Saturday, 29 March 2008

Goethe and Conductive Education

Poetry, and philosophy of science

Emma MacDowell writes –
Dear Andrew,

I somehow believe that Pető’s thinking was, quite naturally, also influenced by – among others – Goethe’s Faust, where at the end of Part II there is a line or two evoking the type of things that happen during PROPER Conductive Education, which contains among others, love – intelligent love – charity, intuitiveness, ‘contact’, all that. It is its essence.
The very last line, Das Ewig-Weibliche – Zieht uns hinan, would really confuse someone who hasn’t studied Faust.
The basis of the relevance – as I see it – is that impossible things can be done, are being done, if the necessary ingredients are there, the most important of which is das Ewig-Weibliche ('the eternally female') – generally understood as equaling love, charity, intuitiveness, belief and faith, hope etc., something “seelisch” in Goethe’s Faust. 
No, you won’t understand the German Pető without „the Germanic” in us educated Hungarians of a certain age (and class).
Anyway, to what extent is it necessary as far as practicalities are concerned? Remember old Ákos Károly’s memories of Pető? That he really wanted to be a poet, a philosopher, anything but the Director of the Institute? Goethe left poetry for us. Pető created the system of Conductive Education.

As ever,

Emma
Practice and theory

’Old Ákos Károly’ and his wife Magda had been regular weekly dining companions of András Pető. They published the first edition of their important book Dina in German, during the first flush of popular (parental) enthusiasm for Conductive Education in Germany (Ákos and Ákos, 1988). The book’s epigraph was taken from Goethe’s Faust, II:
Doch gibt’s ein Mittel… Die Mütter sind es!
In the subsequent English edition, this is translated as:
There is a way… the mothers!
I would give a positive reply to Emma’s concluding question on the place of theory in practice. She asked ‘…to what extent is it necessary as far as practicalities are concerned?’

I share Kurt Lewin's view that 'there is nothing as practical as good theory and nothing as theoretical as good practice', and would advance the very practice work with mothers and their young cerebrally palsied babies, described in great detail in Dina, to exemplify how a robust theoretical position can help frame a powerful model for conductive practice (and the contrary relationship, advanced in the second half of Lewin’s aphorism).

And Goethe left us more than just poetry. He was also philosopher of science. His scientific views, such as on metamorphosis (itself an expression with a place in the history of Conductive Education in Germany), might throw interesting light on what little we know of András Pető's. As fir how this all squared with the later overlay of a Vygotskian psycho-pedagogy, that will have to be the subject of attention in its own right.

Notes and references

German and English editions of Dina

Ákos, K., Ákos, M. (1989) Dina: eine Mütte praktiziert doe konduktive Padagogik Education (Pető System). Ulm: Alabanda Verlag

Ákos, K., Ákos, M. (1991) Dina: a mother practises Conductive Education (Pető System). Birmingham and Ulm: Foundation for Conductive Education and Alabanda Verlag
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/0951550772/ref=dp_olp_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1206625990&sr=1-5

A little more on Emma MacDowell


From 1972 Emma has been a ‘conductive mother’. She is also a Germanist, and a Hungarian.

And a little something on Goethean science

Friday, 28 March 2008

Multiple sclerosis

Conductive Education not yet on radar

On Wednesday this week The Times (of London) included a twelve-page advertorial supplement, published in the name of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Multiple sclerosis: unpredictable and incurable – the facts about this devastating condition.

Like the fat boy in Dickens, the supplement wanted to make your flesh creep, but also to reassure that more research is needed and is already in hand (and luckily you can contribute to financing this by phone, form or Internet site).

And good luck to everyone involved in seeking to alleviate this range of horrid conditions, what the supplement calls ‘beating MS’, for the 85,000 people affected in the UK alone (up to a fifth of them under sixteen years of age).

There is real hope of developing much more effective treatments… Many MS experts believe that in our lifetimes MS remains long-term but is largely treatable…. It seems likely that early diagnosis and intervention with a combination of drug therapies, physiotherapy and exercise, good diet, counselling and quality social care will be the answer.

Er, is that it? Better drugs plus the mixture as before? Let’s sincerely hope that all these avenues are to be improved, both qualitatively and quantitatively, over the course of that most flexible measure ‘our lifetimes’.

‘Symptoms’ and ‘symptom relief’

As well as funding medical research, the MS Society has committed £2.5 million to a three-year research initiative. It puts it like this:

MS can cause a wide variety of symptoms and, to date symptom-relief is an area of research which has been under-explored. Research projects focusing on pin, fatigue, depression and many other symptoms are currently underway [sic] and it is hoped that ultimately therapies and treatments might be designed which allow people affected by MS to have more control over their symptoms and a better quality of life…

The future of MS therapies looks promising. There are currently more than 50 ongoing trials for MS treatments involving more that 30 different agents and there is promise that more effective, and more convenient therapies will soon be available.

