Teaching Principles to Kids

It is only recently that A.T. teachers are figuring out how to teach Alexander Technique in classes. Until we do more work in that field and codify it better so people can teach themselves effectively without hands-on, A.T. is probably not going to be something that gets into schools – yet. Even then, there are some challenges.

The Alexander Technique is the most popular in the U.K., where it is most likely to become available in schools there. However, the possibility that AT teachers will teach in schools in the UK is slim for another reason. It is because schools have made it expensive for adults to be involved in volunteer school efforts. Evidently in the UK, any adult who is in contact with children, (even an adult who is invited to speak at a school auditorium! Or a parent that accompanies kids on an outing!) is required to be “investigated” to see if they are “implied” in any sort of rumor of child abuse or pedophile. This “investigation” costs to the tune of sixty-five pounds, which the alleged volunteer must pay themselves. Furthermore, these “results,” (which could be any sort of rumor or objection made by any disgruntled kid or custody battle) are given full weight with no judgment made as to relative actual truth. Many people are outraged and will not put up with such nonsense. So they don’t get to teach the kids in the UK. It’s the kids’ loss, justified as “protection.”

The A.T. teachers who are working in schools already – well, why don’t we ask them…?? Both kinds of teachers are too busy to reply, pretty much. Just set up those chairs over there, clean the chalkboard off and grade some papers, please.  An A.T. teacher who is also an educator doesn’t have the time to be speculating or writing here. Required curriculum is a nasty habit to break, and the price could be your tenure.

Schools resist change more completely than almost any bureaucracy. Even bringing a comparably “new” subject, something that is completely a no-brainer such as practical & creative thinking skills is met with resistance. This subject is by a proven, credentialed, creative thinker with a lifetime of experience named Edward de Bono. He has lesson plans, valuable and worthwhile content…it’s workability has even already been proven in other countries. It STILL isn’t used in either the US or the UK. It’s even mostly FREE. So…why NOT?

So that is the answer to much of your question. Schools themselves resist innovation.

Now, the teachers themselves aren’t resistant. In the US, any A.T teacher could volunteer in a classroom and get some valuable experience to contribute how our discipline should be improved to teach school kids.

But there is no pay, and who can afford to work for free these days? When I last checked, kids can’t afford private lessons… 😉

The other problem is the kids. Kids are compelled to attend school. By the time they’re old enough to learn A.T., they are jaded about learning anything. The last thing they want to do is to pay attention.

Now, kids could be taught before they get so many bad habits, but grade school kids are literal thinkers. Somewhere after 12 is when a child’s brain is mature enough to grasp conceptual learning. Kids younger than that don’t seem to ‘get’ abstraction. A.T. is quite abstract, because it’s a process of subtraction & undoing, rather than adding on a new improvement or info. A.T. doesn’t have a “form.” A.T. students cannot be “graded.” Somehow students are supposed to get the idea that it’s OK to think, on their own, of what they want to do that might benefit from the application of A.T. principles. This “thinking on your own” is not encouraged anywhere else in school – much.

Until a decade ago or so, if I asked a bunch of A.T. teachers “what are the principles of Alexander Technique that all styles of A.T. teaching have in common…” everyone present would give me a dirty look: “how dare you ask that divisive question!”…While they were hoping nobody would call on them for such a definition.

A.T. is tricky enough that, in the past, adults were supposed to “get” what the principles were from being moved around by the teacher. That’s a bit of a stretch for kids to figure out. For kids, there has to be more content. Some of the basic assumptions need to be introduced so kids have a framework to hang the learning on. Adults come with assumptions already – and all we A.T. teachers have to do is to sweep the rug out from underneath them and we get big differences. Kids are sort of a clueless blank.

As Marj Barstow once asked me – “If we want to prevent unnecessary habits from getting a foothold from the start, how can we show and tell people what to do constructively and carry through with it?”

The other thing is people only seem motivated to learn A.T. after something goes wrong. As A.T. advocates, we’re trying to sell the need for something that people have no clue they need, with sensory equipment too dull to recognize the improvements because these crucial differences are often too subtle for them to notice.

Further, the people who have found value in A.T., they sound as if they’ve been initiated into a cult. Others who hear them can’t understand what they’re talking about or why they were just so impressed with what has happened for them. Then when Alexander teachers trot out out a list of benefits, this list is all over the map. A list of benefits make the Alexander Technique sound pretty much like snake oil… Good for whatever ails ya’.

These are a few of the problems the A.T. community has in teaching children. But…OK, let’s start somewhere… how about by thinking of situations that would motivate middle school or high school kids to learn to use A.T.?

  1. So they can be good at whatever skill they try to do right off the bat.
  2. So they can keep getting better instead of being completely clueless how to duplicate the happy success that just happened the first time.
  3. So they won’t look like a dork as they’re getting used to their plastic surgery and can fit in with the other kids. (I’m kidding, but it feels like you’re completely weird when you’re changing shape and growing.)
  4. So they can change some mannerism about themselves they don’t like
  5. So they can assume or act different in any situation.
  6. So they can carry those humungous backpacks with all their schoolbooks without messing up their backs.
  7. So they look attractive to the opposite sex.
  8. So practicing works the way they intend. So they can ride a horse, play football, run, dance, play music, etc. without running into a plateau where they can’t improve no matter how hard they want it or how long they practice.
  9. So you can observe yourself & describe it without getting all tied up in knots, embarrassed or self-conscious.

We NEED this list of what might motivate kids to learn and use AT to present it to kids. I’ll make sure they get complied and report on the results. Maybe some people would like to join me in doing some experiments with a classroom?

Anyway – in conclusion, I’m a practical thinker.

