Humanising Language Teaching
The Body in a Pedagogy of Being
By Viviane Laroy, Research Student in Philosophy, Belgium
The twentieth century has been called “The Century of the Body”, thus referring to a discovery or re-discovery of that part of ourselves. This is reflected in the care devoted to the body, the energy put into 'image' and appearance. And yet in education, except for PE classes the body is not granted a lot of space. The place granted to the body in education in Europe can be seen as characteristic of the relationship between teachers and learners. It is also suggestive of how human beings relate to knowledge and of the modes of learning carried by a school culture. This means that the part meted out by an educational system to the body is a good indicator of a specific conception of learning and of how it sees the transmission of knowledge. How does the body influence the way we learn? What is the place of the body in teaching? Where does this place come from? In what ways does the place given to the body improve learning? This article will try to find some answers to these questions and propose a different model of the body making room for a teaching model where the learner is taken as a whole and not merely a container for knowledge.
The body is not usually granted a lot of space in our educational system: it is nothing more than what allows us to remain seated for hours and to move from one classroom to another and to meet the requirements of P.E. classes. 90 % of the time spent in schools is typically in a state of immobility. Learning is reduced to an airborne exchange of knowledge between different minds: the knowledge in the teacher's mind is transmitted to the learners, defined as minds able to receive new knowledge or not. This is the product of a tradition I will try to briefly illustrate by referring to three paradigmatic figures: Socrates; the figure of Christ on the cross and Pavlov's dog.
In brief, Plato presents Socrates as a mediator between knowledge and the learner. For him a pedagogic relationship consists in questioning the learner's opinions in order to eventually attain what is “just” and “universal”. Learners are supposed to be prodded by the teacher's questions to discover the contradictions in their own opinions. In this way those who need to learn go beyond their own opinions which constitute the “obvious knowledge about things” which is the apparent dogmatism of all knowledge that Socrates aims to overcome in order to reach what is universal. The learner is then led to induce general truths valid in all cases. By discovering their own contradictions learners will attain what is just and valid in what they grasp about the world, about morality and ethics. Truth is to be found in each one and in everyone. The transmission of knowledge takes the form of assisted “delivery” called “the maieutic method”, denoting the Socratic mode of enquiry, which aims to bring a person's latent ideas into clear consciousness.
It should work because the learners' and the teachers' discourse are both based on rational rigour exercised by two minds. The body, as the perceiver of the world in any way at all, is not even mentioned. Knowledge is a conceptual construct where there is no place for art, intuition, imagination. A piece of sculpture, a play, a dance, a novel do not contribute to knowledge, if we take the texts we have at their face value. Let us now jump to the Middle Ages to see how things appear to have evolved.
A new mode of transmission of knowledge reached its apex with the universities in the XIIth century. Knowledge had become more complex and more diverse. The development of human knowledge -- such as a physics -- was conceived as knowledge about things and not the Knowledge of All Things. This was reflected in the creation of university faculties, each corresponding to a kind of knowledge. The relationship with knowledge was based on the Christian conception of knowledge, which was linked to the idea of the relationship of Christ's body with divinity.
Universities originated in the Middle Ages as a result of the increase of the mass of knowledge - of course - but also in order to find a rationality in the relationship between human beings and their cause, their source of knowledge: God.
The relationship between human beings and their creator was systematised in the study - the knowledge - of the Divine through theology. This relation with something that is beyond humanity carries an idea of the place of the body in its ability to access the Divine. This idea originated in Platonism and Neo - Platonism. Plato had precise ideas about the place of the body in the rise of human beings to reach the universal, the Good, Truth, which he saw as the ultimate aim and happiness of human beings. In Georgias and Phedo, Plato separated body and soul; while the latter is immortal the former gets old and dies. Truth and the Good can only be attained by the soul, which means the body is of lesser value. In The Banquet, the importance of Love is put forward: Love can only be the love of Beauty. To love someone is to catch a glimpse of the person's beauty -- and Beauty is associated with Good. Whatever is beautiful is good. This means that the love of Beauty allows humans to reach the Good and ultimate happiness. Here, a beautiful body is a stepping stone on the road towards happiness. This means that, on the one hand, the body is devalued because it is subject to decay, but on the other hand it is the stepping stone towards the Good. This ambivalence in Plato's philosophy appears in Christian religion in the emblematic figure of Christ on the cross.
Jesus was aware of human crimes and chose to disappear from this earth as God made flesh, in other words as a body. In so doing he proved his love for humans (he died to redeem human sins) to reach another state which is less human. His resurrection is redemption and going back towards God after the exile from the Garden of Eden. The body is used to get closer to the Divine, which is looked upon as infinite goodness, but is also a negation of what makes Jesus properly human (incarnation is the vehicle of original sin). Thus we find again this twofold movement towards a negation of the body and, at the same time, its valorisation because it is the springboard towards something better.
