Deborah Bowes and Cliff Smyth's Feldenkrais Learning Resources Pages

Educational Ideas and Bibiography, by Cliff Smyth

Here are some books on education that I think will be of interest to Feldenkrais teachers and others.

Moshe Feldenkrais talked about his approach as 'organic learning' - learning with the whole organism. He differentiated this kind of learning from the social learning we need to be part of society and from the kind of academic learning we find in school and training for employment. He thought that the most important kind of education is self-education. We consider the Feldenkrais Method educational, and Feldenkrais' emphasis was on the process of learning for the participant rather that some 'thing' being taught by the teacher. The teacher's role is to create a learning environment for the student. Feldenkrais also emphasized that learning did not occur only in language. Because thinking, sensing and feeling cannot be separated in action, learning occurs directly, in the whole person and through the nervous system (which organizes our perception and action in our environment).

When I first read Feldenkrais' work I was struck by the similarities with 'progressive' educational ideas from the 1970s, however Fedenkrais' distinctly somatic approach was new to me. Those theories criticized the model of the teacher 'possessing' knowledge that is some how put into the students by the teacher - sometimes known as the 'jug and mug' model, where the jug-teacher fills the mug-student with the requisite information! Or as Friere would describe it, the 'banking' model of information where knowledge is owned by the society in the form of the teacher and deposited in the student. Critical theories of education from that time - from writers like A.S. Niell, John Holt, Carl Rogers, Paul Goodman (who also wrote on gestalt therapy) and Paulo Friere - emphasized the value of self-directed learning, drawing on the learner's own interest and curiosity, exploratory processes, learning that is relevant to the student's life situation, learning from experience, and learners generating their own conceptual distinctions.

Feldenkrais himself was familiar with John Dewey's ideas about learning from experience (Dewey himself was influenced by F.M Alexander, creator of the Alexander Technique), and also with Jean Piaget's theories of development of cognition in children (even if he didn't always agree with either of them). He also knew the work of A.R. Luria, the Soviet neurologist, who's own work on cognitive development influenced another great theorist of how people generate concepts, Lev Vygotsky.

Feldenkrais was clearly familiar with Gestalt psychology that was developed early in the 20th century, and later spent time with Fritz Perls the developer of Gestalt therapy which grew somewhat out of the ideas that about how we always percieve and act in relationship with our environment. Feldenkrais was brought to the USA by Will Schutz, who like Perls, was part of the burgeoning human potential movement of the 1960s. That movement again empahsised self-directed, experiential learning as the basis of human development. These approaches later influenced thinkers like Chris Argyris who helped bring them into to organizational development and contributed to the later work of people like David A. Kolb, author of Experiential Learning.

Since Feldenkrais' time there have been many developments of neuroscience (neuropshchology and neurophysiology) that confirm or emphasize aspects of his approaches to learning, including, for example: the role of movement in perception, the integration of the sensory modes, the value of non-threatening but stimulating learning environments or states, the importance of 'creative cognition' (shifting preconceptions and existing categories for problem solving), and much more. Educational writers such as Guy Claxton have incorporated this research into their own thought.

Even though some writers like Edward Cell, Guy Claxton and Peter Jarvis include embodied aspects of learning and cognition, among most authors who write about education there tends to be an emphasis on language-based cognitive and social learning. In comparison to the fully embodied and embedded (in the world) approach we find in Feldenkrais learning practices.

Good places to start: Some basic reading

Guy Claxton, Wise Up: The Challenge of Life Long Learning, Bloomsbury, NY and London, 1999.
This very accessible book is a great introduction to current thinking about learning. Claxton explores our beliefs and feelings and how they impact our learning, and whether we are, for example, resilient learners. He also explores the basis of learning in experience and the tools we can use to amplify that. Of particular value are his ideas about how we learn to learn, 'soft' and 'hard' focused learning, the valued of slow learning and thinking, and the uses of language, imagination and story to support learning.

Guy Claxton, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, HarperPerenniel, NY, 1997.
Claxton makes important distinctions between how we really learn, though interaction with our environment (he calls it learning by 'osmosis') compared with how learning is usually considered. For example, he discusses the scholastic fallacy that formally, linguistically taught 'knowledge' provides the basis of 'know-how', rather than the other way around. He describes the emphasis in Western culture on conscious, fast, factual, precise thinking which he calls 'd-mode thinking', and compares it the often non-conscious basis of our knowing (the 'undermind'). By accessing the 'undermind' we often discover that we know more than 'we think'. He discusses the value of slow thinking, as well as the difference between information and wisdom. He makes excellent use of recent neuropsychologial experiments, along with references from philosophy and literature, in a very entertaining and important book.

Ellen J. Langer, The Power of Mindful Learning, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Massachusetts, 1997.
Following from her classic book Mindfulness, Langer explores how these ideas apply in learning. She describes a "Mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics: the continuous creation of new categories; openness to new information; and implicit awareness of more then one perspective." She takes this approach and explores how it applies to learning, and particularly exploring how contribute to the creation of our own understandings of the world, how too strong a focus on outcomes can inhibit learning, how practicing doesn't always improve performance, the value of forgetting and the illusion of right answers.