In my humble opinion, to teach kids, Alexander teachers should talk about A.T. more. They should describe exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. They should question traditional ways so these means-whereby can be improved for the benefit of coming generations. They should ditch some of their own college education and use simpler words. They should write, video or record themselves experimenting. They should put the results on youtube in bite-sized pieces…. (because we already know there is no money in teaching kids A.T. or anything else. The American culture has deemed teaching kids to be one of the lower jobs on the status pole. Get used to it.)

Alexander Technique teachers need to think carefully about how people specifically learn, present the SIMPLIFIED, relevant information that is organized enough to remember. If it’s not remembered, it’s not being learned. Maybe teach mind-mapping techniques for recommending how these high school or middle school kids would take notes to help them remember such a complex thing as A.T. Maybe we need basic visualization skills or thinking skills that go along with a program of this sort.

To start with, kids and adults need to know how to observe themselves and how to run an experiment for themselves, with themselves. A sense of rhythm is handy. Then maybe the teachers could get to primary control, living anatomy, body mapping & …what do they call it in classrooms?  Ah, impulse control. I think  we have, in the term: “impulse control,” there we have our synonym for inhibition.

I’ve got more thoughts on this.. but I’m starting to rant so I’m going to stop. ;o)

Please, please, please, if you are an Alexander Technique teacher in the field, let’s not let A.T. turn into a “sit up straight” school, OK? No matter how expedient it is as a way to present Alexander Technique, selling it short doesn’t serve us humans or Alexander’s vision, now nor in the long run.

“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.” – Daniel J. Boorstin


Your Ideas: Illustrations for Captions

I’m illustrating ideas of thinking strategy & perception in some educational writing about Alexander Technique in the form of an e-book.  Useful would be a bunch of ideas how to illustrate abstract concepts in pictures.

As thinking skills are, this subject is a challenge because it is a process. It is similar to how people get seduced by the results rather than becoming impressed with the effectiveness of using the process. A focus on results leads people to brush aside the process that got them there and seize upon the dazzling results. In the case of Alexander Technique, people get distracted by the result of getting better at doing something or recovering the ability to move easier.

The most obvious illustrations of showing pictures of the body from the result of using the process has the potential to seriously misdirect the content of Alexander Technique. The ability to see motion needs to be educated to perceive the level of action being trained. It also needs a relationship to movement, and pictures are two dimensional.

Perhaps the solutions are illustrative videos!

Alexander Technique uses the kinesthetic sense as the arena to train thinking skills. Among other benefits, the Technique helps to eliminate unnecessary habits of movement that were unintentionally trained and are perpetuated by accidental association.

The process leading up to the ability to move & learn easier is the content. The obvious choice of illustrating frozen body positions with photography tends to give potential students the wrong idea, no matter what the quality of the photographs. Readers assume pictures are showing them the examples of the “proper” ways to move so they can copy this proper form and assume the “right” positions. Of course, learning the ability to respond with less effort is a significant and valuable side effect, but when it comes to improving freedom of movement, establishing and copying an ideal is the wrong way to get it.

The act of copying bodily positioning works against learning the process because it encourages going for the results in the “old same way.” The internal experience of the learner is that moving easier will often feel wrong from the inside. This is because the human sense of orientation only gives feedback about changed position relative to the status quo, not absolute fact. What is new and unpracticed can be sensed as strangely unfamiliar and off balance if it is radically different from habituated norms.

Every advertising authority recommends dangling benefits. In Alexander Technique, the benefits are so broad that a list of them ends up sounding like snake oil sales. The process is the content, not the result. But the result is the motive for using the process!

Hope you appreciate the challenge!

Winners will get a free copy of my forth-coming e-book titled “Younger Than Yesterday, Alexander Technique for Fast Learners.”

(Of course, I am assuming that you can understand what these isolated one-liners mean in isolation without having read the rest of the writing. All misunderstandings are valid in this situation!)

Please make suggestions in the comments about pictures, designs and images to illustrate ANY of these different proposed captions. (Suggestions to edit the captions are also appreciated.)

  1. *Muscles are contracted by effort. When you stop forcing them, muscles return to resting length in the “off duty” state. Lengthening a muscle feels like…nothing.
  2. *As multiple goals are added and must be accommodated, being pulled in opposing directions is bound to be conflicting. We get into trouble because we can’t foresee the effect of repeating what we do over time.
  3. *The sense of location, effort & weight is relative, not absolute fact. Because humans adapt, we can get used to just about anything that feels normal, once repeated enough.
  4. *Repetition trains a new habit. Practicing a series of chained behaviors creates a new skill. Be careful what you allow yourself to repeat!
  5. *Effectively trained habits install seamlessly; they disappear and become innate so the habit can be relied upon to work the same way every time.
  6. *For a base-line comparison, show off an authentic example by observing your own habits in action without trying to improve yourself first.
  7. *Get some words for how you’re moving by describing the movement’s direction, sequence, timing and quality.
  8. *Thinking is the first part of movement. You are already preparing to move to respond as soon as you think about it.
  9. *After movement preparation and before going into action, you get a moment of veto power.
  10. *Now that you’ve experienced something new, what do you do to get a repeat performance? (Wanted are more pics of multiple choices. For instance, some ideas we already have are: “say the magic word,” “file folders,” “elephant remembering computer password”, “list-making….” Specific suggestions about how to illustrate these suggestions are great!)
  11. *To duplicate desired results of an experiment: suspend previous ways of getting the goals and follow the sequence of experimenting that worked before. Presto!
  12. *Recognize new information by their unfamiliar, subtle, elusive, disorienting, funny & paradoxical characteristics.
  13. *Refusing, fooling, lying, slowing to a crawl, waiting, distraction, placating, cheating… Anything that works is fair game in using preventative veto power against the coercion of habitual routines!