Readers are invited to find out more about ‘symptom relief projects’ at http://www.mssociety.org.uk/

And Conductive Education…?

But what about something new for the children and adults involved, and their families (not that new, actually)? Twelve pages and nary a hint of Conductive Education. Nothing on the website either. It’s hardly as if the MS Society, its branches and many of its members, are unaware of Conductive Education.

How deep does the problem lie? Is it in this notion of MS as simply a physiological disease, with ‘symptoms’ and a consequential need for ‘symptom relief’, rather than a systemic disorder, with psycho-social components an inextricable part of the whole. Certainly the contents of this supplement in The Times, its cover displaying a montage of MRI scans of ‘brain with multiple sclerosis’, rather suggest the former mind-set.

Chicken or egg? Does that mind-set have to change before Conductive Education gets a serious look-in, or is it Conductive Education’s task to contribute to changing societal concepts of what constitutes disabilities (of any kind)? So far there is little discernible shift in the well trodden field of childhood developmental disorders – and a long was to go with later-acquired conditions.

References

Media Planet, Multiple sclerosis: unpredictable and incurable – the facts about this devastating condition. Independent supplement to The Times, 26 March 2008

More on ‘symptom-relief projects’
(funding appeal video)

The supplement was edited by the MS Society and funded by the Society in conjunction with Bayer Schering, Biogen Idec, Merck Serono, Teva, and Vibrogym.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

More conductor entrepreneurship

Conductive Education comes to Copenhagen

Conductor Andrea Udvardy Sabroe is developing a range of Conductive Education services in Denmark under the title of Conductive Education Program Copenhagen, with the ambitious aim to make Conductive Education well known in that country.

She has been very successful in publishing her services on the Danish-language Internet.

If you’re in the Copenhagen area, there’s an open day in the afternoon of 29 March.


Some more information

In English
http://www.petocph.dk/index.php?id=87

In Danish
http://www.petocph.dk/index.php?id=1547

She’s also in Facebook.

The 'German' András Pető

His lost side

Conductive Education News aims to cover trends and developments in Conductive Education around the world, wherever they occur, but it has of course to come from somewhere.

It is in fact put together somewhere in Middle England, part of that strange world that some call the ‘Anglosphere’. The Anglosphere comprises the huge, amorphous population around the world who speak and think mainly (more often wholly) in English and whose cultural referents, including their understandings of such matters as education, psychology and even science itself are similarly ‘Anglo-Saxon’, with implicit assumptions about such matters often assuming the status of unquestionable truths.

Here in Middle England we may be at times be vaguely aware that beyond the boundaries of the Anglosphere there may exist strange territories, of the sort that the old cartographers might have labelled ‘Here be funny foreigners’. We rarely have reason, however, to consider that there are alternative, foreign ways of construing the world that go beyond questions simply of language.

A problem for internationalising Conductive Education

The internationalisation of Conductive Education does raise such questions.

In the early says, in the mid-late nineteen-eighties, Conductive Education was widely perceived as obviously ‘Communist’ and obviously ‘Hungarian’. Conductive Education’s many opponents were ready to say that implementation of Conductive Education in what was then ‘the West’ was both undesirable and impossible, often expressing themselves, including professional and official people, in the Cold War rhetoric of the time and in terms that today would be condemned as ‘racist’.

The Cold War is now only a memory, the term ‘the West’ means something rather different, and Hungary is part of the European Union and of NATO. It can therefore be all to easy to think that there are no cross-cultural questions raised in the hurley-burley of spreading Conductive Education around the world.

But are things really so unproblematic? The question of what constitutes research, evaluation, proof etc. in education and rehabilitation, is a persisting source of confusion is different parts of the world, with the Anglosphere genereally unlikely to ‘accept’ what seems convincing enough in, for example Germany, Scandinavia, the former Soviet Union. What constitutes education, upbringing, pedagogy, may be another area of Anglo-Saxon incomprehension when faced with European models and practices.

An earlier cross-cultural transition

An Anglo-Saxon problem is distinguishing between all those foreigners. Here in Middle England (and possibly in Middle America too) we are aware that there is somewhere called ‘Europe’, or even ‘the Continent’. We may have our preconceptions about the French, the Germans, the Italians and maybe a few of the other big or familiar nations that we’ve had contact with, but how to tell all these little nations apart, and the ways in which they think?

András Pető, we are happy to classify as ‘a Hungarian’ but dig only a little was to find that he was a born on the cross-over of Austria-Hungary, he was a Middle European, a cosmopolitan and a Jew. He spent much of his adult life in Austria. His language and cultural referents were liberal-German. Later he was a Hungarian. What beyond the bald facts does all that mean to most of the people of the Anglosphere?

