COMPANION

The Little School

The Little School was the first school for children based on the principles of the Alexander Technique.

It was started in London (at Ashley Place) in 1924 by Irene Tasker who ran it until 1934. It was called the ‘little school’ and this epithet has been used ever since, even after it acquired an official name, ‘The F. Matthias Alexander Trust Fund School’, at the time it moved to Penhill House in April 1934. Penhill House was Alexander’s 23-acre residence  in Bexleyheath, Kent, which could provide for boarders. The official name came about because The F. Matthias Alexander Trust Fund, with the Earl of Lytton and Sir Lynden Macassey as trustees, was set up c. 1932 to look after the school.[1] In the Autumn of 1934, Margaret Goldie became the headmistress.[2]  [3] The brochure for the School states that the object of the school is to ‘teach the children to apply the principles of the New Technique to all their lessons and other activities.’[4] [5] In The Universal Constant in Living, Alexander writes that he has worked with children as young as two and a half and that the school is taking children on up to the age of sixteen.[6] Alexander refers to the importance of children’s education in all of his books; he specifically wrote on the Little School in The Universal Constant in Living:

For young children the adoption of the new pattern is a comparatively simple and easy matter, and the system of work in the F. Matthias Alexander Trust Fund School, at Penhill, near Bexley, Kent, an undertaking made possible by the foundation of the Alexander Trust Fund, has been modelled upon it. This pattern takes shape and form through the application of the ‘means-whereby’ of the technique, and we now know that it meets the primary need in the education of the child by providing not only new situations, but also the opportunity of developing the potentialities of the child, so as to help him to gain the experience of dealing with the unfamiliar and unknown as the adult adventurer does.[7]

The Little School was evacuated with some of its children to the US at the outbreak of World War II. It was discontinued in either 1942 or 1943, possibly because of a lack of pupils, or because of the loss of the building which they had been allowed to use for the school in Stow, Massachusetts, or because funds which had been raised when it became a Trust in 1934 had run out. (The majority of the Trust funds was used in 1940 to pay for Alexander and six children to sail to the USA. The Fund was not used again and was later dissolved.) However, the teaching of the Alexander Technique to children has and is continuing, both inside and outside of schools.

Writings on the Little School

Irene Tasker describes the origin of the school and its journal, Alexander Times, in her lecture ‘Connecting Links’ (1967).[8]

Existing copies of The Alexander Times are with the Walter Carrington Educational Trust archives, and they were published in two volumes in 2016 (the introduction also contains a history of the Little School).[9]

The Irene Tasker biography covers the origin and work of the Little School under Irene Tasker.[10]

Other sources include the 1936 article, ‘A New Expression of the Self’[11], later interviews, e.g. Erika Whittaker’s 1993 article[12] and 2001 video.[13], and the F. M. Alexander Memorial Lecture 2000 ‘The Little School’ by Sue Merry.

References

[1] “At the time of going to press the first payments to the Trust Fund have been made …” Alexander in UoS (1939), p. 136. The book was first published in January 1932.
[2] F. M. Alexander, UoS (1939), pp. 123–124.
[3] Ron Brown and W. Carrington (ed.), F. M. Alexander – A Biographical Outline (1979), p. 6.
[4] F. M. Alexander, UoS (1939), p. 133.
[5] Brochure “Penhill House” (c. 1930), p. 1 of 4.
[6] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), p. 102 fn.
[7] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), p. 157.
[8] ‘Connecting Links’ (1967) by Irene Tasker (The Sheildrake Press, 1978), pp. 13-14.
[9] The Alexander Times Vol. 1: 1929-1932, Vol. 2: 1933-1934 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2017).
[10] Irene Tasker – Her Life and Work with the Alexander Technique by Regina Stratil (Mouritz, 2020).
[11] ‘A New Expression of the Self’ by Oscar Köllerström in The New Era, February 1936, published in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015).
[12] ‘Alexander’s Way’ by Erika Whittaker in The Alexander Journal no. 13, Autumn (STAT, 1993), pp. 3–12.
[13] The Little School Remembered (video). Erika Whittaker interviewed by Sue Merry and Angelo Cinque (David Reed Media, 2001).
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