Alexander Technique John Dewey

Literature about the F.M. Alexander Technique and John Dewey

Books and other writings that are currently available are linked to text or literature resources information.

Alexander, F.M. Man’s Supreme Inheritance, 1918. Introduction by John Dewey
(Mouritz Press, 1996. Available from AmSAT Books and Mouritz Press).

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, 1923. Introduction by John Dewey
(STAT Books, 1997. Available from AmSAT Books and Mouritz.)

The Use of the Self, 1932. Introduction by John Dewey. (Available from AmSAT Books.)

The Universal Constant in Living, 1941 (Mouritz Press 2000. Available from Mouritz Press and AmSAT Books.)

Articles and Lectures (1894 -1950), 1995.
(Mouritz Press, 1996. Available from AmSAT Books and Mouritz Press.)

 John Dewey and F.M. Alexander, edited by Alexander Murray. Booklet available from AmSAT Books.
Contents

Jones, Frank Pierce, “The Work of F.M. Alexander as an Introduction to Dewey's Philosophy of Education.” Jones provides an in-depth explanation for Dewey's statement, “My theories of mind-body, of the co-ordination of the active elements of the self and of the place of ideas in inhibition and control of overt action required contact with the work of F.M. Alexander, and in later years his brother, A.R., to transform them into realities.”

In a letter to Jones dated October 5, 1942, Dewey wrote, “I have read your paper with much interest. I hope School and Society will publish it. I certainly endorse all you say about my work. I am especially struck by the truth of what you say about the difference between a kind of intellectual assent to certain propositions and beliefs and the concrete vital meaning they take on after an experience of their work.”

Frank Pierce Jones was a professor of classics at Tufts and Brown Universities. He completed Alexander Technique teacher training with F.M. Alexander and with Alexander's brother, A.R. Alexander, in 1944. He was strongly encouraged by Dewey to conduct research into the Alexander Technique. His research in the Technique was done at the Institute for Psychological Research at Tufts University, where he also became a lecturer in psychology. Jones's studies of the Alexander Technique have been reported in several professional journals. Drawing on F.M. Alexander's writings, and long association with F.M. and A.R. Alexander, Jones wrote a book published under the title Body Awareness in Action--A Study of the Alexander Technique. This book has been republished under Jones's original title Freedom to Change. Jones completed the book shortly before his death in 1975. Another book of Jones's writings, Collected Writings on the Alexander Technique, is available from AmSAT Books.

 Dewey, John, Three Prefaces to Books by Alexander: Man's Supreme Inheritance, 1918; Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, 1923; The Use of the Self, 1932.

Dewey, John, “The Barrier of Habit” Human Nature & Conduct. Excerpt:“The trouble is that instead of taking the act in its entirety we cite the multitude of relevant facts only as evidence of influence of mind on body and of body on mind, thus starting from and perpetuating the idea of their independence and separation even when dealing with the connection. What the facts testify to is not an influence exercised across and between separate things, but to behavior so integrated that it is artificial to split it up into two things.”

Dewey, John “Preoccupation with the Disconnected.” “From "Body and Mind.” A lecture to the New York Academy of Medicine, 1928.First published in the Bulletin of the NY Academy of Medicine, 1928. Republished in The Collected Works of John Dewey: Later Works Volume 3: 1927-1928 Essays, Reviews, Miscellany, pp. 25-40. Southern Illinios University Press. Full text.

 John Dewey and F.Matthias Alexander-- II edited by Alexander Murray. Booklet available from AmSAT Books. Contents