Not just in the Anglosphere. In the twenty-first century, the Hungarian media are delighted to classify Conductive Education as Hungaricum. But, allowing that many educated Hungarians in the latter half of the twentieth-century were well acquainted with German culture, how far was the ‘mysterious Dr Pető’ mysterious even to many of those whom he treated and trained in Budapest precisely because he came from another world?

A prophet in his own land?

Parenthetically, one may ask how far present-day enthusiasts for Conductive Education in German-speaking lands (the ‘Germanosphere’) draw upon this their own indigenous tradition, rather than importing British models of 'the principles of Conductive Education’ provided through ‘multidisciplinary’ services.

Body and soul

Sometime in the nineteen-sixties, under the pseudonym of Karl Otto Bärnklau, András Pető wrote: ‘Der Mensch ist ein leiblich-Seelische Einheit’ (‘The human being is a unity of body and soul’) (Bärnklau, n.d., p.151).

Other theoretical positions on Conductive Education have been discussed at length over the last twenty-or-so years – the ’Vygotskian’ analysis for one still requiring considerable further clarification. It will be interesting to see how far, in the Conductive Education of twenty-first century, proper discussion of the question of the ‘soul’ and related notions can re-enter the public domain, wherever in the world.

Notes and references

More on the Anglosphere
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglosphere

A little more on Hungaricum
Sutton, A. Egy Magyár siker története / Story of one Hungarian success, Conductive Education World, 5 March
http://andrew-sutton.blogspot.com/2008/03/egy-magyr-siker-trtnete-story-of-one.html

A little more on the ’soul’ in Conductive Education
Mallett, S. (2008) The conductive soul, Conductor, http://www.konduktorin.blogspot/, 13 March

Bärnklau, K. O. (n.d) Gibt es unheilbare Krankheiten? Nein! Lindau: Rudolph`sche Verlagsbuchhandlung

Rumblings in Blogosphere

Is this the start of more public discussion?


Straws in the wind, or clutching at straws?



In so many fields of life now the Blogoshere provides a cutting edge for information-sharing, gossip, debate, good old argument. Emma MacDowell's interesting response in the previous article on this site, on 'soul'. Norman Perrin's characteristically thoughtful critcism, as parent and educationist, of yet another medical evaluation of Conductive Education. Leticia Burigio's personal experience of yoga and the distinction beteen 'rest' and effort ,in response to a response to a posting by Susie Mallett. These link the discussion on four curent blogs. And edge the discussion forward.


There's so much room, so much need for more. And it's so easy to do.


Come in and join us. The water's lovely

Read what the others say...

Norman Perrin, Rambling on about the value of education, 12 March 2008, http://paces.typepad.com/paces/2008/03/rambling-on-abo.html

Leticia Búrigo, Cansaço, Educação Condutiva - com amor, 25 March 2008 http://ecucacaocondutiva.com/2008/03/cansao.html

Susie Mallett, The conductive Soul, Conductor, 13 March 2008
http://konduktorin.blogspot.com/2008/03/conductive-soul.html





Saturday, 22 March 2008

The ‘soul’ in Conductive Education

Intelligent love

Live blogs from Budapest remind of vital ingredient

Susie Mallett’s (2008) recent blogs on die Seele (German for ‘soul’) bring to public attention a factor all to often ignored in contemporary discussion of Conductive Education. Susie Mallett’s insights come from being able to interpret her own experience as a conductor through reading some of András Pető’s work in his original German. Whatever language we speak, recognising the essentially psychological nature of the conductive process opens the way for vital psychological questions, with implications for training both conductors and other who would train to participate in this process.

Missing the spirit of Conductive Education

It is quite extraordinary how narrowly Conductive Education has been viewed over the years. There is a real problem for any new paradigm that even its advocates might at times take positions and describe it according to their own existing background, experience and ideology. Over the years many, many people have examined and even claimed to adopt Conductive Education from out of the background, experience and ideology of prevalent services and mind-sets concerned with disabled children and adults, resulting in sometimes major distortions and omissions. Sad to say, there is now a large professional ‘literature’, and even professional training, that does just this.

One extraordinary omission is Conductive Education’s assertion that treatment, intervention etc for motor disorders (the specific word used does not matter for the present argument) has to be before all things a pedagogy and therefore depend upon psychological processes (that is psychological processes both within and between people). This omission is particularly poignant for the conductive movement amongst German-speakers because:
  • they could easily read at least some of András Pető’s original thinking first-hand in their own language (though, remarkably, precious few seem to have done so); and
  • so much of the enthusiasm for Conductive Education amongst German-speaking people has meanwhile been diverted into thinking that seems so ‘medical’ as to be the very antithesis of what András Pető was advocating.
People not speaking German have a sort of excuse in that their very limited access to András Pető’s original thinking has been largely been mediated for them by people who have already failed to ‘get it’.

