John Dewey (1859-1952) was an American philosopher and the most prominent voice of the school of philosophy known as pragmatism. He also had an enormous influence on American education – indeed, he is sometimes referred to as the “father of American education”.
Dewey wrote the introductions to three of Alexander’s books which you can read below. In those introductions he repeatedly voiced his admiration for Alexander and his teaching in no uncertain terms. (Alexander’s books can be purchased at the Alexander Technique Bookstore.)
Introduction to Man’s Supreme Inheritance, Alexander’s first book:
Many persons have pointed out the strain which has come upon human nature in the change from a state of animal savagery to present civilization. No one, it seems to me, has grasped the meaning, dangers, and possibilities of this change more lucidly and completely than Mr. Alexander. His account of the crises which have ensued upon this evolution is a contribution to a better understanding of every phase of contemporary life. His interpretation centres primarily about the crisis in the physical and moral health of the individual produced by the conflict between the functions of the brain and the nervous system on one side and the functions of digestion, circulation, respiration, and the muscular system on the other; but there is no aspect of the maladjustments of modern life which does not receive illumination.
Frank acknowledgment of this internecine warfare in the very heart of our civilization is not agreeable. For this reason it is rarely faced in its entirety. We prefer to deal with its incidents and episodes as if they were isolated accidents and could be overcome one by one in isolation. Those who have seen the conflict have almost always proposed as a remedy either a return to nature, a relapse to the simple life, or else flight to some mystic obscurity. Mr. Alexander exposes the fundamental error in the empirical and palliative methods. When the organs through which any structure, be it physio- logical, mental, or social, are out of balance, when they are uncoordinated, specific and limited attempts at a cure only exercise the already disordered mechanism. In “improving” one organic structure, they produce a compensatory maladjustment, usually more subtle and more difficult to deal with, somewhere else. The ingeniously inclined will have little difficulty in paralleling Mr. Alexander’s criticism of ” physical culture methods” within any field of our economic and political life.
In his criticism of return or relapse to the simpler conditions from which civilized man has departed Mr. Alexander’s philosophy appears in its essential features. All such attempts represent an attempt at solution through abdication of intelligence. They all argue, in effect, that since the varied evils have come through development of conscious intelligence, the remedy is to let intelligence sleep, while the pre-intelligent forces, out of which it developed, do their work. The pitfalls into which references to the unconscious and subconscious usually fall have no existence in Mr. Alexander’s treatment. He gives these terms a definite and real meaning. They express reliance upon the primitive mind of sense, of unreflection, as against reliance upon reflective mind. Mr. Alexander sees the remedy not in a futile abdication of intelligence in order that lower forces may work, but in carrying the power of intelligence farther, in making its function one of positive and constructive control. As a layman, I am incompetent to pass judgment upon the particular technique through which he would bring about a control of intelligence over the bodily organism so as not merely to cure but to prevent the present multitudinous maladies of adjustment. But he does not stop with a pious recommendation of such conscious control; he possesses and offers a definite method for its realization, and even a layman can testify, as I am glad to do, to the efficacy of its working in concrete cases.
It did not remain for the author of these pages to eulogize self-mastery or self-control. But these eulogies have too frequently remained in the hortatory and moralistic state. Mr. Alexander has developed a definite procedure, based upon a scientific knowledge of the organism. Popular fear of anything sounding like materialism has put a heavy burden upon humanity. Men are afraid, without even being aware of their fear, to recognize the most wonderful of all the structures of the vast universe – the human body. They have been led to think that a serious notice and regard would somehow involve disloyalty to man’s higher life. The discussions of Mr. Alexander breathe reverence for this wonderful instrument of our life, life mental and moral as well as that life which somewhat meaninglessly we call bodily. When such a religious attitude towards the body becomes more general, we shall have an atmosphere favourable to securing the conscious control which is urged.