Turbayne, C.M. “John Dewey and F. Matthias Alexander.” Department of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania, 1948. Republished as appendix to Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence by Eric David McCormack. (London, Mouritz: 2014.) Turbayne discusses what the Alexander Technique is and what the Alexander Technique is not. “It is not a nature cure, a system of faith healing, or a physical culture, or a medical treatment, or a semi-occult philosophy. As to what it is, Dewey's brief but striking description appeals most and has the least chance of being proved incorrect: 'It [the Alexander Technique] bears the same relation to education that education itself bears to all other human activities.' ” Turbayne quotes a number of descriptions of the technique by Aldous Huxley, Dr. Wilfred Barlow, G.E. Coghill, and Nobel laureate in physiology Sir Charles Sherrington (Mr. Alexander has done a service to the subject by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psycho-physical man. To take a step is an affair, not of this limb or that limb solely, but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment--not the least of the head and the neck.). He also explains, using quotes from Dewey and others, why the Alexander Technique is difficult to describe in words and why direct experience of the technique is needed to understand it. Turbayne uses a number of quotes from Dewey to support his argument that “what we can be certain of is that Dewey obtained from Alexander experimental evidence for his mind-body theory, and probably was in many other respects profoundly influenced, especially in the sphere of education.” Through examining Dewey's statements about the Alexander Technique, Turbayne follows “the development of Dewey's attitude from the 1918 Introduction to Man's Supreme Inheritance to the 1939 The Biography of John Dewey.” “In 1923 Dewey no longer minces matters.... The rigorous analysis to which he has been subjecting this 'new principle' in his own mind, and the conclusions he has made, are revealed in his introduction to Alexander's second book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. His purpose is to show that it is no panacea... but 'satisfies the most exacting demands of the scientific method.'” Turbayne explains how Dewey was able to formulate and to verify, through his critical observations of the Alexander Technique, his ideas about “the unity of the mind-body; the vitiation of our sensory appreciation, the material of self-judgements; the unconditional necessity of inhibition of customary acts and the change from 'theoretical belief' to knowledge.”“

Bourne, Randolph, “Making Over the Body.” A review of Man's Supreme Inheritance. First Published in New Republic #15 (1918)

Dewey, John, “Reply to a Reviewer.” Dewey's response to Randolph Bourne's review of Man's Supreme Inheritance. First published in New Republic (1918).

 Dewey, John, “A Sick World.” First published in New Republic #33 (1923). Reprinted 2014 as appendix to Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence by Eric David McCormack. (London, Mouritz: 2014.)

 John Dewey and F. Matthias Alexander -- III edited by Alexander Murray. Booklet available from AmSAT Books. Contents

Murray, Alexander “A Note on E.D. McCormack's 'Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey, A Neglected Influence,'” 1990. The author provides background information on Father McCormack's Ph.D. thesis (University of Toronto).

Alexander Murray is a Professor of Music at the University of Illinois and Co-Director of the Urbana Center for the Alexander Technique.

McCormack, E.D. “Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence” (Abstract for Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto), 1948. Reprinted London, Mouritz: 2014. Selected quotes: “This thesis proposes to investigate the nature and effect of Dewey's contact with the Alexanders and their work. Other references to Alexander in Dewey's published writings have been sought, and inquiry made into his association with the Alexanders. The first chapter of the thesis outlines the problem and the method of procedure followed. The second chapter gives a brief account of the life and writings of F.M. Alexander, and of the general features of his doctrine.” The third chapter discusses “Early Relations between Dewey and Alexander.” “The fourth chapter compares some of the essential doctrine of [Alexander's] Man's Supreme Inheritance with Dewey's Human Nature and Conduct, the substance of which was presented in a series of lectures at Stanford University in 1919... . In the fifth and final chapter the importance of some aspects of Alexander's doctrine for Dewey's philosophy is taken up.”“

Kuntz, Paul Grimley, “The Philosopher and the Physiologist: The Case of John Dewey and F. Matthias Alexander.” The author discusses misrepresentations of Alexander's work by some Dewey scholars. “The real issue underlying the opposition to Alexander...is that Alexander had broken with the prevalent mechanism that produces body-mind dualism. Dewey's friends saw the eccentricity and heresy: Dewey himself saw in Alexander's teaching an important truth.”

Paul Grimely Kuntz Ph.D. is Professor of Philosophy at Emory University.

Boydston Jo Ann, “John Dewey and the Alexander Technique,” 1986. Full text

Jo Ann Boydston Ph.D. was the Director of the Center for Dewey Studies and Distinguished Professor Emerita at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois. She was the editor of the 37-volume Collected Works of John Dewey.

