Psychomotor training, a borderline territory (including border violations) between knowledge and know-how
Paola Manuzzi - Professor, Scientific-Didactic Coordinator for the Master Program in Educational and Preventive Psychomotor Training, Università degli Studi in Bologna
What is the feedback four years after the beginning of the first Master program? Given the characteristic complexity of psychomotor training, what kind of organization is coherent with it? The author deals with the above questions returning to her comments presented during the seminar held in Bologna (May 2013) on university programs for Psychomotor Education and Prevention.
I accompanied the drafting of this article with the reading of Massimo Recalcati’s book, Il complesso di Telemaco (Recalcati, 2013) His book concerns the current relationship between generations, or better, fathers and sons. Recalcati’s book speaks of fathers who aren’t able to let go of their sons, tolerate their ambition and hunger for life (“entrust their children to the desert”), of adults irresponsible for their acts or words. He also speaks of how our times are marked by a serious alteration in the symbolic relationship between generations, between fathers and sons, and of the need to contrast the gloomy myth of an expansion of individualism.
Recalcati is convinced that there is an unknown or undeclared request for fathers today. Telemaco, Ulysses’ son, anxiously scrutinizes the horizon and waits for his father’s return so that his home can be freed from the Proci, referring to the “ night of the Proci” as a representation of a time devastated by pleasure without a future. Our epoch resembles the night of the Proci. No one seems to answer our pleas, or the “ scream in the night”. We are just like Telemaco waiting for someone who brings something new, a symbolic order, or a word that finally means something to come back from sea. Recalcati adds, however, that Telemaco also represents a new direction. He doesn’t limit himself to waiting, but struggles to regain what already belonged to him (his inheritance, in the most intimate sense of the word). He no longer fights against his father but together with his father.
Using our night of the Proci as a backdrop, a situation where the role of the adult is (should be) to reply to the son’s call, I asked myself about where meaning is directed in the training that we offer. The question is – when doing psychomotor training at a university level, are we waiting for someone or something to come back from the sea? What messages are we sending in the bottle and which ones return to us? What direction results? I’ll try to reply, making use of several students’ final considerations.
The sea of education definitely gives back the “not actual or not up to date”, in other words, all that is extraneous or contrary to today’s dominant values. In a world where the body is considered a merchandise among other merchandises, putting the body at the center of an educational process so that there might be a person who has a sense of self, of the other and the context, who listens, who takes his/her time, who thinks and asks questions, is a strong claim for being defined as “not actual or up to date”, especially when we compare it to both today’s representations of the body and a great part of education’s hetero directivity. It is a “not actual” that works on the border and that renounces to science’s historically transparent precision, a “not actual” that forces navigating in an opaque richness, in a tormented sea full of details and unpredictable possibilities.” (Contini, 2009, p.59) During the first months of the master program, we witness students’ confusion. They are struck by educational methods that ask them for participation at different levels, both through interaction and intense group work.
The notes taken diligently in a lesson become the first maps, the relationship with knowledge becomes less hetero directed or bookish, listening becomes bodily, looking becomes questioning and sometimes even sorrowful, the group dimension becomes alive through differences, sharing and conflicts.
We perceive a feeling of movement or voyage both in different directions and at different levels coming from the sea of education. In the body mediation workshops, the voyage is directed inwards toward the self; in the long and complex internships, the voyage is directed towards the children and is characterized by a lack of clarity where only partial understanding is possible. There is also the voyage into the complexity of educational environments, as they present themselves and the (implicit and explicit) connections that animate them. Alternatively, there is the frequently solitary voyage into books that has the function of illuminating an experience, of unveiling its stratifications and stereotypes, of offering words to say that which we wouldn’t have known how to say. There is a voyage for the professors, too, (an unexplored detail) in so much that having students who know where they want to go requires the educator to reposition and re-contextualize.
The sea of education also gives us back an amazing encounter with the procreative power of symbols, as seen in many a thesis. There are symbols that rename the experience, that allow for perceiving a special meaningfulness between the object and the word that names it. These symbols combine with the force of metaphoric language and open up to different “say able” or “thinkable” ways for speaking about the body (Manuzzi, 2009). Ultimately our voyagers return - those students to whom we have given border territory maps, whose knowledge has become layered and opens slowly, one layer at a time, and who now exercise the art of conversation through actions.