Using concepts available to him from his own personal ‘background, experience and ideology’ András Pető articulated his insight in terms of die Seele (‘the soul’). As Susie Mallett makes clear, the word ‘soul’ is its own worst enemy in the English language, especially amongst those dealing professionally with motor disorders (though I do wonder whether lay people – particularly those who use Conductive Education services – would have the same problem over it). And to be fair, the particular ‘background, experience and ideology’ in which András Pető expressed himself were far removed from the technical psycho-pedagogic concepts that would be acceptable in professional discourse today (not that they were all that acceptable in his own day!).

However they were expressed, András Pető’s insights are one of the roots from which the present Conductive Education as we now know it has developed. We owe it both to him and to our present endeavours alike to reach beyond the meaning of the words that he used and seek out the underlying sense that he may have been trying to convey.

'Warmth, empathy and genuineness'


In this respect, as seems often the case outside the ‘conductive goldfish bowl’, András Pető’s concerns are hardly novel. Failure to incorporate what András Pető called die Seele has been a long-standing question in other kinds of intervention medical and otherwise. As such it has attracted its own technical formulations and research, with the convenient formulation of ‘warmth, empathy and genuineness’ perhaps standing as a modern-day synonym in more acceptable technical jargon for ‘the soul’.

Twenty-odd years ago now, upon first reviewing what I knew about Conductive Education, I wrote:

It has long been widely known that, regardless of the specific methods used, a certain personality, a certain kind of relationship with the client, can have major effects upon the outcome of an intervention. (Cottam and Sutton, 1986, p. 173)

I cited in support of this a than magisterial review of research into the effects of psychotherapy:

The findings suggest that a person (whether a counsellor, therapist or teacher) who is better able to communicate warmth, genuineness and accurate empathy is more effective in interpersonal relationships, no matter what the goal of the interaction (better grades for college students, better interpersonal relations for the counseling center, adequate personality functioning for the seriously disturbed mental patient, socially acceptable behaviour for the juvenile delinquent or greater reading ability for third grade teaching instruction students). (Truax and Carkhuff, pp. 116-117)


I do not, by the way, advance this as evidence, as one often hears or reads, that ‘András Pető was ahead of his time’. In this respect anyway, he was not. He merely expressed things in a peculiar way, a way that many, even then, might have reasonably considered to be well behind the times. But to assert it in the field of physical disability was novel and revolutionary, and still is.

All you need is love?

Nor does this advance the notion that warmth, empathy and genuineness, are all that is needed to achieve Conductive Education. On the contrary in Mária Hári’s words:

Love is not enough here. It must be an intelligent love. (Hári, 1986)

She liked to use the English word ‘contact’:

Because of this, for whole generation who learned of Conductive Education in English in Budapest, ‘the contact’ became and has remained one of the technical terms of the conductive field in the English-speaking world… The original Hungarian word was kapscolat means ‘link' or ‘connection' and can also be used to refer to the fastening of a garment. Perhaps a better translation in this sense would have been ‘bond’, with all its psychological associations…. The first American visitor to her Institute in Budapest, James House, had immediately recognised this factor at work and put it to the forefront of his published report (1968). He called it ‘love’. (Maguire and Sutton, 2004, p. 31)

James House’s report was a rather a ‘spiritual’ one and that early report, standing outside the normal therapeutic and special-educational terms of reference of the professional world, was almost wholly ignored. ‘Love’ stands right outside contemporary terms of reference for professional services for children, certainly in the United Kingdom and I suspect throughout at least the English-speaking world.

So are ‘faith’ and ‘hope’, both words that have an important part to play in analysing the conductive experience.

These three! You presumably recall which was the greatest of these… If you do, then by education or upbringing you reveal yourself to have had contact with ‘spiritual’ ways of thinking outside the explicitly technical discourse of professional services, to Seelische ways of thinking.

Can you teach ‘soul’?


Susie Mallett raised the question of whether you can teach ‘soul’. If you want to train conductors, then this is a surely the central question. Again the questions raised are hardly novel ones, unique to Conductive Education: ‘Are good teachers born and not made?’ ‘Is good teaching “caught” and not “taught”?’.

Experience tells, hardly surprisingly, that some people are ‘naturals’, already through their earlier life experiences emotionally and philosophically switched on to the ‘contact’ and the values within Conductive Education. Others lie at the other end of the spectrum, actively switched off and outrightly oppositional to this way of practising and its values. Most people are distributed between. It is of course a fundamental principle of Conductive Education (and this applies to its professionals as well as to its clients) that all people can be taught – it is just a question of time, patience and instilling the right motivation. For some learning can be very hard indeed, and requires breaking down sometimes deeply held mind-sets and personality traits. Fortunately for all involved they usually part company with Conductive Education fairly early on in he process. But for everybody, the training can be very hard, ask any final-year student conductor: expressions like ‘boot camp’ and ‘brain washing’ are some of the kinder things that they say about what they are going through, showing again that there’s nothing new in Conductive Education that has not been explored and achieved elsewhere.