Dewey, John, Human Nature and Conduct (Excerpts). Full text.

McCormack, E., “Human Nature and Conduct and Alexander,” 1958. Excerpt from Ph.D. thesis Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence, University of Toronto 1958. Reprinted by Mouritz, 2014.
Full text.

John Dewey and F. Matthias Alexander --IV edited by Alexander Murray. Booklet available from AmSAT Books.
Contents

Mixon, Don, “The Place of Habit in the Control of Action.” Mixon introduces a paradigm from social psychology to discuss the distinctions between the “whats” of behavior (what people do) and the “ways” of behavior (“the ways people do what they do”). Examples from social psychology and acting are used to explain these distinctions. The author points out the differences between modern psychology's definition of habit (“repetitive whats”) and Dewey's more traditional definition of habit (“the way or how” something is characteristically done). Mixon explains the key differences between “attitude” and “habit.”

The author explicates why Dewey “was prompted to write about habit as the key to social psychology by practical experiences and has stated that the ideas he held in an abstract and theoretical way were given concrete significance and substance by acquaintance and study with F.M. Alexander. He [Alexander] taught what he wrote about: how to re-integrate behavior on a conscious level. Essentially he taught a way of changing habits. The habit that served as a vehicle of instruction was the way we carry ourselves and move.” The author describes Dewey's specific experiences with the Alexander Technique and what he learned from these experiences, including how “ways of thinking can be conceived in a fashion analogous to ways of carrying ourselves, moving, speaking, and feeling.” Dewey was working against the overwhelmingly prevalent mind/body dualism of his day but “making the move from 'physical' to 'mental' is less demanding today.”

“The place of habit in the control of action” is addressed through comparisons of the 'whats and ways' of the stage actor and the whats and ways of the 'acter' in a social situation. The “skill-like” nature of habit is explained. “Ways” of doing are the “means” and the “whats” of doing are the “ends.” Dewey's term “intelligent control of means” is synonomous with Alexander's term “means-whereby.” “By looking at the two aspects of action--the what and the way--the importance of Dewey's insistence on the interactive (transactive) nature of habit becomes evident.”

The author addresses “Habit Fixity and Flexibility.” Dewey's 30-plus years of Alexander Technique lessons were “illustrative of his ongoing interest in habit change.” The ability to change a habit means the ability to take responsiblity for the behaviors governed by that habit. “The problem is not how to move people to behave, but to discover the means toward already desired ends. Dewey called habits 'active means.'” The author suggests that it would be beneficial to study “ways of doing” and to direct inquiry toward the role of habit, including “habit flexibility.” “What we can control, what we can choose, what is at our discretion is limited by organized skill-like ways of behavior--by our habits.”

Don Mixon, Ph.D, is the author of Obedience and Civilization (1989) and is retired Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Wollongon, Australia.

Dewey, John, “Body and Mind.” Read at the Eight-first Anniversary Meeting of the New York Academy of Medicine, November 17, 1927. First Published in Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 4 (1928): 3-19, and in Mental Hygiene 12 (1928): 1-17.

Dewey, John, “Nature, Life, and Body-Mind,” from Experience and Nature.

McCormack, E.D., “Aspects of Alexander's Doctrines for Dewey's Philosophy” from Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence. Full text. Reprinted by Mouritz, 2014.


Binkley, G.,
The Expanding Self 1993 London: STAT Books. Available from AmSAT Books.
This is an extensive diary of Goddard Binkley's lessons with F.M. Alexander and also includes notes and observations on Alexander's teacher training course. There are several references to Dewey, including an excerpt from a 1918 letter from Dewey to a critic of Alexander and some of Alexander's reflections on Alexander's discussions with Dewey.

Goddard Binkley (1920-1987) began having lessons in the Alexander Technique during his studies for a Ph.D. in Sociology at the New School for Social Research, New York. He went to London in 1951 for a course of individual lessons with F.M. Alexander. He joined F.M. Alexander's last teacher training course in 1953 and qualified in 1957.He taught the technique in the U.S. from 1959 to 1981 and in Paris from 1981 to 1987. He ran Alexander Technique teacher training courses from 1975-1987. 

