What about the rest of Dewey’s writing on the Alexander Technique: his introductions to Alexander’s books? Since Alexander himself approved these introductions, they can be no more non-Alexander than Alexander is. Why shouldn’t teachers use them to promote the Technique?
Dewey’s discussion of the Alexander Technique does sound correct when you use Alexander’s definitions of certain key words and phrases. But quoting Dewey to advertise the Technique would be making the same mistake Alexander made.
Alexander was ignorant of the twists and turns of philosophic discourse: metaphysics, epistemology, etc. (He possessed a philosophy implicitly, as does everyone, but without being a student of philosophy.) He was naive regarding the anti-man, anti-reason outlook of Dewey’s books and essays, expressed in writing that violates the common usage of words. Alexander was intelligent, a genius, but no intellectual. He lacked judgment in that line. The prospect of Dewey writing an introduction to his books pleased him, I believe, only because Dewey was a famous intellectual, and would lend, so he thought, more credence and respectability to his work.
The alternative is that Alexander really understood Dewey, and relished the idea of his work being associated with Dewey’s system of ideas, a philosophy where ends and means are smoke and mirrors justifying anything, where action is the worship of brute force; thinking the thinking of an automaton with whims; and the individual a lump pressed into proper shape by a mosaic of other lumps called society. This alternative will be rejected by anyone understanding Alexander’s life and work.
Today’s teachers of the Alexander Technique should not repeat Alexander’s mistake. Perhaps teachers think John Dewey furnishes some sort of intellectual respectability for what they do. But the Alexander Technique possesses its own good reputation, and if it didn’t, for sure Dewey would not provide it.
An endorsement is a two way street. Using Dewey to promote or discuss the Alexander Technique promotes Dewey as well, Dewey who takes his perverse nomenclature of redefined words and pastes it onto Alexander’s ideas, presenting them as an application of his philosophy.
Dewey’s admiration for the goals and methods of the early Soviet Union, and his tolerance for its violence, was a result of his philosophy. That same philosophy does not result in the Alexander Technique.
FM Alexander’s failure to see what Dewey stood for was a mistake, a fairly innocent one on his part in that you can expect one man to do and know only so much. But for teachers now to ignore what Dewey stands for would be willful ignorance. Dewey has been analyzed by critics for two generations, all his original work is easily accessible, the ramifications of his ideas are manifest. There is no excuse for associating him with the Alexander Technique.
One prominent Alexander teacher began the first page of his website, now defunct, with (his brackets):
“[The Alexander Technique] contains in my judgment the promise and potentiality of the direction that is needed in all education. – John Dewey”
The problem is that Dewey’s judgment cannot be trusted. Using Dewey’s testimonial is a disservice to the Alexander Technique. His philosophy has nothing to do with it, and an endorsement from him is less than worthless.
Anyone looking into the Alexander Technique will run into Dewey sooner or later. I’ve tried to show in the pages below that the meeting is nothing to be proud of. Excuses need to be made for Alexander.
But not for the Technique itself. You don’t judge something, in the final analysis, by its alleged admirers. You don’t think two and two make four any the less true because a drunken bum points it out. On the other hand, you don’t use him on a poster advertising the virtues of arithmetic.
What to do about Dewey?
Dewey’s testimonials and descriptions of the Alexander Technique should not be used in brochures or web sites whose purpose is to promote the Technique to laymen. Dewey’s introductions to Alexander’s books are not part of the books, and future publishers should include a foreword containing a disclaimer — the gist of the indented paragraph below — or better, replace them with new introductions. (The old ones belong in the collected works of Dewey, not popular expositions of the A.T.) Here is a proposed disclaimer:
Teachers deplore the philosophy of John Dewey, variously called Pragmatism and Instrumentalism, in any form, either as Dewey expressed it, or its more consistent development in Post-Modernism. Dewey’s philosophy does not describe or reflect any part of the Alexander Technique.
John Dewey should be relegated to a minor and unfortunate footnote in the history of the Alexander Technique.