Psychomotor training travels through a middle-earth by logic of its structure. Its contents are, in fact, at the crossroads of the biological and psychological worlds, between neuroscience and the imaginary, between the body’s concreteness and its transcendence (its hunger for symbols, for words that give life to the things that are hidden in the folds of being), between being a faithful observer of the self and, at the same time, a faithful observer of reality. For that matter, the feeling of being at a border limit or crossing is typical in psychomotor intervention. The psychomotor territory, alternates between communicative transparency and opacity, between intentional educational activity and acceptance of the unexpected, between limits and freedom, between objective or logical time and psychological time which dilates in play, between kronos and kairos, Psychomotor territory is the transitional space where the opposing polarities of knowledge are dismantled and feed on each other. It is similar to what I have written about play elsewhere. “Play is situated on the borderline between the real/unreal and rules/freedom. Play produces a scattering of contrasting knowledge categories and leads us to a middle land designated as a place of passage or of transformation.” (Manuzzi, 2002)
There is consequently an interesting question for those of us who construct the “educational contraption”. Is there a system able to respect complexity as belonging to education and not as an obstacle to be removed from it? What kind of organization avoids a dichotomy between theory and practice, between so-called “strong” scientific knowledge and “weak” practical knowledge?
I believe that our educational structure holds some of the components necessary for significantly answering these needs. The most important is an itinerary composed of a “two-way movement”, that goes from higher spheres to lower spheres, from entrenchment or embodiment of the mind; or from the lower spheres towards the higher spheres, to arrive at body transcendence and its symbolic production. Going back and forth from one level to another helps students change the way they look at an experience in time. The entire itinerary is characterized by a weaving between academic discipline and experience, between action and narration, between body and language, between the individual and the group, between the personal and the professional sphere, where we emphasize “between” because it is both the method and its search for direction (path-method)1.
The more than 130 hours dedicated to workshops for personal growth, to tools for guided self-evaluation, to the organization of individual training itineraries, to the creation of educational networks in the territory, all point to a pedagogical approach with a great interest in complexity. Complexity is an emblematic word inspired by Edgar Morini and his idea that learning should no longer be organized in compartments, in hierarchies or in classification. “ Morini’s philosophy becomes a pedagogical program where organized knowledge should be substituted with the art of becoming a wanderer (or flaneur) or knowledge explorer. This means following one’s own path in the galaxy of knowledge no longer divisible or classifiable.”2 (Casalini, 2013, p.11)
The path-method doesn’t rely on a classical structure of knowledge (a theory and its practical application). It uses an epistemology of professional practices (not to be confused with the mystique of practice!) in which the preparation and making of an action forms new cognitive repertories that don’t necessarily refer to previously acquired knowledge. In order for this to happen, however, thinking must be practiced during action and through the action. It requires constancy and a gradual articulation. The combination of these two practices (therefore, not just one) increases awareness and professional responsibility, two of our most important objectives for growth (Schon, 1993).
One of today’s more important conceptual developments as a result of more recent in-depth analysis is considering educational psychomotor activity as educational care intervention. We know that taking care of a person differs from a reparation intention. It is, instead, giving attention to that person (child) in that group; it is creating a time and a place for integration in the educational group; it “means being able to think of daily actions as a condition for widening the horizon instead of a never-ending repetition of consolidated practices” (Fabbri. 2012, p.198).
So what does our student in psychomotor training take care of? He/she certainly takes care of children’s needs or their eventual distress, but he/she is careful not to crystallize the child in that fragile state, because by doing so dependency would be increased instead of self-reliance. He/she shouldn’t be striving too hard to eliminate childhood fragility, but should instead aim at nurturing childhood strength, their vitality in action, in communication and in play for supporting growth.
I conclude my brief excursus underlining how working on taking care of the body in relationships always includes working contemporaneously on taking care of the mind and thought. Usually this aspect is not noticed or not emphasized, but I, instead, find it central and interesting. Edmund Husserl said that thinking is always a meeting, thinking is only thinking otherwise.* This is just what happens to students – they begin feeling differently, thinking differently. They experience a self-awakening.
1 From Greek μeta (in the direction of) and odόs (path, route). The origin of the word therefore takes on a general meaning of search or directing a search.
2 Wanderer or flâneur mean “nomad”, “vagabond”.