Boydston, J., “Alexander, Dewey, Jones, and McCormack: A Circle of Influence” Text of keynote address at the 1996 NASTAT annual meeting. NASTAT News (newsletter of the North American Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique) #34, 1996. Available from AmSAT.
This talk traces and analyzes the history of Dewey's interest in and support for the Alexander Technique.

Jo Ann Boydston Ph.D. was the Director of the Center for Dewey Studies and Distinguished Professor Emerita at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois. She was the editor of the 37-volume Collected Works of John Dewey.

See also: Boydston Jo Ann, “John Dewey and the Alexander Technique”

Jones, Frank P., Body Awareness in Action--A Study of the Alexander Technique, Chapter 11 “Dewey and Alexander,” pp. 94-105. New York: Schocken Books, 1976. Out of print. Body Awareness In Action has been republished under the title Freedom to Change (London, Mouritz Press: 1997). Freedom to Change was Jones's original title for the book.

Also Chapter 1 “Escape from the Monkey Trap,” Chapter 2 “Sensory Evidence,” Chapter 4 “Man's Supreme Inheritance,” Chapter 5 “Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual,” Chapter 6 “The Use of the Self,” Chapter 8 “The Two Brothers,” Chapter 9 “The Alexander Training Course,” Chapter 10 “Trial in Johannesburg,” Chapter 12 “Experimental Studies,” Chapter 13 “What is the Mechanism?”

McCormack, E.D., Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence, 1958. Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto. (London, Mouritz: 2014). Foreword by Alexander Murray.

Chapter 1 “Introduction: The Problem”

Chapter 2 “Frederick Matthias Alexander”
1. Life and Writings. 2. Doctrine: General Features and the Discovery.

Chapter 3 “Early Relations Between Dewey and Alexander”
1.Before Their Meeting in 1916. 2. Dewey's Position, 1915–1919.

Chapter 4 “Man's Supreme Inheritance and Human Nature and Conduct”
1. Man's Supreme Inheritance. 2. Human Nature and Conduct and Alexander.

Chapter 5 “The Importance of Some Aspects of Alexander's Doctrine for Dewey's Philosophy”

Appendices include: “A Sick World” by John Dewey, “John Dewey and F. Matthias Alexander” by C. M. Turbayne, and “John Dewey and F. M. Alexander—36 Years of Friendship” by Alexander Murray.

Selected quotes: “This thesis proposes to investigate the nature and effect of Dewey's contact with the Alexanders and their work. Other references to Alexander in Dewey's published writings have been sought, and inquiry made into his association with the Alexanders. The first chapter of the thesis outlines the problem and the method of procedure followed. The second chapter gives a brief account of the life and writings of F.M. Alexander, and of the general features of his doctrine.” The third chapter discusses “Early Relations between Dewey and Alexander.” “The fourth chapter compares some of the essential doctrine of [Alexander's] Man's Supreme Inheritance with Dewey's Human Nature and Conduct, the substance of which was presented in a series of lectures at Stanford University in 1919... . In the fifth and final chapter the importance of some aspects of Alexander's doctrine for Dewey's philosophy is taken up.”

1. Text of excerpt from Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence.Human Nature and Conduct and Alexander.”

2. Text of excerpt from Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence.

Murray, A., “Connecting Links” NASTAT News #16, 1992. Available from AmSAT. A short article focusing on understanding the Alexander Technique from Dewey's broad perspective.

Murray, A., “John Dewey and F.M. Alexander: 36 Years of Friendship” The F.M. Alexander Memorial Lecture, Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, 1982. Republished as appendix to Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence by Eric David McCormack. (London, Mouritz: 2014.) This talk opens with a brief discussion of Frank Pierce Jones's assertion that Dewey's philosophy provides the best introduction to the Alexander Technique and that "to come from the work of F.M. Alexander to John Dewey was to understand Dewey's concept of experience in a way that wasn't possible to the uninitiated." Jones gave Dewey lessons during the last years of Dewey's life. His scientific research into the Technique was "inspired, encouraged and guided by Dewey."