In the larger sense of education, this whole book is concerned with education. But the writer of these lines was naturally especially attracted to the passages in which Mr. Alexander touches on the problems of education in the narrower sense. The meaning of his principles comes out nowhere better than in his criticisms of repressive schools on one hand and schools of “free expression” on the other. He is aware of the perversions and distortions that spring from that unnatural suppression of childhood which too frequently passes for school training. But he is equally aware that the remedy is not to be sought through a blind reaction in abolition of all control except such as the movement’s whim or the accident of environment may provide. One gathers that in this country Mr. Alexander has made the acquaintance of an extremely rare type of “self-expressive” school, but all interested in educational reform may well remember that freedom of physical action and free expression of emotion are means, not ends, and that as means they are justified only in so far as they are used as conditions for developing power of intelligence. The substitution of control by intelligence for control by external authority not the negative principle of no control or the spasmodic principle of control by emotional gusts, is the only basis upon which reformed education can build. To come into possession of intelligence is the sole human title to freedom. The spontaneity of childhood is a delightful and precious thing, but in its original naive form it is bound to disappear. Emotions become sophisticated unless they become enlightened, and the manifestation of sophisticated emotion is in no sense genuine self-expression. True spontaneity is henceforth not a birthright, but the last term, the consummated conquest, of an art – the art of conscious control to the mastery of which Mr. Alexander’s book so convincingly invites us. – John Dewey
Introduction to Conscious Constructive Control of the Individual, Alexander’s second book:
THE principle and procedure set forth by Mr. Alexander are crucially needed at present. Strangely, this is the very reason why they are hard to understand and accept. For although there is nothing esoteric in his teaching, and although his exposition is made in the simplest English, free from technical words, it is difficult for anyone to grasp its full force without having actual demonstration of the principle in operation. And even then, as I know from personal experience, its full meaning dawns upon one only slowly and with new meanings continually opening up. Since I can add nothing to the clear and full exposition that Mr. Alexander has himself given, it has occurred to me that the most useful form this introductory word can take is an attempt to explain wherein lies the difficulty in grasping his principle.
The chief difficulty, as I have said, lies in the fact that it is so badly needed. The seeming contradiction in this statement is just one instance of the vicious circle which is frequently pointed out and fully dealt with in the pages of the text. The principle is badly needed, because in all matters that concern the individual self and the conduct of its life there is a defective and lowered sensory appreciation and judgment, both of ourselves and of our acts, which accompanies our wrongly-adjusted psychophysical mechanisms. It is precisely this perverted consciousness which we bring with us to the reading and comprehension of Mr. Alexander’s pages, and which makes it hard for us to realize his statements as to its existence, causes, and effects. We have become so used to it that we take it for granted. It forms, as he has so clearly shown, our standard of Tightness. It influences our every observation, interpretation, and judgment. It is the one factor which enters into our every act and thought.
Consequently, only when the results of Mr. Alexander’s lessons have changed one’s sensory appreciation and supplied a new standard, so that the old and the new condition can be compared with each other, does the concrete force of his teaching come home to one. In spite of the whole tenour of Mr. Alexander’s teaching, it is this which makes it practically impossible for anyone to go to him with any other idea at the outset beyond that of gaining some specific relief and remedy. Even after a considerable degree of experience with his lessons, it is quite possible for one to prize his method merely on account of specific benefits received, even though one recognizes that these benefits include a changed emotional condition and a different outlook on life. Only when a pupil reaches the point of giving his full attention to the method of Mr. Alexander instead of its results, does he realize the constant influence of his sensory appreciation.