Conductors ‘know’ that people can be changed as a product of their conduction. This is not the sort of ‘knowing’ that comes from hearing a lecture or reading a book but from having been there yourself, been there, seen it and done it. Again, this process towards a deeper ‘knowing’ is not unique to Conductive Education. In modern-day terms András Pető would have been described as a ‘complementary and alternative’ practitioner (probably more alternative than complementary!). Toby Murcott’s recent critical investigation of complementary and alternative therapies, and their contemporary relationship to conventional medicine, put it thus:

The depth of interaction is something that virtually all complementary and alternative therapists emphasise. It is more than just spending an hour with their clients as opposed to the 10 minutes or so available to a harried general practitioner.. It is also about engaging and giving of themselves. It’s evidently very important and rewarding, and is regularly described as vital to what they do. Many researchers investigating complementary medicine suspect that this deep connection with clients is part of the reason that the therapists get results.

Another noteworthy aspect of some complementary therapies is that they often require practitioners to receive regular treatment themselves, particularly while training…. This is also the case for psychotherapists, most particularly psychoanalysts, and Alexander Technique teachers. It’s an interesting requirement for a healer to have to undergo the treatment they [sic] dispense. Maybe this routine helps practitioners to maintain a strong empathy with their patients. (Murcott, 2005, p. 48).

You might object that conductors in training cannot and do not receive treatment for motor disorders; I would respond that conductive pedagogy is not fundamentally about ‘motor’ or even ‘disorders’: it is about affecting psychological change, a process that can be directed to many ends.

So, if ‘love is not enough’, what is the ‘intelligent love’ that conductors have to acquire? Certainly, there are lots of skills, and activities and routines that have to be taught, leaned and continually corrected and refined. That is ‘training as is widely understood. There are also ‘academic’ things, facts and theories, that have to be listened to, read, learned and examined. This is higher ‘education’ as is widely understood. But a conductive ‘soul’ is not a simple cognitive skill or educational understanding, and therefore practitioners cannot achieve it through training and education alone – though these are also needed. Rather, it is the product of socialisation to the conductive culture, to a set of beliefs and values, to an ethos, to a way of life, achieved largely (though not wholly) through apprenticeship within exemplary and effective conductive practice.
This may involve hard-learned and sometimes painful personal reconstruction: no pain, no gain! And it takes time, measured not in hours or Stunde, perhaps not even in months but over years.

His soul goes marching on


András Pető ‘soul’ might be quaintly expressed but the sense of it is not unique and its heuristic value should not be lost in confronting some of the problems that Conductive Education faces today. It breathes life into the perennial question of defining Conductive Education, not least in helping clarify the ingredient-x that raises the tired old adjective ‘holistic’ to more than a ‘multidisciplinary’ sum of the troika of the conventional therapies plus teaching. In doing so, it provides a model for explaining why the supposed ‘principles of Conductive Education’ fall qualitatively short of constituting Conductive Education. Further examination of the conductive soul, how one generates this attribute, and how ‘tough love’ transcends mere tender loving care, seem a sine quâ non of providing appropriate training for aides, assistants and paraprofessionals working in conductive settings. They should also be a serious and unavoidable issue for other professionals contemplating what might be needed to train in Conductive Education.

References

Cottam, P., Sutton, A. (eds) (1986) Conductive Education: a system for overcoming motor disorder, London: Croom Helm

Hári, M. (1986) Interviewed in Standing up for Joe, BBC 1, 1 April

House, J. (1967) Breakthrough in Budapest: an interview, Ideas of Today, vol. 16, no3, pp.110-114

Maguire, G., Sutton, A. (2004) Mária Hári on conductive pedagogy, Birmingham Foundation for Conductive Education

Mallett, S. (2008) Conductor http://www.conductor.blogspot/

Murcott, T. (2005) The whole story. Alternative medicine on trial? London and New York, Macmillan

Truax, C. B., Carkhuff, R. R. (1967) Towards Effective Counselling and Psychotherapy, Chicago, Aldine
Two footnotes

Susie Mallet is currently in Budapest and may be extending her postings on this topic.

There are doubtless some who do not recognise the allusion to ‘faith, hope and charity’. It comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Personally, I prefer the King James translation:

And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians, 13: 13)

I do appreciate why other English translations favour the word ‘love’. But this is another instance of a translation where it is more important to seek the deeper sense rather than fret over the particular words used. Do that and you will find then three kinds of love a useful jumping off point for discussing the concept of ‘conductive love’ – but that’s another story.