The author quotes one of Jones's summaries of the Technique [1953]: "The Alexander Technique is a method of reeducation that is psychophysical in the sense that it brings about a change in the person as a whole, by introducing a change in his total pattern of reaction. It is not an attempt to reeducate the mind by way of the body or the body by way of the mind. It is a method for changing and redirecting on a conscious level the background of postural tone which underlies and makes possible all orderly motion. A change in this fundamental pattern is a total change, and it effects the character of any activity whether the activity is mental or physical." Jones's disclaimer to his own definition immediately follows: "This kind of definition is better calculated for answering questions neatly than for giving away information." Jones fully realized the difficulty of explaining the Alexander Technique to someone who hasn't actually experienced it. Dewey grappled with this problem for the 35-plus years that he studied the Technique.

The author uses a 1949 excerpt from a tribute by Sydney Hook to illustrate how Dewey frequently has been misunderstood, particularly in regard to the Alexander Technique. Hook believed that misunderstanding of Dewey has been based on Dewey's perception of "experience." Dewey's conception of experience differed radically from his philosophic critics' traditional ideas of experience. ["The Place of John Dewey in Modern Thought" Philosophic Thought in France and the U.S. Farber, ed.] Murray points out that this idea of 'experience' which gave so much trouble to his critics included Dewey's experiences with the Alexander Technique.

There is no available information as to precisely when Dewey first began having Alexander lessons. Letters from Evelyn and Lucy Dewey during the period 1914-1918 enthusiastically discuss the Alexander Technique. [Letters in Dewey Collection, courtesy Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.] Murray explains: "Dewey said that his family had had lessons for quite a while before he did although he had read Alexander's book [Man's Supreme Inheritance, 1910, original short version]. At the time Dewey thought the technique was something like psychoanalysis, then the rage in New York. But when Dewey had the experience [Alexander Technique lessons], he realized that there was absolutely no similarity." Alexander describes Dewey on an early visit, as an anonymous example in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual: "A pupil of mine, an author had been in a serious state of health for some time and had at last reached the point where he was unable to carry on his literary work, after finishing his latest book [Democracy and Education, 1916], passed through a crisis, described as a breakdown, with the result that even a few hours of work caused him great fatigue and brought on a state of painful depression. From the outset of his lessons therefore I expressly stipulated that he should stop and make a break at the end of each half hour's writing and than should either do 15 minutes in respiratory reeducation [Alexander Technique] or take a walk in the open air before resuming his writing."

"One afternoon he came to his lesson unusually depressed and enervated. And in response to my inquiries he admitted that he'd been indulging in his literary work that morning from 9 until 1 without a break, in spite of my express stipulation that he must make frequent breaks. I pointed out to him that if he'd been continuing his work for four hours without a break we couldn't be surprised at the unfortunate result. For, as I explained to him, during deep thought, as in sleep, the activity of the respiratory processes is reduced to a minimum, a very harmful minimum, in his case owing to the inadequacy of his inter-thoracic capacity. This latter condition being one of the causes of his breakdown.

'But I am unable to stop once I get into my work!' said the pupil. I suggested that if this were so it must come from some lack of control on his part. 'But surely,' my pupil objected, 'it must be a mistake to break a train of thought.' I answered experience went to show that this was not the case, on the contrary, as far as I could see, it should be as easy to break off a piece of work requiring thought and take it up again, as it is to carry on a train of thought whilst taking a walk with all its attendant interruptions. And that this should be possible not only without loss of connection but with an accruing benefit to the individual concerned.'

Murray points out that he has emphasized "loss of connection" in the above quote because two paragraphs later Alexander explains: "My pupil had failed to make this all important connection between his work in reeducation and his outside activities. Therefore the connection between the difficulty he experienced in stopping in his lessons and stopping in the midst of his literary work had escaped him. Like most others who miss most important connecting links between different factors in a case." 

