by Grethe Laub

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GRETHE LAUB (1911-1996) was born in Denmark, and trained as a nursery school teacher at the Froebel Institute in Copenhagen between 1933-35. Thirty years later, between 1962-1965, she trained as a teacher of the Alexander Technique in London. As a person and teacher she was very much loved and appreciated in both of her professions and has been a source of inspiration for many.

“How are we living our lives?” covers a lot of ground. It is an account of Grethe’s story, and of the highly significant experiences she gathered from both her professions, an account that gradually evolves from the personal to the general and greater theme of living and child education.
The book contains valuable insights for both the pre-school teacher and the teacher of the Alexander Technique.




An Alexander Teacher's View of Child Education 13

Understanding Children 75

Some Educational Considerations and Visions about our Future State of Health 91

Present-day Trends in the Upbringing of Children 101

Appendix A 115
Nogle Pćdagogiske Overvejelser og Visioner om
vor Fremtidige Sundhedstilstand
(the original Danish talk)

Appendix B 125
Testimonials and Commendations
(original Danish facsimiles followed by english translation)

Appendix C 133
Letter to The Froebel Institute, 1986
(Danish letter followed by english translation)





An interview with Grethe Laub conducted by Joe Armstrong
Copenhagen, May 1982


Little has been said since the 1930’s about the value of the Alexander Technique to education except in Alexander’s own writings and those of one of his distinguished pupils, the educationist and philosopher John Dewey. Alexander’s four books have scarcely reached educational spheres at all, and Dewey’s major ideas on education still cause controversy and debate. Few people know of the connection between the two men, nor are they aware of the current opinion that Dewey’s theories cannot be properly understood or put into practice unless they are backed by fairly substantial experience of Alexander’s discoveries about the ‘use of the self’.
Dewey believed (in 1932) that Alexander’s Technique contains “the promise and potentiality of the new direction that is needed in all education.” He even went so far as to write that it “provides therefore the conditions for the central direction of all special educational processes,” and that “it bears the same relation to education that education itself bears to the rest of life.”4

In Australia before the turn of the century, F. Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) developed a method of teaching that is concerned in a fundamental way with helping people to achieve an integrated ‘use’ of themselves that can ultimately provide freedom from the bonds of habit and unwanted automatic behavior. The method gives a means for change and furnishes us with a freedom of choice in our own growth and development in every sphere of endeavor. Insisting on the impossibility of separating ‘mind’ from ‘body’, he also used his Technique to give the actual practical demonstration of that claim; and he and others he trained have taught it on an individual basis to this day. He found “that a particular relativity of the head to the neck and the head and neck to the other parts of the organism tended to improve general use and functioning of the organism as a whole, and that the motivation for this use was from the head downwards, and, futher, that any other particular relativity tended towards the opposite effect.”5 He called the conscious direction of this use the ‘Primary Control’; and he showed how every action and every thought could be carried out with extraordinary effectiveness if this concept of Primary Control is used as our central ‘means whereby’ we gain any end.
Alexander believed that the greatest hope for the future of civilization rested on the education of the young, but he found much cause to criticize the rigid educational methods in conventional schools of his day as well as the ‘free expression’ schools he saw developing in the early 1900’s. His idea of teaching children as if they were young plants and drawing them out to light and warmth and leading them into the conditions most helpful for their development6 was not so different from Froebel’s theory, which Grethe Laub refers to in this interview; and no doubt ideas of this kind are found more and more in contemporary teaching approaches. But what Alexander specifically proposed as a revision of educational method to incorporate fully his practical discoveries has been touched on rarely since he and Dewey suggested it many years ago.
Alexander established a small school that was run by some of the teachers he trained at Penhill in Kent, England and in America at Stowe, Massachusetts during World War II; but it dealt mainly with children who had special difficulties and operated only for a few years. Several schools in England have recently experimented with Alexander’s Technique, and an Alexander teacher was actually employed for several years in a school in Copenhagen, Denmark.7 But these later attempts have operated only on the periphery instead of at the heart of the classroom, serving as little more than a kind of sophisticated ‘physical education’.

To my knowledge, Grethe Laub is one of the few people living who has worked so extensively as a nursery school teacher, a regular school teacher, and also as a qualified Alexander teacher teaching children privately for many years. Over the last fifteen years I had the privilege and delight of hearing brief accounts of her work with children; and after each conversation with her I felt more certain that she had some special knowledge of how to use the Alexander Technique in teaching children that few people have ever really realized. Finally, it seemed to me that her experiences and impressions should not be lost; so I persuaded her to let me ask her particular questions about her life and thoughts on teaching to see if we could develop something valuable for others to read, especially Alexander teachers.
In many ways it seems that with this interview we have only made a start on the subject. To grasp the full nature of Grethe’s experience and understanding, one would need to meet her and talk with her, and particularly to experience her own Alexander teaching. Therefore I urge any Alexander teacher who is seriously interested in working with children to do this. But I hope, even more, that other teachers, especially nursery school teachers, might be inspired to meet and work with her too.

Joe Armstrong
Teacher of the Alexander Technique
Boston, January 1984

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