of labor that one chooses to do can have an effect on the leisure that one chooses to engage at the end. Moreover, how one uses his leisure time can determine his efficiency as a worker.

He wrote:

“On the one hand, the efficiency of the worker is obviously affected by the way he spends his leisure time. If the director of a company is a haunter of night clubs, or a Monte Carlo gambler, let the shareholders look out for themselves. If the artisan spends his week-end in a debauch, or in attempting some athletic feat beyond his strength, you will know of it on Monday morning.

On the other hand, the kind of work he does will have its influence on the kind of pleasure he seeks when work is done. If he leaves off in a state of exhaustion or boredom or nervous irritation, he will naturally seek his recreation in the form of ready-made pleasures and external excitement, and be especially susceptible, as psychologists well know, to that form of entertainment in which sex flavor is uppermost.”

Later in the book, he offered a practical advice for people who want to make use of their leisure time effectively:

“The more of your leisure you can spend in creative activity, in skillful and beautiful exertion, the more you will enjoy it and the more good it will do you. In that way your recreation will become your education.”     



Education Through Recreation.



One response

  1. Pingback: 2012 MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize Winner Junot Díaz on Reclaiming Our Education « On the Move

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