The author cites Irene Tasker's talk, "Connecting Links" to show some more connections between Dewey and Alexander and possible influences each may have had on the other. In "Connecting Links," Irene Tasker states, "I remember various people, including Professor Dewey, objecting to the length of the title, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, suggesting that the words 'of the Individual' be cut out. F.M. [Alexander] said, 'No, that's the most important part of the title. The time is coming when the individual is going to be considered of less and less importance. The state, the community will be all. We are concerned with the quality of the individuals who make up the community.'" [192?] 

The author suggests a possible connection between Alexander's emphasis on the individual with Dewey's later emphasis on the same topic in his articles on "Individualism Old and New." Murray suggests that Dewey's problem with "end-gaining," described in the above quote from Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual , was similar to Irene Tasker's own problem with end-gaining, which she describes in "Connecting Links." (End-gaining is a term Alexander used to describe a faulty and immediate habitual response to a stimulus to do something--trying to achieve a particular end without first stopping to use a better nonhabitual "means-whereby" to gain the end.) Murray points out that Tasker states in Connecting Links that she had discussions with Dewey (while traveling with Dewey and his wife to California) on this topic: "I remember Professor Dewey busy with his typewriter on the train preparing the lectures he was due to give at Leland Stanford University. These lectures he used as material for his book, Human Nature and Conduct, which contains a valuable reference to his recent work with Alexander. We used to talk on the observation platform and I remember our comparing notes on end-gaining."

The author quotes excerpts from Irwin Edman's Philosopher's Holiday, in which Edelman describes Dewey's "thinking in activity" mode of lecturing, and points out the difference between the "glib dramatics of the teacher-actor" and Dewey's "enterprise, careful and candid, of the genuine thinker." Edman described attending Dewey's lectures as the experience of participating "in the actual business of thought. Those [Dewey's] pauses were actually delays in creative thinking, when the next step was really being considered." This description of Dewey's mode of lecturing also describes the "thinking-in-activity" taught in the Alexander Technique.

Edman also described a seminar with Dewey which Irene Tasker [Alexander Technique teacher] attended. An excerpt from an article by another member of the same seminar class (John Randall Jr. in "Dialogue on Dewey." Lamont, ed. Horizon Press New York 1959) describes an interchange between Irene Tasker (described by Randall as "a young lady who had come from England where she had studied philosophy with Bertrand Russell at Cambridge") and Dewey on how "the truth of an idea was tested by its use."

The author states, "One of the things that concerned Dewey most and why he thought Alexander's work so vital was that it brought together in experience things which words separate, for instance mind and body. The separation is still a problem." He points out that several recent books on the Alexander Technique contain the word "body" in the title. While this kind of title is trendy, it goes directly against Dewey's and Alexander's work, which endeavored "to fit together those things that language has broken up."

Other Dewey/Alexander Technique references include correspondence between Frank Pierce Jones and John Dewey. (Jones visited Dewey regularly until Dewey's death in 1952.)

Influences or traces of Alexander can be found in Dewey's writings even where Alexander is not specifically mentioned. "Whenever you see 'means and ends,' 'habit,' 'mind and body,' or 'experience' in Dewey you can be sure that Alexander is not lurking far behind."

"The last time Dewey mentioned Alexander in print was in an 80th birthday volume."[The Library of Living Philosophers, 1939.] The final paragraph on Dewey is in Dewey's own words: "I have usually, if not always held an idea first in its abstract form, often a matter chiefly of logical or dialectic consistency or the power of words to suggest ideas. Some personal experience through contact with individuals, groups or as visits in foreign countries was necessary to give the idea concrete significance. My theories of mind/body, coordination of the active elements of the self, and of the place of ideas in inhibition and control of overt action required contact with the work of F.M. Alexander and in later years his brother, A.R., to transform them into realities."