Since knowledge was first worked on within a religious context because the teachers, the Masters were first churchmen, the separation between the body and the soul permeated the whole relation to learning. The body carries evil, so denying its importance through corporal punishment, and mortification was seen as a means to overcome or get rid of past and future sins. This was used to legitimise corporal punishment within the scope of the acquisition of knowledge. Saint Augustine viewed learning as a reactivation of the divine memory, which of course is not to be found in the body. Leading an ascetic life is indispensable to remember (know) what is Good and to reach the happiness that is to be found in God only 1 . Knowing ( remembering) badly can be eradicated through a refusal or even a denial of the body: don't look at it, don't feel it ... punish it ! Jean de la Rochelle, Saint Bonaventura and Saint Thomas Aquinas considered that knowledge could only be reached by connecting the soul and the body 2. For them the senses (the body) allow humans to imprint what they have seen, felt, or heard in the soul or the intellect, which is a soul illuminated by God. So here the pedagogical relationship uses the body as a means to reach knowledge by ignoring or denying sensitivity and sensuality, but recognizes the necessity of perception of the world for human knowledge to progress .
This enables us already to see what tradition weighs on the pedagogical relationship and learning processes in the Western world. The relationship between learners and teachers is summed up as intellectual exchanges about knowledge. Acquiring knowledge requires a body but it is an intellectual process, and the body is devalued. This tradition took another turn with the advent of behaviourism.
Instrumental learning through association of stimuli and responses reached an important new stage in the Pavlovian model. His model of learning is based on the acquisition and elaboration of knowledge through positive behavioural reinforcement. If a child receives a sweet every time she or he washes their hands, this works as a positive stimulus. In this way hygiene is learned. The body is seen as a positive instrument for learning. However the body remains something else than a human body. The body as a carrier of senses is not taken into account.
Tolman 3 has shown that this model is insufficient, because learning depends on knowledge providing the subject with hypotheses, rules to transform information into knowledge. Behavioural rules are not learned through associations of habits but through a simultaneous reorganisation of a person's perception and actions. Perception is anything but passive. Gestalt psychology claims that the perception of reality often requires the recognition of general patterns and not details. The process of recognition implies the application of forms ( global configurations) to given elements. Perception is a continual re - shaping through unconscious mobilisation of usual shapes that allow us to better understand new objects ( this also applies to words ) To understand something new we need intuition and we must use the knowledge we already have to weigh it and reconstruct . So, faced with a new situation a person will observe, study ( think, reflect, weigh, etc.) and act according to the new knowledge. The flexibility of our ability to form concepts, our ability to use what is at our disposal to understand something which had been unknown until then, the power and malleability of our intellect are all essential.
Hull states that adopting a new behaviour or a new habit can be independent of the strength of the reinforcement. The choice of a particular behaviour can be determined by a succession of movements . Here, learning is not the result of an intuition or a stimulus. Adjustments of positions or subvocal responses are not directly observable but are the intermediaries between response and stimulus. The response can be the result of a need to reduce a need. Rosenzweig has shown the importance of interaction between learners and the learners and the teacher. In this approach, learning can be facilitated by observing others and imitating them. 4
Clearly this shows that the body can have a positive place in learning: it allows learners to reorganise and restructure the world. It becomes indispensable for any really innovative action. The aim of learning can also be to reach the body itself. It is no longer just an instrument: all the senses, sensitivity, intuition, global perception, imagination are all integral parts of this body... As a result, the channels of learning are diversified and complement analysis, synthesis and other modes of thinking. Psychologists and philosophers in the twentieth century went further yet by extending, enriching the concept of the body. Let us look at Watzlawick and Deleuze's contributions.
WATZLAWICK AND DELEUZE: A RICHER VIEW OF THE BODY AND KNOWLEDGE Watzlawick, for example, gives an important place to the body in communication and Deleuze insists on the intensity that circulates through the body. So, now the body becomes a part of a complex communication system, rather than simply a sum of the functions of the different organs that make it up.
When Watzlawick writes “It is impossible not to communicate, whether we like it or not' 5, he refers to the fact that any behaviour and attitude carries a message. Not moving an eyelid may communicate that “I am afraid to move”. All communication is made up of verbal signs and non - verbal signs. The body enables us to communicate through our postures and gestures and the noises we make and to receive messages sent by others. The body is an indication of how we are feeling and of what we are for the others. The communicative body has been studied systematically within communicational approaches such as Transactional Analysis (T.A.) , Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and anything that refers to the systemics of the complexity of communication.