The perversion of our sensory consciousness of ourselves has gone so far that we lack criteria for judging the doctrines and methods that profess to deal with the individual human being. We oscillate between reliance upon plausible general theories and reliance upon testimonies to specific benefits obtained. We oscillate between extreme credulity and complete scepticism. On the one hand, there is the readiest acceptance of all claims made in behalf of panaceas when these are accompanied by testimonies of personal benefits and cures. On the other hand, the public has seen so many of these panaceas come and go that it has, quite properly, become sceptical about the reality of any new and different principle for developing human well-being. The world is flooded at present with various systems for relieving the ills that human flesh is heir to, such as systems of exercise for rectifying posture, methods of mental, psychological, and spiritual healing, so that, except when there happens to be an emotional wave sweeping the country, the very suggestion that there is fundamental truth in an unfamiliar principle is likely to call out the feeling that one more person, reasonably sensible about most things, has fallen for another one of the ” cure-alls ” that abound. “How,” it will be asked,” can the teaching of Mr. Alexander be differentiated from these other systems ?” “What assurance is there that it is anything more than one of them, working better perhaps for some persons and worse for others ?” If, in reply, specific beneficial results of Mr. Alexander’s teaching are pointed out, one is reminded of the fact that imposing testimonials of this kind can be produced in favour of all the other systems. The point, then, to be decided is: What is the worth of these results and how is their worth to be judged? Or, again, if it is a question of the theories behind the results, most of the systems are elaborately reasoned out and claim scientific or spiritual backing. In what fundamental respect, then, do the principles and consequences of Mr. Alexander’s teaching differ from these?
These are fair questions, and it seems to me that probably the best thing that this introduction can do is to suggest some simple criteria by which any plan can be judged. Certain other questions may suggest the path by which these criteria may be found. Is a system primarily remedial, curative, aiming at relief of sufferings that already exist; or is it fundamentally preventive in nature? And if preventive rather than merely corrective, is it specific or general in scope ? Does it deal with the “mind” and the “body” as things separated from each other, or does it deal with the unity of man’s individuality? Does it deal with some portion or aspect of “mind” and “body” or with the re-education of the whole being? Does it aim at securing results directly, by treatment of symptoms, or does it deal with the causes of malconditions present in such a way that any beneficial results secured come as a natural consequence, almost, it might be said, as by-products of a fundamental change in such conditioning causes ? Is the scheme educational or non-educational in character? If the principle underlying it claims to be preventive and constructive, does it operate from without by setting up some automatic safety-device, or does it operate from within? Is it cheap and easy, or does it make demands on the intellectual and moral energies of the individuals concerned ? Unless it does the latter, what is it, after all, but a scheme depending ultimately upon some trick or magic, which, in curing one trouble, is sure to leave behind it other troubles (including fixations, inhibitions, laxities, lessening of power of steady and intelligent control), since it does not deal with causes, but only directs their operation into different channels, and changes symptoms from such as are perceptible into more subtle ones that are not perceived? Anyone who bears such questions as the above in mind whilst reading Mr. Alexander’s book will have little difficulty in discriminating between the principles underlying his educational method and those of the systems with which it might be compared and confused.
Any sound plan must prove its soundness in reference both to concrete consequences and to general principles. What we too often forget is that these principles and facts must not be judged separately, but in connexion with each other. Further, whilst any theory or principle must ultimately be judged by its consequences in operation, whilst it must be verified experimentally by observation of how it works, yet in order to justify a claim to be scientific, it must provide a method for making evident and observable what the consequences are; and this method must be such as to afford a guarantee that the observed consequences actually flow from the principle. And I unhesitatingly assert that, when judged by this standard – that is, of a principle at work in effecting definite and verifiable con- sequences – Mr. Alexander’s teaching is scientific in the strictest sense of the word. It meets both of these requirements. In other words, the plan of Mr. Alexander satisfies the most exacting demands of scientific method.