In regard to this quote Alexander Murray states, "Although this statement stands right at the end of his eightieth birthday commemoration the only person I know who took it seriously was the Benedictine father, Eric McCormack. 'How strange," he [McCormack] thought, 'that Dewey said this in 1939 and nobody had wondered who these people [F.M. and A.R. Alexander] were.' " Murray suggests that this might be explained by the attitude of Dewey's friends and followers, including Horace Kallen, as shown in a conversation among some of Dewey's friends in "Dialogue on John Dewey" 1959. The conversation is rather vague and dismissive of Alexander, most of what little information there is on Alexander and his work is either incorrect or superficial. Murray likens the tone and content of the conversation to "piecing together an elephant from the descriptions of blind men." One interesting point that Kallen does make is that Alexander apparently told him [Kallen] that he had gotten some of his thinking, including the idea of ideo-motor, from reading William James. Kallen erroneously equates Alexander's "physiology" with Mabel Ellsworth Todd's The Thinking Body.

Dewey's interest in the "problems of people," as well as the "problems of philosophy" is discussed. Albert Barnes, a self-made man and close friend of Dewey's was also very interested in "the problems of people" and tried to actively put "Dewey's educational ideas into practice." "Dewey said that Barnes had one of the most outstanding brains of anybody he'd ever come across." But Dewey's friends had problems with Barnes as well, "None of Dewey's philosophical friends could stand him." Excerpts from correspondence between Dewey and Barnes on Alexander are presented and discussed. While Barnes's views on Alexander's Technique were very positive, he did make one common error in regard to Dewey and Alexander: Barnes attributed some of the efficacy of the Technique to Alexander's personality and "force." However, the author points out that Dewey knew that this could not be the case as Dewey studied the Technique with both Alexander and Alexander's brother (and later with Frank Pierce Jones). "Dewey knew that it wasn't the personality of the man that put the technique across, that it was a principle at work."

Dewey's endorsement of the Alexander Technique grew. By the time he wrote the introduction to Alexander 's third book, The Use of the Self (1932), he considered that the technique was "absolutely basic to education."

Goddard Binkley's diary [1951] contains the following quote by Alexander about Dewey: "Dewey once asked me at a dinner party what would be my test of a person. 'Well,' I said, 'a man who could decide what the thing is he should do, then stick to his decision to do that and not some other thing. You see we decide to do a thing and then we find out the means whereby that thing can be done. Oh, Dewey was a bad pupil as he would tell you himself. He had many lessons, but it saved him. He's an old boy of 89 or 90 now; when first he came to me in 1914 or 15 he was like this': Alexander stooped over and shook his hands nervously."


A biography by G. Dykhuizen, The Life and and Mind of John Dewey, states that "throughout most of his life Dewey enjoyed remarkably good health" and "Dewey attributed 90 percent of his good health to Alexander and his work..." The author states that this comment is "quite a testimony" to the change in health Dewey experienced during his years of Alexander lessons.

Dewey's influence on Alexander is demonstrated in an excerpt from Alexander's last book, The Universal Constant in Living (1941), in which Alexander states, "Man's educational plan for the development of the individual self has been a meager one as compared to his plan for his development outside himself. The knowledge that he has accumulated of the world outside himself being out of all proportion to his meager knowledge of himself, has become a Frankenstein monster, in that it has led him to bring about the very conditions that are menacing his democratic way of life today. He adopted the democratic ideal as the way to freedom of thought and action, but failed to understand that in order to realize this ideal he would need to develop to full his potentiality for thinking-in-activity, [Dewey's phrase] in the general use and functioning of the self for which is essential not only individual freedom of thought and action, but individual freedom in thought and action, and which gives, in process, control of individual and therefore collective reaction to the way of life essential to the putting into practice the theory of democracy."

 

Tasker, I., “Connecting Links” (1967 ) Booklet available from AmSAT Books. “An informal talk given to teachers of the Alexander Technique at the Constructive Teaching Center, London.” In this short autobiography, Irene Tasker describes her "History of Thinking Leading Up to the Alexander Technique,” including studying classics at Cambridge in the early part of the twentieth century, her work as a teacher, and her training with Maria Montessori in Rome. She describes how she first came to know of the Alexander Technique through a student of Alexander's, Ethel Webb, who was studying with Montessori at the same time as Tasker (1913). During this same period, Ethel Webb also introduced Alexander's work to another student of Montessori, Margaret Naumberg, a family friend and student of John Dewey. Margaret Naumberg subsequently had lessons with Alexander in London, and persuaded Alexander to go to New York to teach the technique and to meet Dewey (1914). Tasker went to New York two years later. In New York, Irene Tasker taught at the Walden School (founded by Margaret Naumberg), attended a post-graduate course of lectures with Dewey, and began teaching the Alexander Technique. She later traveled with Dewey and his wife to California.

