Monday, 20 October 2014


Approaching high tide?

From a report by Paul Etchels in the Guardian newspaper this week, on a survey by Paul Howard-Jones of Oxford University and on publication of a book for non-brain scientists, by Christian Jarrett. Inter alia, Mr Etchels comments –

...a global epidemic of neurononsense... an ongoing issue is that neuroscientific counter-evidence to dodgy brain claims are difficult to access for non-specialists... inadequate communication between neuroscientists, educators and policymakers...

Often, crucial information appears in quite a complex form in specialist neuroscientific journals, and often behind an exorbitant paywall... neuromyths have largely been left unchallenged in the education system... Wouldn’t it be great if Nature Reviews Neuroscience dropped the paywall for this article, and sent it to as many teachers and schools as possible?

New for you

Mr Etchels also passes on an item of very welcome news –

Nature Reviews Neuroscience, who have lifted the paywall on the neuromyths article - you just need to register (for free).

Would that more journals could manage such pro bono gestures. Yes, of course it is a bind to fill in the registration form but the few minutes of time that it takes should pay enormous dividends in immunising agains foolish assumptions.

By the way, do no think from this and other things on this topic in Conductive World that I am against neuroscience and neuropsychology as such, on the contrary (but that is another story). What I rail against is the misuse of partial knowledge that, however understandable its reasons, can only harm the cause of Conductive Education.

And the sad thing is that Conductive Education does not need it. It could look elsewhere for its validation.

If you would like to read more around this topic, you can find Christan Jarrert's book at:

Mr Jarrett is a young lion of present British psychology., someone to watch.


Etchels, P, (2014) Brain baloney has no place in the classroom, Guardian, 17 October

Howard-Jones, P. A. (2014) Neuroscience and education: myths and messages, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, doi:10.1038/nrn3817, 15 October

Jarrett, C. (2014) Great Myths of the Brain, London, Wiley Blackwell

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Familiar mechanism under way again

From Taranaki, Michel Ong reports that the Neilson family take their three-year old son to weekly two-hour sessions with Conductive Education Waikato at Woodstock School in Hamilton, for which Mr Neilson makes a six-hour round trip, driving from home in Taranaki and back.

There are four other children in the Taranaki region making similar journeys, with another two starting soon. Now they are looking open a local unit, for which they will have to raise NZ$ 150,000 'to get the unit running, and a specialist teacher hired from Hungary'.

Into the future...

On top of of the NZ$ 150,000 the new venture will then of course need to be sustained, and paid for, year after year into an unknowable future.

There are problems with this cell-division model of expansion, but the model can and does work, not just in New Zealand.

Good luck to the Nielsons and all those others who might benefit from local developments, in Taranaki and elsewhere.


Ong, M. (2004) Parents and Zak in it for the long haul: special needs school needed, Tarakanki Daily News Online, 13 October

Tuesday, 14 October 2014


Not yet a new science of learning?

Following some discussion on Facebook Norman Perrin has made a posting on the above matter on new blog, Moving on. I do so wish that more people in Conductive Education would write and dispute publicly in this way – otherwise the field of Conductive Education might look to outsiders who meet it on the Internet for the first time, well... intellectually moribund . One would not wish people to think that.

Norman touches upon a question fundamental to the very existence of the idea of there being a field of psychology at all, one that has been a battleground over the century and more that has seen the hope for a science of the human mind (and its denial). Most of it beats me (except of course like most people I know what I think). I can merely sit on the sidelines as the big guns fight it out.

In safe historical retrospect I have gawped in amazement at the struggles of the reflexologists and the reactologists and the neo-Pavlovians and the like. In my own living memory I have disregarded the Freudians and the other psycho-analysists with the contempt that I consider their claims to science deserve, and I tiptoed around the scrapping on the fringes of the Behaviourist invasion of the early seventies (though I did once represent Vygotskii in a clinical psychologists' balloon debate (the other teams were for Skinner and Piaget – Vygotskii and I won).

And like everyone in the United Kingdom my life is persistently touched by the pervasive biologism of society here. I do make my own little individual stands, like refusing to fill in forms that ask about my 'race', and feel guilty about not doing more, but what? Fads pass.

Commenting on Norman's position

On his blog, Norman writes –
As an account of the functioning of the brain, neuroplasticity demolishes two strong and long-held learning and teaching positions: that, with ageing, the brain somehow seized up and that certain children were born ‘ineducable’. As illustrations, the former is neatly expressed in the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and the latter in the persistence in the UK until the early 1970s of schools for the ‘educationally sub-normal’.

