by Don Weed, founder of the ITM
The Interactive Teaching Method was conceived in the library of Marjorie Barstow's home in Lincoln, Nebraska. Over the years I was privileged to live there on many occasions. Although the training classes with Marj and our formal lessons together were invaluable, I always felt that the most important part of my training was in those sessions we spent in the library discussing the work. Very often, we would take out one of Alexander's books, and line by line, word by word, work together to find out about and illuminate his ideas. We would then relate these ideas to the practical considerations of teaching students.
In 1980, Marjorie said to me "someone has got to find a way to get these people to start thinking". This was a relief because I had recently designed a course to be taught at Washington University to do just this. The course was based on a mixture of experiential and text study work which I had begun using in 1973. In those years I often apologised to my university students for having to spend so much time on the study of Alexander's ideas to satisfy the academic requirements for course credit. It was only when I realised that they were progressing more rapidly and with greater understanding and independence than my other students that I began to rethink my opinion.
Nowadays I don't know why I was so surprised. After all Alexander used to say that his work was "an exercise in finding out what thinking is". And Sir George Trevelyan said that "The whole of [the work] is a mental achievement, not a physical thing at all". And Alexander wrote in his second book that the major cause of a pupil's difficulties is his fixed ideas and conceptions. "If the major cause of students' difficulties is how they are thinking" I wondered, "what part of our teaching should be directed toward retraining their thinking?"
At this time I was also at chiropractic school. There I was receiving information that was not part of most Alexander training programmes at that time. In fact it was still the prevailing opinion in the Alexander world that knowledge of anatomy and physiology would be detrimental to any Alexander teacher, but I found the experience to be liberating and enlightening. More importantly, my work as a doctor brought me face to face with the clinical reality that we are well-made.
I am not persuaded by the concept that any doctor heals. It seems to me far more likely that we intervene as advocates to eliminate or diminish the effects of interference and then step out of the way. Watching this process work every time, without exception, in infants and small animals - creatures unlikely to be affected by suggestion or placebos - has confirmed my conviction in our well-madeness.
While holding these growing ideas in my mind and working with students, interesting results began to occur. Unlike most Alexander lessons, students didn't always physically lengthen; in fact they began to 'melt', that is, they began to lose the well-intentioned stiffness with which they were trying to hold themselves up correctly. I think it is a fair indication of my prior indoctrination that it was years before I thought of these experiences as anything but mistakes. Physical lengthening seemed to me to be the more appropriate Alexander end to gain
But as time went by the 'melting' continued. The students exchanged their goals of increased physical lengthening for the goal of increased flexibility of thought and movement. Their successes accumulated and their confidence flourished. It gradually dawned upon me that the role of manipulation for the teacher in this work corresponded to the role of intervention by the doctor. By using hands to diminish the effects of interference, the well-madeness of the system was free to express itself. Or, as Alexander put it, "if you stop the wrong thing, the right thing does itself".
This dual focus on the training of thinking and on well-madeness led to many other changes in my approach. Through intense study of Alexander's main text, I realised the central position of reasoning in his work.
By comparing his work with current training in Success Education, I realised that Alexander was a pioneer in this field as well. Edwards Demmings, a well-known expert on system performance enhancement, said that the production of any system is limited by the assumptions that underlie it. If you want to change the production of the system dramatically, you must change the assumptions. Not only does this idea apply to the performance of the individual student, but I also believe it applies to the training of teachers and the work itself.
In his last book, Alexander was careful to remind us that learning from an experienced teacher is not necessary if one gives the work "such long study as [he] gave it". Over time it occurred to me that these might be more appropriate assumptions on which a system of teaching Alexander's work might be based. This would be a system that appealed to a student's reasoning and latent powers of originality rather then requiring them to learn set patterns based on arguable premises.
Clearly then, there are at least two traditions of learning Alexander's work, and for the training of teachers. In the ITM we prefer to follow the older tradition - the tradition on which the work was based, and which was continued by A.R. Alexander and Marjorie Barstow.
The Interactive Teaching Method for the teaching of the Alexander Technique is a great experience and adventure. We hope you will join us in it.