Rethinking Education Pt.9: Kinesthetic Literacy

Do you remember your first physical education lessons? I don’t. And I know why — I haven’t learnt anything from it.

Teacher said “run” and we ran. Teacher said “chin-up” and we did it. Teacher said “play volleyball” and we started playing.

There was no learning by any means, all these years. There was training. Physical education today is about participating in activities you are supposed to be familiar with.

I think there is a big problem here: we don’t know the “why” of movement. There is a typical situation: through years of running we never ask ourselves such simple questions like “am I running the right way?” or “what are the other ways?” We just do the same old thing learned somewhere in times we can’t remember.

The most important knowledge about movement is unfamiliar to many of us. The most important knowledge is about knowing different ways to do the single thing. It gives us a freedom of choice.

We don’t have a freedom when we know only one way to do something. Example: one way is one pattern of gait. I’m sure you can recognize your friends by only seeing them walk, even in a crowded place, even if you know nothing about their dress. Don’t you?

We don’t have any idea of what the pleasure of movement looks like. There are many people for whom movement is pain. But they have no choice, they are doomed to persist doing that same old painful movements. Don’t they ask themselves “am I doing something wrong?” question? Probably no.

What all this has to do with education? Everything!

There are countless statements claiming that one of purposes of education is to make students who value health and maintain healthy lifestyle. All these statements are failure. Because of a single evident reason: in present society health is a status quo. And we value and maintain this status quo with diligence. That’s the result of education (or of its lack).

Health is an idea, but body is not, movement is not! We care about our ideas, not about bodies. We remember about bodies only when it is almost too late. Why? Because we are unable to see small changes!

What should be done by education is teaching kinesthetic literacy: “why’s” and “how’s” of movement, seeing small differences and small changes. And it is more about parents than about schools.

The biggest “why” of movement.

“The initial purpose of movement is staying alive”. How many times have you heard this from school teachers?

The knowledge trick with incorrect posture

Incorrect posture, faults of posture is a very common problem and a very common habit. (Even language depicts it – look at phrases “imperial bearing” or “majestic bearing” – they describe correct posture, but they sound like it is something rare.)

Do you know the big “why” of posture faults? We don’t have any reasonable knowledge that motivates us to change it. Only “you should”, “you must”, “it is better”, “it is healthy” and so on.

But there is a very strong reason. Here it is. When your posture is correct (or majestic) you are able to move in any direction, run, jump, bend down and so on as fast as possible — you are free with movement and it increases your chances to survive.

When it is incorrect you are unable to do some kind of movements: e.g. if your head is bent down (today it is very common everywhere) you are almost unable to control your jump — try it and you’ll see. If you are in the wild and you can’t control your jump – you are dead. Think of that for a moment.

Everything in the nature is strictly reasonable. The education should give the children this truth from the very beginning. The kids need to learn it by doing. Only then we will have the right to claim something about educating healthy living.

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Kinesthetic literacy is right on point. It is important to integrate into our entire education system. It must become part of a life long learning paradigm. Movement is important throughout life up to and especially including our elder years. My friend Liz Lerman who runs the Dance Exchange has an incredible program exposing the elderly to the beauty of dance and self expression. She shared her story at BIF-3: .

Saul Kaplan
Founder and Chief Catalyst
Business Innovation Factory

Thank you, Saul!

We move instantly, our bodies have tremendous
capacities to give us freedom and pleasure of each
single moment of our life.

Still we are in a haze of commonsense, illusions
and useless habits.

Educational systems have all the means to unveil
the knowledge about body perfectness. To do the
right thing from the very beginning.

We are responsible I think to bring that understanding
on the educational stage.

An interesting post. i just finished Ken Roinson’s “The Element” and found it to be a great read. He promotes the teaching of the arts and spends a large part of the book focusing on teaching dance. I think you’d like it.

Thanks for the post. I agree that when we know the fundamentals and the “why” that there is more freedom (not just phyicailly). You reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend just the other day about a good cook book – she liked it so much because all the others just taught her recipes, this one taught her why to do things, which she liked because it meant she could make her own decisions.
I like it when someone makes me think :)

Thanks, friends!

Just today I had a conversation about teaching “why’s”
and teaching teachers “why to teach ‘why’s'” :)

That second thing I think is a key to what Ruxandra called
“reinventing teachers”.

Looking forward to read “The Element”. I’ve heard only
respectful responses about that.

I must confess yesterday I had doubts when you said philosophers are the ones who can reinvent the teachers. But today reading an article about the same concern… teachers who dont teach (an article by Dragos Butuzea -unfortunately is written in Romanian – )… I’ve realised that you were right. Philosophers can reinvent teachers because they ask the “right” question: why?/why so? (and they don’t take for granted anything).
Maybe I just reinvented the wheel, but I needed this clarification! :)


My appreciation, Ruxandra!

You know, the more I read and see about innovations, new ways of doing
old things, fake creativity and fake need for changes labeled all over the place,
the more I feel that the best thing we can do is reinventing the wheels.

I wish everybody would be reinventing the wheel (just for fun, for themselves,
for the soul) and not inventing weapons, shooting at schools, getting drunk
every evening, dreaming of world enslavement and so on. Sorry, my fantasies run too fast :)

I believe in reinventing the wheel and, furthermore, I’m trying to do it every single day. Maybe I’m a moron, but in this case I prefer to be a moron.

p.s. It’s great that article is in Romanian, sometimes I feel English is too much used and too little we can truly say in English, thus I think we should never give up our own languages, but encourage people to learn them :) You’ve just encouraged me!

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