“I remember Professor Dewey busy with his typewriter on the train, preparing the lectures he was due to give at Leland Stanford University. These lectures he used as material for his book Human Nature and Conduct which contains a valuable reference to his recent work with Alexander. We used to talk on the Observation Platform, and I remember our comparing notes on 'end-gaining' in [Alexander Technique] lessons.”

Irene Tasker also describes her later work at F.M. Alexander's school for children, which emphasized “improvement as a whole” through paying particular attention to Alexander Technique “inhibition” and “means -whereby” in school work and in Alexander's procedures. After observing her work at the school, Dewey commented to her, “It is quite evident what you are aiming at--and I wish I were a pupil in this class!” There are several other brief references to Dewey, including: “I remember...Dr. Dewey's reply to someone who compared F.M.'s [F.M. Alexander] principle of inhibition with the 'non-doing' of ancient Chinese philsophy--- 'Ah' said Dr. Dewey, 'but they did not have Alexander's constructive "means" on the other side.'”

Irene Tasker began teaching the Alexander Technique in 1917. Up until that time the only people teaching the Technique had been F.M. Alexander and his brother, A.R. Alexander. She developed Alexander Technique “application work.”  

Turbayne, C.M. “John Dewey and F. Matthias Alexander.” Department of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania, 1948. Reprinted as appendix to Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence by Eric David McCormack. (London, Mouritz: 2014.) Turbayne discusses what the Alexander Technique is and what the Alexander Technique is not. “It is not a nature cure, a system of faith healing, or a physical culture, or a medical treatment, or a semi-occult philosophy. As to what it is, Dewey's brief but striking description appeals most and has the least chance of being proved incorrect: 'It [the Alexander Technique] bears the same relation to education that education itself bears to all other human activities.' ” Turbayne quotes a number of descriptions of the technique by Aldous Huxley, Dr. Wilfred Barlow, G.E. Coghill, and Nobel laureate in physiology Sir Charles Sherrington (Mr. Alexander has done a service to the subject by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psycho-physical man. To take a step is an affair, not of this limb or that limb solely, but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment--not the least of the head and the neck.). He also explains, using quotes from Dewey and others, why the Alexander Technique is difficult to describe in words and why direct experience of the technique is needed to understand it. Turbayne uses a number of quotes from Dewey to support his argument that “what we can be certain of is that Dewey obtained from Alexander experimental evidence for his mind-body theory, and probably was in many other respects profoundly influenced, especially in the sphere of education.” Through examining Dewey's statements about the Alexander Technique, Turbayne follows “the development of Dewey's attitude from the 1918 Introduction to Man's Supreme Inheritance to the 1939 The Biography of John Dewey.” “In 1923 Dewey no longer minces matters.... The rigorous analysis to which he has been subjecting this 'new principle' in his own mind, and the conclusions he has made, are revealed in his introduction to Alexander's second book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. His purpose is to show that it is no panacea... but 'satisfies the most exacting demands of the scientific method.'” Turbayne explains how Dewey was able to formulate and to verify, through his critical observations of the Alexander Technique, his ideas about “the unity of the mind-body; the vitiation of our sensory appreciation, the material of self-judgements; the unconditional necessity of inhibition of customary acts and the change from 'theoretical belief' to knowledge.”

Vineyard, Missy, “Frank Pierce Jones's Life and Work” Address at 1996 NASTAT Annual General Meeting. NASTAT News No. 34, 1996. Available from AmSAT. Some of the correspondence between Dewey and Frank Pierce Jones is quoted and described in this address.

Missy Vineyard is an Alexander Technique teacher and the Director of the Alexander Technique School of New England.

Article summaries by Marian Goldberg
Copyright 1997 Marian Goldberg

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