New Doctoral Program in Psychophysical Education: Press Release & FAQ

Doctoral program to pioneer research in Psychophysical Education, a new and emerging field at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Health-related learning problems have now reached epidemic levels in America. Children in classrooms around the country, and from all socio-economic backgrounds, are suffering from stress, attention and learning problems in the classroom and at home. An interdisciplinary doctoral program dedicated to health and functioning in children begins this fall at Teachers College, Columbia University, aimed at identifying  harmful patterns of behavior that interfere with learning and ongoing development in children. Research in the emerging field called Psychophysical Education will lead to a new standard of health in the developing child that can be applied in the classroom and incorporated into existing curricula.

The doctoral program was conceived by Columbia professor Dr. Theodore Dimon, who teaches courses on the subject at Teachers College. Dimon writes, “Research in this subject, a global first for Columbia University, aims to impact educational theory, primary school curricula, and our understanding of early childhood development.”  An endowment dedicated to funding doctoral research in the field of Psychophysical Education was initiated this October at Teachers College with the hope of providing ongoing support for future doctoral students.

What is Psychophysical Education?
The term “psychophysical” refers to the relationship of the nervous and musculoskeletal systems, and how those two systems work together as a single unit to process and execute motor acts. Attention, motor coordination, and behavior—dubbed “the learning triad” by Dr. Dimon—are key elements of this system and have a profound effect on learning and development. These elements can lose function over time due to unconscious habit, stress, and tension. As Dimon explains, “Between the ages of 5 and 7, almost all children develop harmful habits that interfere with natural coordination and vitality. We want to understand why this is happening and to develop strategies that address these habits before they become ingrained and affect the child’s long-term health and learning.” To better understand this subject, the doctoral program at Teachers College will examine the learning triad in children as they face increasing demands in school. Doctoral coursework will cut across neuroscience, child development, teaching and curriculum, research methodology, and educational theory. Theoretical and practical coursework at the Dimon Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the field of psychophysical education, will also be required as part of the program curriculum.

The field of Psychophysical Education can be originally attributed to F.M. Alexander, whose practical work in motor function and behavior deeply influenced John Dewey’s revolutionary educational theories. Dewey famously shifted attention away from subject matter and onto the self as the central agent of learning and wrote at length about habit, behavior and the psychophysical nature of learning. The groundbreaking program in Psychophysical Education at Teachers College is the first to explore the scientific and psychological concepts that underpin Alexander’s and Dewey’s theories.

About the Dimon Institute
The DImon Institute (www.dimoninstitute.org)  is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study of psychophysical education and its application in the fields of education and health. Founded by Dr. Theodore Dimon, Ed.D., the Institute’s mission is to train professionals in this emerging field and to support advancement of the field through scholarship and scientific research. The Dimon Institute’s teacher training program is certified by the American Society for the Alexander Technique (AmSAT).

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
These questions have come to us directly from the Alexander community.

How is this field different from the Alexander Technique?
The field of psychophysical education seeks to research and understand the theories behind F.M. Alexander’s work, and the broader application of his methods in the classroom. The Dimon Institute’s mission is to support research and development in these areas, with a particular focus on child development and the study of the postural system. This work is much broader than the Alexander Technique and constitutes a field of study that should be explored and understood at the graduate level. For instance, one of the main goals of the doctoral program is to understand more about how the child’s psychophysical system develops naturally. This knowledge is as important as our understanding of a child’s cognitive and emotional development and should be a part of every educator’s training. This can only happen if the subject matter is treated as a field.

Does the Dimon Institute train teachers in the Alexander technique?
Yes, we do! Practical knowledge of the self in activity is of the utmost importance to the Institute. Students enrolled in our 3-year Conservatory program practice the work and philosophy handed down to us by F.M. Alexander and receive intensive hands-on work. In addition, we have created time within the program for a curriculum that includes academic subjects such as neuroscience and anatomy, and we discuss Alexander’s work within the context of an emerging field.

Who is the doctoral student and how did he/she find the program?
Drumroll please! Allow us to introduce Ms. Tara Fenamore, whom you’ll hear more from personally next week. Tara received a Master’s Degree (Spring, 2016) in Philosophy and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and is a 2012 graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. She has taught acting to children and teens for the past four years and is a graduate of The New Actors Workshop. At Teachers College, Tara discovered the emerging field of Psychophysical Education, pioneered by Dr. Theodore Dimon, and has since become a full-time student at The Dimon Institute. Dr. Dimon, who conceived of the doctoral program and developed the coursework, will advise Ms. Fenamore on her research and dissertation.

What do you hope to accomplish with this program?
The field of psychophysical education can support research in many areas. Our first doctoral program will focus on children as they progress through primary school, looking for clues to how the loss of their natural coordination and vitality occurs. Short term, we hope that the doctoral student’s research will prove that habits related to attention, motor coordination and behavior are developed during this time period which have a detrimental effect on learning. We also hope to develop teaching strategies for preventing these habits as they occur. Longer term, the Institute hopes to fund a study at an NYC school where these teaching strategies can be tested over time, across a large group of children.  

How did the program develop?
This program has been in development for four years, realized entirely due to the efforts of Dr. Dimon and Serena Woolf, a visiting teacher and graduate of the Institute. Dr. Dimon currently teaches psychophysical education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Serena was the first Master’s student in Education to graduate from TC with a specialization in this subject. Together, they built support for the program and found a suitable candidate.

Is there some way I can get involved?
The Dimon Institute is working toward a sustaining endowment that can fund ongoing doctoral research in psychophysical education. We are looking for students interested in either doctoral or master’s level studies, and we are actively fundraising to support these efforts.  If you’re interested in learning more about the programs at Teachers College, please take a look at the Teachers College application requirements and reach out to us via our website. If you’d like to support our cause, please email us directly via our “Contact Us” page.