Meanwhile, given that a theme in this posting has been that there’s nothing new under the sun, those with a taste for Saint Paul might look to the relevance to present-day Conductive Education to the opening verses of the same chapter (2 Cor, vv 1-8):
  • those who claim to work conductively on the basis of the supposed ‘principles of Conductive Education’, without such love’s being part of their professional preparation and practice (v 1)
  • researching and writing and speaking about Conductive Education, without incorporating this factor (v 2)
  • directing sometimes immense time, energy and resources to developing practices, programs and services that, whatever their other manifest virtues, are fundamentally without the right kind of love (v 3)
  • some personal qualities for conductors? (vv 4-7)
I could go on… In mitigation, I did compose this item during the Easter break!

Friday, 21 March 2008

DOES ANYONE KNOW DR JULI GEIGER?

Award-winning American doctor
Patient of András Pető


A blurred, twenty-year-old photocopy of a letter published in a Hungarian newspaper offers a tantalising possibility of a direct personal link with András Pető and his work with children suffering the effects of polio.
1948 nyarán, mikor még nem volt Salt-oltás Magyarországon, kislyánom, Geiger Julika, 2 és fel éves korában súlyos paralisist kapott és évekig a Pető Intezet páciense volt. Most a mellékelt kép szerint, Ronald Regan elnök nevében a legmagasabb orvosi kitüntetest nyújtottak át neki Washingtonban. Az “év orvosát” 600 ezer orvos közül válaszjak.

Nagyon hálás lennék, ha doktor Pető Andrásnak, kinek cimet nem tudom, köszönetemek fejeznek ki, mivel az ő inspirációja késztette, hogy orvosi tevékenységét főleg a balesetet szenvidetel gyógyitására irányitsa.

Geiger Imréné, London, Nagy-Britannia

(Sajnos, csupán a levél közzététélére vallalkozhatunk, Pető doktor már nincz az élők sorában. Az általa alapitott intézet évizedunkben vált vilaghirűvé. – A. Szerk)
This means something as follows.
In the summer of 1948, when there was still no Salk vaccine in Hungary, my little girl Juli Geiger, two-and-a-half years of age, was severely paralysed and was for years a patient at the Pető Institute. Now the picture is different, in Washington, in the name of President Ronald Reagan, she has been awarded the highest medical honour. She has been elected “Doctor of the Year” out of 600 thousand doctors.

I would be very grateful to thank Dr András Pető, whose address I do not know, because he provided her inspiration to work as a doctor, above all guiding her to treating those suffering from accidents.
Mrs Imré Geiger, London, Great Britain
(Unfortunately, we can only undertake to publish the letter, Dr Pető is already not in the ranks of the living. The institute that he founded has become world-famous in our present decade. – A. Szerk)
Juli Geiger was of course very young when she was treated by András Pető. All the same, it would be fascinating to hear her views and opinions. Has anyone in the American movement had any contact with her?

The English patient

Juli Geiger was not the first of András Pető’s patients to live and succeed in ‘the West’. During the United Kingdom’s intense national attention to Conductive Education following the BBC’s screening of Standing up for Joe, Joan Savage identified herself as having been treated for paralysis by András Pető in Budapest when she was a girl.

Joan Savage was born in 1936, the English daughter of Hungarian parents. Her early childhood was spent in the English Lake District where, in 1941, she contracted scarlet fever, followed by encephalitis. She lost the use of her right arm and leg and was left without speech (she was previously speaking in English, Hungarian and German). She learned to walk and to talk again but her walking was not satisfactory and her right hand as twisted and spastic.

In 1947, aged eleven years, she had a holiday with an aunt in Budapest. Her uncle was a doctor and took her to see an orthopaedic specialist, a Dr Zinner, who referred him to András Pető. It was agreed to extend her ‘holiday’ and she spent a year and a half in András Pető embryo institute.

Joan Savage was rather older than Juli Geiger when András Pető treated her and retained vivid memories of her year and a half with him She published a brief but vivid account of her memories of that time, in the first issue of the magazine Special Children. Here is some of what she wrote nearly forty years later, an interesting benchmark for what has changed, and what remains the same…
Dr Pető was very impressive. I remember him as being large and jolly and I thought that he looked exactly like Winston Churchill, complete with cigar…
He told my aunt and uncle that he would accept me at his clinic, providing that I stayed in Hungary indefinitely…
We had to work hard, from 7.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m., six days a week. I was free on Sundays as a special concession on Dr Pető’s part as I was his first foreign patient and English (he admired the English greatly).
To begin with I was frightened at being left alone in a strange place. There was no such thing as parental participation, parents and relatives were firmly kept out. Imagine being 11 and tipped into a society where the language was peculiar, I had not regained my former knowledge of Hungarian, and the customs were definitely odd.
After English boarding school, where I was mollycoddled beyond belief and was not allowed to do anything physical that might harm me. I was suddenly made to exercise my body 13 hours a day using muscles I did not know I had.
Everybody had massages and everybody did exercises to music. Rhythm was Dr Pető’s fetish, he was a great music-lover and I learned all the current pop songs. Gradually I made friends, learned the language and became immersed in what I was doing.
We lived for our exercises. We had no medicines, our only medication was great lumps of raw yeast at lunchtime and raw egg in the afternoon… they were thought to be good for you.
Dr Pető was very autocratic and wholeheartedly convinced that his method of treating spastics was the right one. I saw some near-miracles; children whose parents thought that they would never walk threw their crutches away…
I learned a great deal from Dr Pető: will power, hard work, perseverance, always aim a bit higher than you think you can manage. My family, mother, husband, three children, are almost driven mad sometimes because I will not let my disability stand in the way of things I want to do. Friends who saw the programme [Standing up for Joe] say they can see my attitudes reflected, a stubborn inability to accept defeat.
June Savage, Memories of Budapest, Special Children, vol. 1, no 1, p.12, 1986
Acknowledgements