Let me respond the second of these points first, since it involves no more that inaccurate historical reporting. In fairness to Norman, this is hardly his fault since the whole topic was shrouded in the UK forty years ago by sloppy euphemisation and official cant that made it very hard to see who and what were actually being talked about when it came to what was then called special education (not that unlike nowadays in fact).

The category Educationally Sub-Normal lay by definition within the education system and therefore did not incluse the concept of ineducable. There was no ineducability following the Education (Handicapped Children) Act 1971 Act, when the junior training centres run by the health department were brought under education as ESN(S) schools (i.e. for pupils, note the word, who were now to be regarded as severely educationally subnormal rather than simply trainable.).

This may all seem very distant now, but at the time it was widely hailed as a major step forward. Forces behind these changes were political and the shifting social attitudes that political action reflected (also like now).

As for animal-training (including for old dogs), that is completely outside my experience – though in other contexts I do tend to hold to the principle that is dangerous to try to generalise from the learning of lower animals to that of humans.

I have no quibble with Norman's central point. Political change and a developing Zeitgeist saw off the intelligence-testers (with the help of a nasty case of scientific fraud) and for a while at least biologism seemed on the run. Things might be as bas as ever now (or worse) with 'a dispiriting and defeatist view of humankind and human potential' doing rather well in all sorts of fields, but there was a window of opportunity and Conductive Education was perhaps fortunate in arriving in the UK at around that time. And the neurofolk also arrived on the scene.

I do not know whether there is or ever has been such a being as a 'typical neuroscientist', or a typical anyone else for that matter, but my own personal paranoia about the biologisation of understanding why people tick as they do leads me to see would-be neuro-explanations everywhere. I do not of course mean that neuro-explanations have any necessary tendency towards reactionary, anti-humane, illiberal values and political views, any more than has, for example, intelligence-testing per se. Indeed, both may have been conceived with quite contrary intentions. Both, however, might also be all too readily appropriated by the Dark Side.

Who needs ya, baby?

The Facebook comments from which Norman's posting had arisen began with a focus far far removed from neuroscience (what that, anyway?). It concerned three fundamental pedagogical principles proposedly identifiable in tranformative philosophies of education:

These were summarised as faith, hope and charity. It may be hard to see and what neuroscience might have to contribute towards the understanding of these and, more importantly, towards their creation and enrichment out of the processes of pedagogy and human upbringing. Next week, Norman promises, neuroscientists will have their chance to show their all with respect to cerebral palsy. We may yet be surprised.

As for myself, Norman, I feel that you are being too generous about the potential contribution of neuroscience and that there is no immediate concrete reason to add your cautious qualifier 'as yet'. Meanwhile, the burden of proof remains very much on the side of the neuroscientists and their enthusiastic supporters.

It is perhaps far less hard – and far more exciting – to think of how development of a proper field of pedagogic science might contribute to the sum of human welfare... 


Perrin, N. (2014) Brain plasticity and pedagogy – not yet a new science of learning? Moving on, 13 October,

Sutton, A. (2014) Transformative education: three ancient principles, Conductive World, 4 October

Tuesday, 7 October 2014


Reaching to a fresh audience

Another discussion paper

International Makarenko Association
Second International Research Symposium 

Makarenko studies 
History, present situation, perpectives

The latest discussion paper to be added to the Symposium site, the second in English, was written by Yours Truly:
Group upbringing goes West
 A diversion
Andrew Sutton
Abstract. An Hungarian system of upbringing and pedagogy, András Pető's 'Conductive Education', lays great emphasis upon group pedagogy. There are possible parallels in substance between the systems of Makarenko and of Pető, perhaps even connections. A brief introduction to Conductive Eduction stresses the magnitude of the pedagogic task posed by motor disorders, the solution of which is strengthened by teaching through groups rather than individually. A possible Makarenko link once offered an early possible historical root of Conductive Education, but this possibility has been denied in Hungary. Following export of conductive practice to the West but a variety of financial, social and ideological have made the group aspect of conductive pedagogy particularly hard to sustain in new national contexts. Some parallels and connections between the two approaches are offered, with respect to their respective founders and the social context in which practices were later developed.