The principle or theory of Mr. Alexander and the observed consequences of its operation have developed at the same time and in the closest connexion with each other. Both have evolved out of an experimental method of procedure. At no time has he elaborated a theory for its own sake. This fact has occasionally been a disappointment to “intellectual” persons who have subconsciously got into the habit of depending upon a certain paraphernalia of technical terminology. But the theory has never been carried beyond the needs of the procedure employed, nor beyond experimentally verified results. Employing a remarkably sensitive power of observation, he has noted the actual changes brought about in individuals in response to the means which he has employed, and has followed up these changes in their connexions with the individual’s habitual reflexes, noting the reactions due to the calling into play of established bad habits, with even greater care than the more obvious beneficial consequences obtained. Every such undesirable response has been treated as setting a problem – namely, that of discovering some method by which the evocation of these instinctive reactions, and the feelings, associated with them, can be inhibited, and, in their stead, such acts called into play as will give a basis for correct sensory appreciations. Every step in the process has been analysed and formulated, and every changing condition and consequence, positive or negative, favourable or unfavourable, which is employed as a means for developing the experimental procedure, has been still further developed. The use of this developed method has, of course, continuously afforded new material for observation and thorough analysis. To this process of simultaneous development of principles and con- sequences, used as means for testing each other, there is literally no end. As long as Mr. Alexander uses the method, it will be a process tending continually towards perfection. It will no more arrive at a stage of finished perfection than does any genuine experimental scientific procedure, with its theory and supporting facts. The most striking fact of Mr. Alexander’s teaching is the sincerity and reserve with which he has never carried his formulation beyond the point of demonstrated facts.
It is obvious, accordingly, that the results obtained by Mr. Alexander’s teaching stand on a totally different plane from those obtained under the various systems which have had great vogue until they have been displaced by some other tide of fashion and publicity. Most of those who urge the claims of these systems point to ” cures ” and other specific phenomena as evidence that they are built upon correct principles. Even for patent medicines an abundance of testimonials can be adduced. But the theories and the concrete facts in these cases have no genuine connexion with each other. Certain consequences, the “good” ones, are selected and held up for notice, whilst no attempt is made to find out what other con- sequences are taking place. The “good” ones are swallowed whole. There is no method by which it can be shown what consequences, if any, result from the principle invoked, or whether they are due to quite other causes.
But the essence of scientific method does not consist in taking consequences in gross; it consists precisely in the means by which consequences are followed up in detail. It consists in the processes by which the causes that are used to explain the consequences, or effects, can be concretely followed up to show that they actually produce these consequences and no others. If, for instance, a chemist pointed, on the one hand, to a lot of concrete phenomena which had occurred after he had tried an experiment and, on the other hand, to a lot of general principles and theories elaborately reasoned out, and then proceeded to assert that the two things were connected so that the theoretical principles accounted for the phenomena, he would meet only with ridicule. It would be clear that scientific method had not even been started; it would be clear that he was offering nothing but assertion.
Mr. Alexander has persistently discouraged the appeal to “cures” or to any other form of remarkable phenomena. He has even discouraged keeping records of these cases. Yet, if he had not been so wholeheartedly devoted to working out a demonstration of a principle—a demonstration in the scientific sense of the word – he would readily have had his day of vogue as one among the miracle-mongers. He has also persistently held aloof from building up an imposing show of technical scientific terminology of physiology, anatomy, and psychology. Yet that course also would have been easy in itself, and a sure method of attracting a following. As a consequence of this sincerity and thoroughness, maintained in spite of great odds, without diversion to side-issues of fame and external success, Mr. Alexander has demonstrated a new scientific principle with respect to the control of human behaviour, as important as any principle which has ever been discovered in the domain of external nature. Not only this, but his discovery is necessary to complete the discoveries that have been made about non- human nature, if these discoveries and inventions are not to end by making us their servants and helpless tools.
A scientific man is quite aware that no matter how extensive and thorough is his theoretical reasoning, and how definitely it points to a particular conclusion of fact, he is not entitled to assert the conclusion as a fact until he has actually observed the fact, until his senses have been brought into play. With respect to distinctively human conduct, no one, before Mr. Alexander, has even considered just what kind of sensory observation is needed in order to test and work out theoretical principles. Much less have thinkers in this field ever evolved a technique for bringing the requisite sensory material under definite and usable control. Appeal to suggestion, to the unconscious and to the subconscious, is in its very description an avoidance of this scientific task; the systems of purely physical exercise, have equally neglected any consideration of the methods by which their faults are to be observed and analysed.