Véra Sárkony

In the early years of extracting Conductive Education from Budapest a number of Hungarians played important roles in easing the sometimes difficult situations that we experienced in the Hungary of the day.

The letter reproduced and translated above, appeared, I think, in the Hungarian daily national newspaper Magyar Hírlap. Such unsung heroes in the internationalisation of Conductive Education merit further acknowledgement elsewhere. One was the late Véra Sárkony, journalist for the English Section of Magyar Rádió. Inter alia, Véra provided photocopies of relevant items from the Rádió’s extensive press cuttings library. This letter turned up in that haul.

I received the photocopy in October 1988 and I think that it had been published the previous month. There is no date on the page but there is a scribbled note in her hand saying Magyar Hírlap. All most unscholarly, I know, but there were more pressing, practical things to worry about at the time than attributing every press-cutting!

I am not the only one who remembers Véra with affection and respect:


(scroll down to HUNGARY)

Szófia Szeszák

I am also pleased to acknowledge here that much more recently, last Wednesday to be exact, I received further invaluable help – in translating this letter – from Szófia Szeszák (aged 14½).


Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Conductor sessions in state special school

Modest initiative in North East

Development of Conductive Education services for children in the United Kingdom has been marked by aspiration to pride services that are educational in nature. Initially the aspiration was to create stand-alone schools but problems of funding and inclusion may have prevented more such major projects. In recent years, however, there have been initiatives to inject conductors into existing state schools. Major projects have been established in Slough (Dynamite) and Birmingham (ACE), and there have also been smaller-scale, sometimes ad hoc arrangements by parents and by conductive services.

A new school-based initiative will commence after the Easter break, at Bamburgh School in South Shields, as a satellite of the existing Step Together centre, for families finding it difficult to travel to the home centre in Spennymoor. Initially the satellite service will operate on Thursdays only, though it is hoped to expand the service if demand grows.

Bamburgh School is a special school occupying new premises on a ‘community campus’. Step Together is a small, two-conductor centre that opened nearly three years ago, offering a variety of services for children and adults.

Step Together is a division of the Child Care Action Trust.


References

Step Together

Child Care Action Trust

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Economic recession, or even depression

A tipping point for Conductive Education?

Sub-prime mortgages, credit crunch, job losses, falling house prices, bank failures, stock exchange turmoil, devaluation, inflation, the flight to gold, recession, depression… aren’t you just sick of the news?

Maybe you are already affected. If you’re not, you’re probably wondering, worrying whether you soon might be. This goes for where ever you are, for all our economies are inextricably interconnected now. You can run, but there’s nowhere to hide.

What about Conductive Education? After all, like most other things, it depends on money. Public and private budget cuts will effect funding for services, and research, household finances, charitable giving… with knock-on effects for jobs, salaries, expansion plans, and the sheer availability of Conductive Education to its potential beneficiaries.

Couldn’t happen, did you say? Common sense and prudence aside, we have the example of the last recession. There are plenty of people in Conductive Education who can remember the collapse of the ‘big-institution’ plans (not just in the West but back home in Budapest too). More personally, they can remember the painful experiences of redundancies, pay cuts, diminished terms of service, staffing levels, new restrictions upon practice etc. that were the price of holding on to jobs. Remember ‘downsizing’?

Out of this pain and disappointment there emerged the much smaller-grained pattern of providing Conductive Education that has been the norm for the international conductive movement for most of its international period. Will economic stringencies now bring about further qualitative change in the provision and practice of Conductive Education?

It might never happen but, if it does, remember, you read it first here.

Cerebral palsies on increase?

New US figures suggest Yes

Like it or not (I personally do not), Conductive Education is closely identified in many people’s minds with the cerebral palsies. And like Conductive Education itself, the cerebral palsies have suffered from long-term problems of definition, one corollary of which is not knowing exactly how many children and adults have such conditions.