This means that communication is more than just the transmission of a message between a transmitter and a receiver. There is also a context that determines its transmission and reception that will determine its interpretation. Implicit messages that appear in the body have to be taken into account : gestures, posture, muscular tension , eye movements, etc.
Communication is also an exchange of invisible messages, pertaining to a cultural group for example. A woman cries instead of displaying anger ... and yet expresses personal anger. Family groups may have their invisible messages -- totally imperceptible to an outsider. Symbolic messages are also transmitted within certain groups. A woman who cries when she is angry may be stating something along the following lines: “In my culture an angry woman cries”.
All these messages constitute the context, which is part of what is expressed in words, gestures or in works of art, books, choreographies. In a learning situation where knowledge and skills - or even a very sophisticated technique - have to be taught there may also be a feeling or an emotion. Watzlawick's contribution points to complex processes that provide room for the body as a communication agent and not just as a receptacle. Deleuze has introduced yet one more element in the role of the body.
Put simply, in his work Gille Deleuze always drew attention to the place of the body in awareness of the self. This French philosopher thought that one of the main concerns of contemporary philosophy should be to build a new concept of the body “ the body as an intensive reality”. The body is not just a sum of functions linked with the organs it is made up of ( the mouth is there to swallow, the eyes are there to see ...). The body is a whole inhabited by intensities. The body is not just a space with precise locations (such as the mouth) .... so the mouth is not only a part of the face .... it also has an existence in the head. To ingurgitate is not simply an act of the mouth: it takes place with the whole body. I eat with my mouth, my eyes, my ears, and with the sensation of the metal of the fork in my hand: my whole body eats. This body is inhabited by an intensity: desires and forces move through it. The intensity of those desires and energies create a body that needs to be tried out ... This means experience its intensities instead of interpreting, trying to find a meaning to its desires, longings, interpreting the words produced by the vocal cords: a body vibrates totally.
This is no desire for God or for anything exterior and better than humans, it is an immanent desire: it does not refer to something else closer to the Good or the Truth that is lacking in human beings. This means that if humans can know things and be an object of their own knowledge, they no longer have a body but are on / in this body. The body itself is knowledge and no longer knowledge of something else . Learning can then aim at the knowledge offered by the body and not only at intellectual knowledge accessed by the body as a result of ascetic practice, corporal punishment, positive reinforcement, or emitted or transmitted knowledge. In other words the body is there in its own right. It is rehabilitated with its biological needs, its sensations, sensitivity and intuitions.
In this brief and, of necessity, incomplete sketch shows that underlying our practice in teaching there is a conscious or unconscious system of belief about what it means to be human and of what it means to have a body. Western culture carries values we may not be aware of. They appear in the implicit conception of the relationship between -- or the denial of the relationship - between the body and the mind.
From what we know about Socrates it would seem the body does not exist in a pedagogical relationship, for Plato is was a stepping stone at best. It was -- often still is -- something to distrust and chastise in the Christian conception. It is a cognitive instrument through perception or by reference to meaning for Pavlov, Tolman, Hull and Rosenzweig. For Watzlawick it is communicative and for Deleuze it is a map of intensive desires.
All too often the body has been seen as an obstacle, a distractor and a channel for chastisements rather than a positive or simply a complementary element. It has also seldom been seen in it is totality. How then can this body be given its rightful place in learning and in language learning in particular? Teaching in function of one of these conceptions of the body has philosophical, ideological, political and pedagogical consequences.
The efficiency of learning can be measured by learning the content of a curriculum and a syllabus or within more general objectives, such as the best possible integration of individuals in society conforming to the established order. It can also be measured by the degree of autonomy and creativity that it fosters or -- taking the body fully into account -- it could involve perception, sensitivity, and sensuality to reach certain deep roots of the personality that are the foundation of attitudes and actions.
Techniques such as autogenic training and sophrology that aim to relax and become aware of our complete body: its tensions, movements, breathing, rhythms, etc. are increasingly used in our educational system. 6 Neurolinguistic programming and Transactional analysis are offered in further training. Such techniques aim at helping learners overcome their history, their cognitive programming and the psychological blocks. They will be able to learn differently. Starting from other intuitive experiences and perceptions they will become able to reorganise their way of looking at things, to improve their conceptual flexibility if other approaches did not work.
Communication will no longer be a disincarnate exchange of sounds and / or written messages it will be truly communicational and involve the whole body, in the transmission, at the cognitive level -- including intuition and perception -- . It will also involve emotion ... a whole world of felt, life experience grounded in sensations.