Whenever the need has been dimly felt for some concrete check and realization of the meaning of our thoughts and judgments about ourselves and our conduct, we have fallen back, as Mr. Alexander has so clearly pointed out in his writings, on our preexisting sense of what is ” right.” But this signifies in the concrete only what we feel to be familiar. And in so far as we have bad habits needing re-education, that which is familiar in our sense of ourselves and of our acts can only be a reflection of the bad psycho-physical habits that are operating within us. This, of course, is precisely as if a scientific man, who, by a process of reasoning, had been led to a belief in what we call the Copernican theory, were then to try to test this reasoning by appealing to precisely those observations, without any addition or alteration, which had led men to the Ptolemaic theory. Scientific advance manifestly depends upon the discovery of conditions for making new observations, and upon the re-making of old observations under different conditions; in other words, upon methods of discovering why, as in the case of the scientific man, we have had and relied upon observations that have led into error.
After studying over a period of years Mr. Alexander’s method in actual operation, I would stake myself upon the fact that he has applied to our ideas and beliefs about ourselves and about our acts exactly the same method of experimentation and of production of new sensory observations, as tests and means of developing thought, that have been the source of all progress in the physical sciences; and if, in any other plan, any such use has been made of the sensory appreciation of our attitudes and acts, if in it there has been developed a technique for creating new sensory observations of ourselves, and if complete reliance has been placed upon these findings, I have never heard of it. In some plans there has been a direct appeal to “consciousness” (which merely registers bad conditions); in some, this consciousness has been neglected entirely and dependence placed instead upon bodily exercises, rectifications of posture, etc. But Mr. Alexander has found a method for detecting precisely the correlations between these two members, physical- mental, of the same whole, and for creating a new sensory consciousness of new attitudes and habits. It is a discovery which makes whole all scientific discoveries, and renders them available, not for our undoing, but for human use in promoting our constructive growth and happiness.
No one would deny that we ourselves enter as an agency into whatever is attempted and done by us. That is a truism. But the hardest thing to attend to is that which is closest to ourselves, that which is most constant and familiar. And this closest ” something ” is, precisely, ourselves, our own habits and ways of doing things as agencies in conditioning what is tried or done by us. Through modern science we have mastered to a wonderful extent the use of things as tools for accomplishing results upon and through other things. The result is all but a universal state of confusion, discontent, and strife. The one factor which is the primary tool in the use of all these other tools—namely, ourselves – in other words, our own psycho- physical disposition, as the basic condition of our employment of all agencies and energies, has not even been studied as the central instrumentality. Is it not highly probable that this failure gives the explanation of why it is that in mastering physical forces we have ourselves been so largely mastered by them, until we find ourselves incompetent to direct the history and destiny of man ?
Never before, I think, has there been such an acute consciousness of the failure of all external remedies as exists to-day, of the failure of all remedies and forces external to the individual man. It is, however, one thing to teach the need of a return to the individual man as the ultimate agency in whatever man- kind and society collectively can accomplish, to point out the necessity of straightening out this ultimate condition of what- ever humanity in mass can attain. It is another thing to discover the concrete procedure by which this greatest of all tasks can be executed. And this indispensable thing is exactly what Mr. Alexander has accomplished. The discovery could not have been made and the method of procedure perfected except by dealing with adults who were badly coordinated. But the method is not one of remedy; it is one of constructive education. Its proper field of application is with the young, with the growing generation, in order that they may come to possess as early as possible in life a correct standard of sensory appreciation and self-judgment. When once a reasonably adequate part of a new generation has become properly coordinated, we shall have assurance for the first time that men and women in the future will be able to stand on their own feet, equipped with satisfactory psycho-physical equilibrium, to meet with readiness, confidence, and happiness instead of with fear, confusion, and discontent, the buffetings and contingencies of their surroundings. – John Dewey
Introduction to Use of the Self, Alexander’s third book:
In writing some introductory words to Mr. Alexander’s previous book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, I stated that his procedure and conclusions meet all the requirements of the strictest scientific method, and that he has applied the method in a field in which it had never been used before – that of our judgments and beliefs concerning ourselves and our activities. In so doing, he has, I said in effect, rounded out the results of the sciences in the physical field, accomplishing this end in such a way that they become capable of use for human benefit. It is a commonplace that scientific technique has for its consequence control of the energies to which it refers. Physical science has for its fruit an astounding degree of new command of physical energies. Yet we are faced with a situation which is serious, perhaps tragically so. There is everywhere increasing doubt as to whether this physical mastery of physical energies is going to further human welfare, or whether human happiness is going to be wrecked by it. Ultimately there is but one sure way of answering this question in the hopeful and constructive sense. If there can be developed a technique which will enable individuals really to secure the right use of themselves, then the factor on which depends the final use of all other forms of energy will be brought under control. Mr. Alexander has evolved this technique.