Symposium website

PDFs of ­all the discussion papers:

Previous postings about this Symposium

Sutton, A. (2013) Another international event: communication on A. S. Makarenko, Conductive World, 17 December

Sutton, A. (2014) Online symposium: interesting topic – interesting model, Conductive World, 24 July

Sutton, A. (2014) Makarenko symposium: real-time online discussion, Conductive World, 12 September


Sutton, A. (2014) Group upbringing goes West: a diversion (discussion paper), Second International Research Symposium of the International Makarenko Association, Autumn

Sunday, 5 October 2014


L. S. Vygotskii in London

Conductive World has often remarked how little Western 'Vygotskians', 'neo-Vygotskians', and 'socio-culturals' actually know or understand of L. S. Vygotskii and his works. What they preach in his name may often fly straight in the face of everything that he stood for. Only rarely does there even begin to emerge the possibility that there was once a human being behind all this, with passions and beliefs, fears and concerns, values and priorities that were of pressing importance.

With respect to Vygotskii this is now changing, with a new generation of scholars beginning to emerge on both sides of the one-time Iron Curtain, making new enquiry into original resources. And a further fresh new factor,, the published results of such enquiry may generally be found on line, open-access and free of charge, in direct contrast to much of the publication of the earlier generation of investigators in the West. This is people's knowledge, and I suspect that LSV himself might have approved of this. Examples of such new scholarship include:

This development is well worth stating here, not merely because Vygotskii is often to be found cited to support aspects of Conductive Education itself (if one is to have him cited in this way it would be nice to have have his ideas correctly stated) but also because of analogies and insights that might be drawn between the historical fate and functions of these two approaches in the years that have followed their founders' deaths (1934 in the case of the short-lived Vygotskii, 1967 in for András Pető).

Below is a short extract from the third of the above examples, from which one may derive several points.

From Russia with love...

In 1925 L. S. Vygotskii travelled to London on his one trip outside his native land, to attend the  8th International Conference on the Education of the Deaf. He left Moscow on 7 July for the long journey by boat and train, via Berlin, and was probably back around 4 August. He was fairly recently married and he pined and worried desperately about his wife Roza and their little daughter Gita.

We know this because he kept a detailed diary of his trip, and this has been meticulously decoded and edited by the authors of the article cited here.

He did the four-day conference, where he was a fish out of water, and some touristic sites like the National Gallery, the Egyptian Collection at the British Museum, the Palace of Westminster, and the Abbey – and he wrote his often anguished diary. Here is a taster. A. Hansen of Denmark had just read a paper about the classification of deaf children, claiming among other things that the Danish system was both 'the oldest and the most scientific one.' Vygotsky seemed neither convinced nor interested –
Loss of strength. I am tired. Indifference, almost despair. My trip yesterday revealed to me its main contradiction. I am extremely tense (the language, the responsibilities, the suit, the foreign countries), on the other hand — I am outside time and space and free of everything as never before (aloof)... In essence, Russia is the first country in the world. The Revolution is our supreme cause. In this room only 1 person knows the secret of the genuine education of the deafmutes. And that person is me. Not because I am more educated than the others, but [because] I was sent by Russia and I speak on behalf of the Revolution. 

András Peto

Oh to be able to hear and partially know Andras Pető in such a way. When oh when will Conductive Education experience its new wave of Pető studies?


van der Veer, R., Zavershena, E. Yu. (2011) To Moscow with Love: partial reconstruction of Vygotsky’s trip to London, Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, vol. 25, no 4, pp.458-7

(I cannot fathom the authors' motivation in choosing the particular pronoun that opens the title of this paper and I speak as one who has faced just this problem!)

Saturday, 4 October 2014


Three ancient principles
Psychologists tend to make heavy weather of explaining fundamental human principles. Reuven Feuerstein for all his virtues was no exception. Humane outsiders may do it more succinctly for them. Johnathon Sacks, former Chief Rabbi in the United Kingdom, who knew and admired Reuven Feuerstein for years, has done just this for Reuven, describing him thus of the great child psychologists of the world, a man who transformed lives and led severely brain-damaged children to achievements no one else thought possible.