Teachers and learners will no longer work on one level and communication will no longer just be a disincarnate exchange of sounds and / or written messages. It will be truly communicative and involve the whole body, in the transmission, at the cognitive level -- including intuition and perception -- . It will also involve emotion ... a whole of felt life experience grounded in sensations, referring to the whole world of human experience. It will be both humanistic and holistic.7
Learning pronunciation in a language, for example, will involve an intimate whole-body and whole-person experience, where rhythm, intonation and phonemes will be felt through the whole body and go deeply into the learners intuition sense of beauty. It will be integrated in the sonic and mental world of the learners. 8
Grammar will go beyond the transmission of rules from book to teacher to learner, that is to say from the author's mind to the learner's mind. Grammar relations will take on meaning for the learners who will actually create their own grammar and use language not to practise grammar rules but to create a language that is meaningful for them at the deepest level.9
The work in class will be on several levels at the same time and not just purely intellectual: it will go beyond what is seen or heard and reach the learners' personality, emotions, feelings leading to a wish to express something truly felt. This will require that group dynamics are taken into account and that atmosphere in class is recognized and that the teacher works on all its aspects.10
Beyond 'Mens sana in corpore sano' we need to take all aspects of the body into account in the learning process in order to diversify the techniques to approach knowledge. This will make learning more efficient by reaching as many learners as possible in the most appropriate way 11 The transformation of our representation of the experience with as end - aim a person who can adapt to our ever-changing environment is a long - term enterprise. 12 This transformation of experience cannot be achieved without putting into question our relationship with the learning of new knowledge and skills to adapt to change. It also has to deal with autonomy and creativity that are mandatory to effectively put into question and improve our intellectual representations.
To question those representations means we have to go back to how we came to form the original representations: our life experience and what and how we feel towards things, people and ideas. This can only be achieved through experimenting with new situations, experienced emotionally and practically through our body as well as our mind. Complete human beings can then meet and learn together, really communicate and not simply interact..
The fact that all these aspects have links with the fundamentals of our belief system about ourselves and the relationship with a body which is not only a carrier of ideas, nor even just an instrument, accounts for the resistance at the very core of our beings: our bodies and our hearts -- as well as our minds.
1 see Brice Parain Histoire de la Philosophie Vol I, 1983, Paris: Gallimard pp. 1375 - 1422.
2see Brice Parain op. cit. Vol I, pp. 1375 - 1422.
3see Jean - François Dortier in Les Sciences Humaines - Panorama des Connaissances - 1998, Editions Sciences Humaines, pp. 122 - 124
4Hull & Rosenzweig in Dortier, op. cit. pp. 62 - 65. Bude & R. Meyers, in Psychologie Générale, 1997 , p. 8
5Watzlawickk, Helmick Beavin, Don D. Jackson in A Logic of Communication.
6See for example, Smilz work in developing a sophropedagogy
7On learner confidence: see CORNFIELD (Jack) & WELLS (Harold) 100 Ways to enhance self_concept in the classroom: a Handbook for Teachers and Parents. - Prentice Hall. and Davies (Paul) and Rinvolucri (Mario) The Confidence Book - Longman - Pilgrims. HAARMAN (Harald) Symbolic Values of Foreign Language Use: from the Japanese case to a General Sociolinguistic Perspective - 1989, Berlin: De Gruyter provides insight into the possible deeper implications of learning a foreign language.
8 see ARNOLD (Jane)., ed. Affect in Language Learning. 1999, Cambridge: CUP -
9See ... and C. LAROY Pronunciation Oxford University Press
10see for example the activities in Frank (C.) & RINVOLUCRI (Mario) Grammar in Action and DAVIS (P.) & RINVOLUCRI (Mario) More Grammar Games, cognitive, affective and movement activities for EFL students Cambridge University Press.
11see LANNOYE (Chr.), VAN COTTOM (J.), MOURAUX (D.) L'école vit au rythme de ses tensions - 1999, Bruxelles: De Boeck - HADFIELD (Jill) Classroom Dynamics. - 1993, Oxford: OUP - Alan MALEY 'The Anatomy of Atmosphere' - 1994 (March) in PET.
12see in this respect Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences ; Intelligence Reframed , Multiple Intelligences , etc. see www.geocities.com/Athens/Column/7568/gardner.html for Multiple Intelligence (MI) links.
13see Carl Rogers & H.J. Freiberg Freedom to Learn - 1994 Macmillan College Publishing company .
Editorial Note: for readers interested in the role of the body in learning language, an indispensable book is Bernard Dufeu's
Teaching Myself , Oxford 1994. This is a translation of his earlier book in French:
Sur les chemins d'une pedagogie de l'etre.
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