In repeating these statements, I do so fully aware of their sweeping nature. Were not our eyes and ears so accustomed to irresponsible statements that we cease to ask for either meaning or proof, they might well raise a question as to the complete intellectual responsibility and competency of their author. In repeating them after the lapse of intervening years, I appeal to the account which Mr. Alexander has given of the origin of his discovery of the principle of central and conscious control. Those who do not identify science with a parade of
technical vocabulary will find in this account the essentials of scientific method in any field of inquiry. They will find a record of long-continued, patient, unwearied experimentation and observation in which every inference is extended, tested, corrected by further more searching experiments; they will find a series of such observations in which the mind is carried from observation of comparatively coarse, gross, superficial connexions of causes and effect to those causal conditions which are fundamental and central in the use which we make of ourselves.
Personally, I cannot speak with too much admiration—in the original sense of wonder as well as the sense of respect – of the persistence and thoroughness with which these extremely difficult observations and experiments were carried out. In consequence, Mr. Alexander created what may be truly called a physiology of the living organism. His observations and experiments have to do with the actual functioning of the body, with the organism in operation, and in operation under the ordinary conditions of living—rising, sitting, walking, standing, using arms, hands, voice, tools, instruments of all kinds. The contrast between sustained and accurate observations of the living and the usual activities of man and those made upon dead things under unusual and artificial conditions marks the difference between true and pseudo-science. And yet so used have we become to associating ” science ” with the latter sort of thing that its contrast with the genuinely scientific character of Mr. Alexander’s observations has been one great reason for the failure of many to appreciate his technique and conclusions.
As might be anticipated, the conclusions of Mr. Alexander’s experimental inquiries are in harmony with what physiologists know about the muscular and nervous structure. But they give a new significance to that knowledge; indeed, they make evident what knowledge itself really is. The anatomist may ” know ” the exact function of each muscle, and conversely know what muscles come into play in the execution of any specified act. But if he is himself unable to co-ordinate all the muscular structures involved in, say, sitting down or in rising from a sitting position in a way which achieves the optimum and efficient performance of that act – if, in other words, he misuses himself in what he does – how can he be said to know in the full and vital sense of that word ? Magnus proved by means of what may be called external evidence the existence of a central control in the organism. But Mr. Alexander’s technique gave a direct and intimate confirmation in personal experience of the fact of central control long before Magnus carried on his investigations. And one who has had experience of the technique knows it through the series of experiences which he himself has. The genuinely scientific character of Mr. Alexander’s teaching and discoveries can be safely rested upon this fact alone.
The vitality of a scientific discovery is revealed and tested in its power to project and direct new further operations which not only harmonize with prior results, but which lead on to new observed materials, suggesting in turn further experimentally controlled acts, and so on in a continued series of new developments. Speaking as a pupil, it was because of this fact as demonstrated in personal experience that I first became convinced of the scientific quality of Mr. Alexander’s work. Each lesson was a laboratory experimental demonstration. Statements made in advance of consequences to follow and the means by which they would be reached were met with implicit scepticism – a fact which is practically inevitable, since, as Mr. Alexander points out, one uses the very conditions that need re-education as one’s standard of judgment. Each lesson carries the process somewhat farther and confirms in the most intimate and convincing fashion the claims that are made. As one goes on, new areas are opened, new possibilities are seen and then realized; one finds himself continually growing, and realizes that there is an endless process of growth initiated.
