‘Slowly I came down the east staircase, shoulders back and chin up. The old P&D: poise and decorum. Poise was keeping your knees and your lips together, your eyebrows and your nostrils apart. Decorum was keeping your mouth shut. I needn’t have bothered. There was no one in sight.’ —— Flavia de Luce
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, by Alan Bradley (The most recent installment of the Flavia de Luce series. The first book is titled The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.)
At eleven years of age, living with her eccentric family in the English countryside, Flavia manages to entangle herself in murder cases, utilizing her boundless curiosity and knowledge of chemistry. She is intrepid, inspiring, and causes me to read with a smile on my face.
Ever alert for the pithy quote that speaks to the business of life in a body, I found Flavia’s description of herself to be a humorous example of the directions we often give ourselves, especially when wishing to make a good impression.
These were Mr. Alexander’s Directions with a Capital ‘D’:
I allow my head to move forward and up, that my spine may lengthen and my torso widen.
Next time you find yourself in a ‘shoulders back’ moment, give Mr. A’s Directions a try. And about keeping those nostrils apart, well, I’ll have to get back to you on that!
John Dewey (1859-1952) was required reading in my pedagogy courses at Bowling Green State University in the mid-1970’s. I wonder if he is still read by undergrads. What I remember 40 years later is the three word summary of his ideas, ‘Learning through doing.’
As a proponent of social change and educational reform, Dewey’s philosophy, called experimentalism or instrumentalism, was inspired by reading William James, an American philosopher of pragmatism. Dewey’s other influences included Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955). Dewey studied with F.M. for several years and wrote the introductions to two of F.M.’s books, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (1923) and The Universal Constant in Living (1941).
Dewey claimed that humankind behaved out of habit, but that change was inevitable and required creative thinking and responding to the present, not the past or the future. Thought was the ‘means where-by’ the individual connected with the world. Dewey touted education as the key to discarding habit and embracing active thinking, engagement, and creativity.
In these precepts, he echoes Mr. Alexander, or Mr. Alexander echoes him, I’m not sure. They were co-existing in a particular milieu; a time of scientific discovery; an era of big ideas and those who devoted their lives to them. Both Dewey and Alexander believed in the power of education, and worked with youth; Dewey as the founder of alternative schools, and Alexander, who established a school for youth in the United States and also taught young students in his London studio.
Could we, the international Alexander Technique teaching community, renew this commitment to youth and to insuring that the principles of the Technique are an everyday part of life in a classroom? I’m pondering this possibility, and welcome your thoughts/ideas on the subject—-