Renata Numella Caine and Geoffery Caine, Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain, Addison-Wesley Innovative Learning Publications, Reading, Massachusetts, 1991, 1994.
One of the first of the books on 'brain based learning' - using the findings of cognitive neuroscience - to promote education. While at some times a little intellectually light, and definitely written for elementary school education, this book has some valuable material. Some key ideas include: promoting relaxed alertness, actively processing experience to maximize learning, immersion and promoting metacognition.

Learning Theory

Peter Jarvis, Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Human Learning (Lifelong Learning and the Learning Society, Vol. 1), Routledge, London and NY, 2006.
Peter Jarvis has taken on a huge job and has been quite successful. He includes the action, experiential, embodied, social and emotional basis of learning in life, and still there is a slight tendency, as with most authors on education, to emphasize cognition compared to the emphasis on 'organic learning' in the Feldenkrais Method. However he does a better job of being comprehensive than anyone else I have read. This book is a very comprehensive survey of the history and philosophy of ideas of learning and surveys thinkers from Confucius, Pavlov, Piaget, Dewey and Vygotsky to Cell, Kolb, Gardner and Goleman. If you like a systematic exploration of the big ideas about learning, this is the book.

Edward Cell, Learning to Learn from Experience, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1984.
This book on human learning and development by a professor of philosophy explores different kinds of experiential learning. A central theme is the importance of personal knowledge and how we come to learn about others. Cell sees the emotional and relational aspects of learning as always important, including somatically. The book ranges over habits, learning styles, journal writing and more - and finishes with an extensive 'learning skills profile' that can help you clarify your skills and preferences. This is one of the hardest books to describe and one of the most valuable I have read.

More Books of Interest: Historical and theoretical

David A. Kolb, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1983.
Kolb's classis book putting forward a theory of experiential learning, draws on gestalt psychology and thinkers such as Kurt Lewin, John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Chris Argyris. This book explores of the ideas for which Kolb is know best, his 'learning cycle' theory. In this theory he suggest that there is a learning cycle, which includes experience, reflection, conceptualization and experimentation. He also proposes people have different preferred styles of learning based on these types of learning.

Carl Rogers, Freedom to Learn, Charles E. Merrill, Columbus, Ohio, 1969.
A classic book of essays on freeing up education from elementary school to college. For me Carl Roger's main contribution is the link he makes between human development through either humanistic psychotherapy or through education, with an emphasis on learning rather than teaching. The ideas in the chapters on the facilitation of learning and 'The goal: The fully functioning person' - with their emphasis on trusting the human organism and our own experience, learning through action, etc. - would be of most interest for Feldenkrais teachers. Some of his ideas resonate very much with those of the Feldenkrais Method: "The goal of education, if we are to survive, is the facilitation of change and learning. The only person who is educated is the person who has learned how to learn; the person who has learned how to adapt and change; the person who has realized that no knowledge is secure, that only the process of seeking knowledge gives security. Changingness, a reliance on process rather than on static knowledge is the only thing that makes any sense as a goal of education in the modern world." p. 152.

Paulo Friere, Education: The practice of Freedom, Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, London, 1974.
The famous revolutionary Brazilian educator explains his ideas and his practices. He says: "Integration with one's context, as distinguished from adaption, is a distinctively human activity. Integration results from the capacity to adapt oneself to reality plus the critical capacity to make choices and to transform that reality." Freire's primary tool as the process of 'conscientization', a process where his adult, peasant students are invited to make distinctions or differentiations in language that help shift their perception of the world, for example from existing social relations as being 'natural' and eternal to being socially and historically created.

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and NY, 1991.
Working in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley and with the challenge of how to induct a distributed workforce into effective work practices, Lave and Wenger revisit the idea of the value of learning an occupation or profession by 'legitimate peripheral participation'. That is, they explore old idea of apprenticeship and the value of experiential learning, by observing and doing 'on the job', in a contemporary context.

Vera John-Steiner, The Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking, Harper and Row, NY, 1985.
Vera John-Steiner interviewed a large number of artists and scientists and came up with a number of important insights about creativity, particularly about the process of apprenticeship, about different modes of thinking (visual, verbal, emotional, scientific), the value of slow thinking and of applying conceptual frameworks from one field to another.

Other interesting books

Sharan B. Marriam, Rosemary S. Caffarella and Lisa M. Baumgartner, Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, Jossey Bass/John Wiley and Co, San Francisco, 2007.

Donald A. Schön, The Reflective Practitioner, Basic Books, 1983.

Donald A. Schön, Educating the Reflective Practitioner, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1987.

Steven M Smith, Thomas Ward, Ronald A Finke, The Creative Cognition Approach, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1995.

Herbert Ginsburg and Syliva Opper, Piaget's Theory of Intellectual Development: An Introduction, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1969.

Lev Vygotsky, Thought and Language, MIT Press, Cambridge and London, 1986.


Cliff Smyth

Copyright, Cliff Smyth, 2009


 

Return to Learning Resources page.

Return to FCME Continuing Education page.