From one standpoint, I had an unusual opportunity for making an intellectual study of the technique and its results. I was, from the practical standpoint, an inept, awkward, and slow pupil. There were no speedy and seemingly miraculous changes to evoke gratitude emotionally, while they misled me intellectually. I was forced to observe carefully at every step of the process, and to interest myself in the theory of the operations. I did this partly from my previous interest in psychology and philosophy, and partly as a compensation for my practical backwardness. In bringing to bear whatever knowledge I already possessed – or thought I did – and whatever powers of discipline in mental application I had acquired in the pursuit of these studies, I had the most humiliating experience of my life, intellectually speaking. For to find that one is unable to execute directions, including inhibitory ones, in doing such a seemingly simple act as to sit down, when one is using all the mental capacity which one prides himself upon possessing, is not an experience congenial to one’s vanity. But it may be conducive to analytic study of causal conditions, obstructive and positive. And so I verified in personal experience all that Mr. Alexander says about the unity of the physical and psychical in the psycho-physical; about our habitually wrong use of ourselves and the part this wrong use plays in generating all kinds of unnecessary tensions and wastes of energy; about the vitiation of our sensory appreciations which form the material of our judgments of ourselves; about the unconditional necessity of inhibition of customary acts, and the tremendous mental difficulty found in not ” doing ” something as soon as an habitual act is suggested, together with the great change in moral and mental attitude that takes place as proper co-ordinations are established. In re-affirming my conviction as to the scientific character of Mr. Alexander’s discoveries and technique, I do so then not as one who has experienced a “cure,” but as one who has brought whatever intellectual capacity he has to the study of a problem. In the study I found the things which I had ” known ” – in the sense of theoretical belief – in philosophy and psychology, changed into vital experiences which gave a new meaning to knowledge of them.
In the present state of the world it is evident that the control we have gained of physical energies, heat, light, electricity, etc., without having first secured control of our use of ourselves is a perilous affair. Without control of our use of ourselves, our use of other things is blind; it may lead to anything.
Moreover, if our habitual judgments of ourselves are warped because they are based on vitiated sense material—as they must be if our habits of managing ourselves are already wrong – then the more complex the social conditions under which we live, the more disastrous must be the outcome. Every additional complication of outward instrumentalities is likely to be a step nearer destruction : a fact which the present state of the world tragically exemplifies.
The school of Pavloff has made current the idea of conditioned reflexes. Mr. Alexander’s work extends and corrects the idea. It proves that there are certain basic, central organic habits and attitudes which condition every act we perform, every use we make of ourselves. Hence a conditioned reflex is not just a matter of an arbitrarily established connection, such as that between the sound of a bell and the eating-reaction in a dog, but goes back to central conditions within the organism itself. This discovery corrects the ordinary conception of the conditioned reflex. The latter as usually understood renders an individual a passive puppet to be played upon by external manipulations. The discovery of a central control which conditions all other reactions brings the conditioning factor under conscious direction and enables the individual through his own coordinated activities to take possession of his own potentialities. It converts the fact of conditioned reflexes from a principle of external enslavement into a means of vital freedom.
Education is the only sure method which mankind possesses for directing his own course. But we have been involved in a vicious circle. Without knowledge of what constitutes a truly normal and healthy psycho-physical life, our professed education is likely to be miseducation. Every serious student of the formation of disposition and character which takes place in the family and school knows – speaking without the slightest exaggeration—how often and how deplorably this possibility is realized. The technique of Mr. Alexander gives to the educator a standard of psycho-physical health – in which what we call morality is included. It supplies also the ” means whereby ” this standard may be progressively and endlessly achieved, becoming a conscious possession of the one educated. It provides therefore the conditions for the central direction of all special educational processes. It bears the same relation to education that education itself bears to all other human activities.
I cannot therefore state too strongly the hopes that are aroused in me by the information contained in the Appendix that Mr. Alexander has, with his coadjutors, opened a training class, nor my sense of the importance that this work secures adequate support. It contains in my judgment the promise and potentiality of the new direction that is needed in all education. – John Dewey