But first of course, as Radio 4 regulars will expect, a little anecdote, one that was told to Dr Sacks by Reuven's son Rafi 
Feuerstein had been working with a group of Native American Indians and they wanted to show their gratitude. So they invited him and his wife to their reservation. They were brought into the Indian chief’s wigwam where the leaders of the tribe were sitting in a circle in full headdress.
As the traditional welcome ceremony began, the professor, an orthodox Jew from Jerusalem, was overwhelmed by the incongruity. He turned to his wife and said to her in Yiddish:
'What would my mother say if she could see me now?!'
To his amazement, the Indian chief turned to him and replied in Yiddish:
'And what would she say if she knew I understood what you just said!'
 To read the rest of this little story, you will have to go to:
Attention and empathy now established, Dr Sacks proceeds to the gist of his message  
I tell his story because he was a deeply spiritual Jew. His methods were elaborate and his theories complex, but seeing him at work you knew that there were three reasons he achieved miracles.
First, the basis of his work was love. He loved the children and they loved him.
Second, he had transformative faith. Under him children developed skills no one thought they could because he believed they could. He had more faith in them than anyone else. 
Third, he refused to write anyone off. He insisted that children with disabilities should be included in society like every other child. They too were in the image of God. They too had a right to respect. They too could lead a full and meaningful life.
I learned from Professor Feuerstein that faith really does change lives. The one thing that can rescue us from despair and failure to fulfil our potential is the knowledge that someone believes in us more than we believe in ourselves.

More succinctly still...
As remarked before on Conductive World 
And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity
I Corinthians, 13, 13
One need not subscribe to Judaeo-Christian faiths to believe in human potential and to consider the material facts of what has to be done to create this as a matter of vital social and scientific concern.
Sacks, J. (2014) Op-Ed: G-d's faith in us, Arutz Sheva, Israel National News, 3 October

Friday, 3 October 2014


A new-wave service for adults

Conductive Enablement Ltd. is not altogether new, in fact, conductor Annamaria Berger registered her practice as a limited-liability company around a year ago.

At present she is still building up to full capacity and could run more groups/sessions. 

Conductive Enablement offers services for adults in the counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire. These include individual and group sessions, along with Parkinson's, speech and facial sessions (also in groups).

Staffing comprises one conductor with an assistant. 

The sessions are mainly self-funded but in the case of people with Parkinson's disease, local branches of the Parkinson's Disease Society tend to help towards cost.

Conductive Enablement is now on Facebook:

Contact Annamaria at:

Previous 'new wave' posting

Thursday, 2 October 2014


Includes fascinating brochure

The PAF's new website is awakening to life:

In addition to the academic programme, this now includes information in Hungarian on the inner structure of the PAF (Pető András College, the former Pető Institute):

English and Russian (and Italian?)

Old information in English and Russian is reappearing. A page in Italian is flagged but not yet there

Don't miss the brochure

At the foot of the homepage some rather triksy links might mean that you miss turning the PDF pages of a little illustrated brochure, introduced by Franz Schaffhauser – under the slogan 'A healthy nation builds a strong country'.

Search it out and work out how to turn the pages, to gain interesting glimpses into the PAF's preferred image:

The contents merit careful study.

Previous posting on this topic


Too deep for tears
The high jinks of the neuro people have attracted considerable attention in Conductive Education over the years. 
If you fancy a wry grin, you might enjoy some of the following:
You have to laugh...
Ten percent of the brain
The film, Lucy, looks like it is conceived out of the Braveheart tradition of neuropsychology, and may grant further bemused amusement:
To be serious for a moment:

Brookes, X. (2014) Lucy review – Luc Besson's cerebral sci-fi is set to overload, Observer, 24 August

Burnett, D. (2014) Brand new brain myths to keep neurobloggers in work, Guardian (blog), 29 September
Fine, C, (2014) 'Mind change: how digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains' (review of book by Susan Greenfield), Financial Times, 15 August
Jarrett, C. (2012) All you need to know about the 10 percent brain myth, in 60 seconds, Brain Watch, 2 July

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


That's nice, isn't it?

I am not sure how I feel about this – though from what I see it seems that many people who have a connections with the cerebral palsies seem to feel it unproblematically 'nice'. I am very suspicious of umproblematical nices. Perhaps I am wrong in this, and perhaps I am the only lonely curmudgeon who thinks that the very notion of 'cerebral palsy' is a problem in itself and that a 'day', whatever other purposes it might serve, also stamps that questionable notion ever deeper into the public consciousness.

I suppose therefore that my contribution to today's festivities should be to suggest that a hard look ought to be taken at this supposed diagnosis, the legitimacy of any diagnosis's serving as the basis for categorising the human circumstances (including the problems) of living, and the persisting extraordinary separation of cerebral palsies and other motor disorders from the rest of special education.

I suppose that I could have elaborated on this position and submitted it, but I felt that such an a priori consideration was not a likely vote-winner.

In the meantime, I know that Conductive Education places around the world, are making their own contributions. Here are two examples, both nice:

What message, though, does Conductive Education as such have to offer the world of cerebral palsy?

Recently Norman Perrin asked on line whether Conductive Education has a 'distinctive view' of cerebral palsy. Well, does it?