Alexander's Dream

by Robert Rickover

I wish to do away with such teachers as I am myself. My place in the present economy is due to a misunderstanding of the causes of our present physical disability, and when this disability is finally eliminated the specialised practitioner will have no place, no uses. This may be a dream of the future, but in its beginnings it is now capable of realisation.

What are we to make of this statement of Alexander’s, written nearly ninety years ago in his Preface to Man’s Supreme Inheritance ?

We know better than to take all of FM’s pronouncements too seriously and certainly the future he envisions in this statement seems more distant than ever. Over the course of the century, the incidence of stress-related injuries has been steadily climbing, creating whole new categories like Repetitive Strain Injury and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Still, I share Alexander’s dream. I too hope that someday most people, most of the time, will be truly at ease in their bodies.

How can the Alexander community help bring this about?

Clearly the key lies in early childhood education. That was recognized by many of Alexander’s most enthusiastic supporters, among them John Dewey, a man whose ideas have had an enormous influence on American education. “The proper field of application (of Alexander’s discoveries) is with the young, with the growing generation...” he wrote. Alexander himself stressed the importance of educating young children so that they would never develop harmful habits of posture and movement.

Alexander also believed that the transition to less specialized practitioners could begin with working with children: “Children (Alexander says) can be taught easily and rapidly ...To coordinate adults would never be a task for any but a very exceptional and skilled practitioner, but the art of treating children could be so standardized as to be carried out by large numbers of men and women of good intelligence, if they were properly trained...”

I claim no special expertise in teaching children. I have found many of those I’ve taught to be capable of making quick and dramatic changes in their posture and coordination. However, I would not feel comfortable subjecting any child of mine to the hands of someone not trained as an Alexander teacher. The potential to do harm is just too great, precisely because children respond so quickly to kinesthetic or verbal suggestions.

On the other hand, we know that a good Alexander teacher who is also adept at teaching groups of children can accomplish a great deal under the right circumstances. The experience of teachers like Ann Mathews, working in a wealthy suburban school district, and Michele Arsenault, in an inner-city school, bear this out.

Classroom instruction in what might be called “applied body mechanics” (or “body mapping to use the phrase coined by William and Barbara Conable) would be a very useful complement to more traditional hand-on Alexander instruction. I think it likely that this could be taught by Alexander’s “men and women of good intelligence”.

However, classroom teachers in elementary schools are already overwhelmed by the amount of material they are expected to cover. Adding yet another topic to their teaching load, no matter how worthy, is probably not a realistic option. Teachers of physical education, on the other hand, are in a very good position to teach this material. (Alexander’s well known Bedford Lecture was delivered to an audience of students at a college of physical education.) I am not suggesting they undertake hands-on private or group work

Perhaps there are other practical options. It would be wonderful if teachers like Ann and Michele, who have had first hand experience in working with classroom teachers and school administrators, could share their insights and suggestions. Perhaps in an “Alexander in the Classroom” issue of Direction?

Today we are experiencing a rapid growth in the number of people who have had at least some exposure to Alexander’s ideas and discoveries. As those discoveries become more widely understood and appreciated, it’s likely that parents and other relatives will take a fresh look at the coordination and balance of children in their family. No doubt many will see patterns they’d like to see improved.

What advice and resources will be available to them? How can the Alexander community be most helpful? Our response to questions like these will determine how effective we are at transforming Alexander’s dream into reality.

(The quotation about Alexander and children is taken from “The Philosopher’s Stone” by James Harvey Robinson, an American economist and historian and is based on a series of lessons and lengthy conversations with Alexander. The article appeared in the April, 1919 issue of Atlantic Monthly Magazine.)


Robert Rickover holds degrees in physics, metallurgical engineering and economics from Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Following a career as a research economist, he trained at the School of Alexander Studies in London from 1978-1981. He is the author of Fitness Without Stress - A Guide to the Alexander Technique and the creator of The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique web site He has been the Alexander Technique Editor for America Online and a regular content contributor for several general interest and health-oriented web sites. He is a teaching member of STAT, AmSAT and ATI.

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