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Credit Where Credit isn’t Due

It’s always struck me as strange how a reference to Dewey will get inserted in a discussion of the Alexander Technique when the reference contains nothing unique to Dewey, and usually nothing valuable for the discussion.  Dewey just gets thrown in ex cathedra.

For example, someone tells us that the advantage group lessons have over private lessons:

« is that at the same time the teacher and pupil are collaborating in what Dewey called an “experimental laboratory demonstration” from which the other people in the room also learn. »

A teacher gives a lesson in front of a group.  To call that an “experimental laboratory demonstration” is a bit pretentious rather than illuminating, and the author alludes to Dewey where Dewey has no business being.

Another example of this attitude:

« A few thoughts on A.T. and habits such as smoking.  Dewey makes a vital point in his description of the basic steps of Alexander’s approach to habit in the famous “Habit and Will” chapter of Human Nature and Conduct. »

The author then proceeds to describe in his own words Alexander’s ideas.  The impression  though perhaps not the author’s intention  is to give Dewey credit for those ideas, credit not due him.

Frank Pierce Jones sometimes has the same attitude in his book Freedom to Change*.  That attitude is:

The reluctance to quote an idea first hand from FM Alexander when you can find it expressed second hand by John Dewey and quote that instead.

The  “not expressed here syndrome.”  FM Alexander is not a member of the club, John Dewey is.

To writers on the Alexander Technique who would work in Dewey somehow or other, I would ask them to first ask themselves two questions:

Did Alexander say this somewhere?  And did he say it just as well or better than Dewey did?

If Alexander said it just as well or better, leave Dewey out.  If Alexander said it, but not very well, at least give Alexander the credit for the idea.

It takes no great effort or intellect to paraphrase someone else  and I maintain that paraphrase, popularization, translation of style, valuable though that can be, is the best that can be said for Dewey’s writing on the A.T.

But since much of Dewey’s writing distorts and perverts the A.T., and since Dewey’s reputation suffers for other reasons, as I argue on this website, a case can be made for leaving Dewey out entirely, even if here or there you think he said something more clearly than Alexander had.

* Formerly titled  Body Awareness in Action.