• Elliot Washor

Elliot Washor: “Are you with me now?” 2.12.21

Poetry in Motion – Record Label Cadence – Songwriters – Mike Ant

“Her poem, The Hill We Climb, was danced as much as read. Her musical cadences and flowing gestures conjured the spoken word to vibrant presence. There was no duality of medium and message, dancer and dance. She was the poem.” Gary Kaplan

All of us have our own interpretations to Amanda Gorman’s poem. That said, Gary Kaplan’s description here certainly resonates with me. There are only a few of us who talk about the body in motion as part of intelligence in the world of school. Chris Emdin does so, very eloquently. I notice when audiences hear someone talk about movement, rhythm and embodied cognition as intelligence you can see the heads nodding, YES! But when everyone gets back to school, it is certainly not credited as part of learning. How many times was I told, “Keep your hands still.” or “Stop fidgeting.” The credit for movement is somehow only given during athletic or artistic performances. The rest of the time, you are penalized for moving. Now in the COVID school environment, student movement is also regulated in the home.

As we continuously strive to figure out how to asses learning in a world filled with uncertainty and certainty, standards and variability, only humans can collectively think and feel in rhythm and time to dynamically respond to complex environmental stimuli, draw upon previous experience and intuitively understand what to do next. Isn’t this the work of teachers and mentors, not algorithms to assess?

Construction sites and workplaces hum with sounds and rhythms coming from tools run by workers. There is no mistaking the sounds of the rhythm of workers because things are falling apart, being repaired and constructed all at the same time. Everyone knows what quality is and whether the mark is hit because it is both pegged to real-world, personal and group standards. If you listen to the sounds of the rhythms of work be it a hammer pounding or a pencil scratching across a piece of paper, you can get a feel for understanding through the rhythm and movement of the tools in hand.

Neurologist John Krakauer studies movement on both ends of yet another spectrum. That is, movement impaired by a stroke and the beauty, movement and rhythm of professional athletes as well as master tradesmen. To Krakauer all of this movement is cognitive and I couldn’t agree more. Yet, schools persist in not seeing it this way.


Here are some excerpts and ironies from his work:

"We are obsessed with movement," he says, "yet we marginalize it, though we spend hours watching grown women and men jump around with a ball."

"We think jocks are inferior people, even though we pay athletes more than we pay anyone else in our culture.”

“When Michael Jordan threw the ball behind him, he knew there would be someone there to catch it. He looked around the court, played it five seconds ahead, then acted on it. That deft pass-off, Krakauer wants us to know, is high-level cognition at work, intersecting with the ability to execute it.”

"People think it's all unconscious, automatic, and reflexive," he says. "They speak of muscle memory. Muscle memory is meaningless. Muscles don't have memory."

Conclusion: Through the lens of neuroscience, a jock is far from dumb.

In the end, once you are really good at something, you develop a well-worn sense and feel. Content and time recede and flow and rhythm play even more of a role. That’s deeper. Is that what we assess? Thanks Amanda for showing us that in order to move the world you have to move in the world.

Be Well!

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