COMPANION

Criticisms of Alexander Technique teaching

This covers criticisms of Alexander Technique teaching in general.

Criticism of Alexander’s teaching

Lulie Westfeld criticised Alexander’s teacher training course for not taking questions seriously:

Questions were not only not answered but were looked on as symptoms of bad use, and one was ‘reassured’ by being told that as one’s use grew better one would stop asking those things.[1]

Lulie Westfeld reported on why some old pupils of Alexander did not go back to him for lessons during his USA sojourn 1940–43:

A number of them said that it boiled down to going to him for very expensive lessons and then there was nothing they could do about it themselves; if they attempted to work by themselves, they lost the benefits of his work more rapidly than if they did nothing. It was the old story of his verbal inadequacy in communication.[2]

The author Maurice Baring wrote to H. G. Wells that ‘he thought that Alexander had stumbled up against some basic truths, despite the fact that he was a very bad teacher, always liable to go off at a tangent and far from good at explaining.’[3]

Edward Maisel in his Introduction to his selection of Alexander’s texts concludes that Alexander’s teaching technique is imperfect: ‘So Alexander stands today: a stubborn genius who uncovered a valuable mechanism for human growth; who then evolved an imperfect technique for imparting the experience of that mechanism to others; . . .’[4] (It is not certain what the source is for this criticism since Maisel did not have lessons with Alexander.)

Frank P. Jones wrote: ‘In teaching he had a way, which I found disconcerting, of stepping back from time to time to look critically at his pupil as if he were painting a portrait.’[5]

Criticism of teaching in general

Robin Skynner wrote a criticism of his lessons in 1966:

Towards the end of the second week I found myself getting quite frustrated because I found it so difficult to understand what was required of me.[6]

In particular he found the words used (e.g. ‘direct’, ‘don’t do anything’) confusing.[7]

Wilfred Barlow criticised the teaching style of some teachers in More Talk of Alexander (1978):

The main attrition of Alexander’s ideas, however, comes from the discarding by teachers of the basic Alexander concepts of  ‘inhibition’ and ‘direction’.  Accounts nowadays flood in of teachers who conduct their manipulative sessions in almost total silence, refusing to give any explanation beyond the manipulative experience; of teachers who combine their Alexander work with forms of dance or exercise, all of it to the exclusion of the ‘psycho’ part of this psychophysical technique. One teacher wrote recently, ‘I am strongly opposed to pupils practising the given directions without the aid of the teacher’s hands because it is my observation that they tense their necks, narrow their attention to one area and put themselves into fixation.’ Instead he gives his students ‘movements to practise’. Since the essence of Alexander’s work was what he called ‘directing’, to be given ‘movements to practise’ is about as far away from his work as it is possible to imagine. These and many other strange developments are very disquieting . . .[8]

  • ‘“Teachering” and the Alexander Technique’ by John Woodward; ‘teachering’ here means a traditional form of teaching, where the pupil is like an empty vessel to be filled up by knowledge from a teacher. John Woodward writes that according to Carl Fredrick this is a ‘have – do – be’ model, whereas teaching the Technique should be on a ‘be – do – have’ basis.[9]
  • ‘Educating with the hands: Working on the body/self in Alexander Technique’ by Jennifer Tarr argues that ‘while the embodied practice of Alexander Technique has much to offer to mainstream healthcare, the discourses and knowledge systems in which it is embedded make it unlikely to receive mainstream medical acceptance’.[10]

For criticisms of styles of teaching see Approach, Teaching procedures. For criticisms of individual teachers, see their biography.

See also Criticisms of F. M. Alexander, Criticisms of Alexander’s writings, Descriptions of F. M. Alexander, Head forward and up.

References

[1] F. Matthias Alexander: The Man and His Work by Lulie Westfeldt (Mouritz, 1998 [1964]), p. 48.
[2] F. Matthias Alexander: The Man and His Work by Lulie Westfeldt (Mouritz, 1998 [1964]), p. 96.
[3] Maurice Baring: A Citizen of Europe by Emma Letley (Constable, 1991), p. 230.
[4] The Resurrection of the Body by Edward Maisel (New York, University Books, 1969) p. xlv.
[5] Freedom to Change [Body Awareness in Action] by Frank Pierce Jones (Mouritz, 1997 [1976]), p. 67.
[6] ‘The First Twelve Lessons’ by Robin Skynner in The Alexander Journal No. 5, 1966, pp. 15-20. Also in More Talk of Alexander edited by Dr Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2005 [1978]), p. 313. [Note: the article is unsigned in The Alexander Journal but signed in More Talk of Alexander.]
[7] ‘The First Twelve Lessons’ by Robin Skynner in The Alexander Journal No. 5, 1966, pp. 15–20. Also in More Talk of Alexander edited by Dr Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2005 [1978]), pp. 307–14. [Note: the article is unsigned in The Alexander Journal but signed in More Talk of Alexander.]
[8] ‘What sort of Alexander teacher?’ by Wilfred Barlow in More Talk of Alexander edited by Dr Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2005 [1978]), pp. 326–27.
[9] ‘“Teachering” and the Alexander Technique’ by John Woodward in The Alexander Review vol. 4, no. 1 (Centerline Press, 1990), pp. 96–113.
[10] ‘Educating with the hands: Working on the body⁄self in Alexander Technique’ by Jennifer Tarr in Sociology of Health & Illness vol. 33, issue 2 (February 2011), pp. 252–265.