People out there, not least media, politicians, administrators and grant-givers, like to know how many people are involved. They also like to know whether such conditions are now more or less common than they were.

There are all sorts of technical reasons why there can be no crisp answers to such questions, and the people who ask them can get very irritated to hear the various qualifications that an honest reply entails. Advocates of interventions on behalf of other conditions, however, seem happy enough to stand their ground on statistics, without any such qualms. So, if you are in the position of having to argue the amount of need within a given population, local or national, there is an interesting new epidemiological study that you might be pleased to quote.

New epidemiological study

The following is extracted from a report by PR-USA.net

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics on 4 March by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows an increase in the prevalence of cerebral palsy. The new study shows an average of 3.6 per 1,000 8 year-old children or about 1 in 278 children, higher than the previously accepted numbers of about 1 in 666 children.

The study was carried out in three sites around the United States. It reported the highest prevalence among boys, African-Americans and those living in low- and middle-income neighborhoods. Prevalence rates were lowest among Hispanic children.

The report serves as another reminder to parents of how medicine in the United States, with the focus on cutting-edge treatments, can still fail hundreds of thousands of children impacted by a common yet complex disorder. Medical researchers are still unsure about the causes of cerebral palsy. Twpolicy makers and federal research funding agencies to make CP a far higher national priority, says Diane Damiano, President of the American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine. 'Recent scientific advances in the understanding of brain development and plasticity offer much hope for increasing our understanding of this disorder and stimulating the development of novel strategies to optimize functioning, but are not possible without funding to attract and support the scientists needed to provide these breakthroughs.'

Parents resort to sometimes risky surgical treatments and the use of off-label drugs like Botox to try and help their children since there is little consensus among the American medical community of how to best treat cerebral palsy despite how many children have it. 'Parents feel lost and hopeless. There are very few dedicated CP resources out there and treatment options really haven't changed very much in 50 years,' adds Cynthia Frisina Gray, co-founder of the Reaching for the Stars organisation.

Lies, damn lies and statistics?

I’m sure that every word in this recent study is true. At the same time, as is often the way with epidemiological studies, I can think of important questions that might be raised at a technical level, especially when it comes to extrapolating figures to other populations. No matter, there is a war on, a battle for scarce resources, one likely to intensify in the developed economies with looming recession/depression. Statistics are an important political weapon in this struggle for survival, as are possibilities of discrimination.

A growing number of people with cerebral palsy conditions presents an important rhetorical point in arguing for resources. The finding that in the United States cerebral palsies might be more prevalent in Afro-American populations, for example, chimes awkwardly with the way that the conductive movement in that country seems (hardly uniquely) a product of small-towns and the white suburbs. How such dissonance might be argued is a trickier issue!

And of course, the potential transferability of such epidemiological findings to other gene pools and other societies, even such a small step as across to Europe and the United Kingdom, is a whole other can of worms at a technical level. But ought such technical squeamishness be allowed to stand in the way of a good story when presenting a case for political or financial support?

I am so glad that I am no longer in the position to face such a dilemma.

References

New CDC Study Shows Increase in Cerebral Palsy - 1 in 278 Children Affected
http://www.pr-usa.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=80365&Itemid=9

Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, et al., Prevalence of cerebral palsy in 8-year-old children in three areas of the United States in 2002: a multisite collaboration, Pediatrics, vol. 121 no. 3, March 2008, pp. 547-554
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/121/3/547?rss=1

Blog on

Conductive Education and the Blogosphere

More than a 100 million people around the world have now started a blog and 83 blogs are presently being created, every minute of every day. I write ‘presently’ here because numbers are soaring: for example, last March 34% of US consumers aged between 13 and 75 created Internet content for others to see, by October the figure was 45%. Millions more publish video and pictures on the web, write and edit Wikipedia articles, create mashups, post comments on mainstream media sites and so on. (Gillmor, 2007)

Such figures will be out of date by the time that you read them. The blog search engine technorati.com already tracks 111.2 million blogs, and reports that there are 120,000 new ones being added each day.

But search with Google Blog Search, with its excellent Languages facility. Check how many blogs are mentioning Conductive Education (or konduktív pedagógia, konduktive Förderung, educação condutiva, or whatever). Discount the dud identifications. Are you surprised how few blogs there are that touch on Conductive Education? How little communication through this exploding new medium? How little debate, how little sharing?

We are now well into ‘Web 2.0’, with the Internet changing from being simply a static source into a huge interactive playground. In Conductive Education, this process is has started with parents leading the way. In most parents’ blogs, the emphasis is understandably bringing up their children, with Conductive Education appearing as it does in life, as and when it does.

At first sight such blogs might be considered more part of the enormous Internet ‘literature’ of, say, cerebral palsy rather than something specific to Conductive Education. But it actually opens windows on to something very important indeed for Conductive Education – yet very rarely dealt with in print – the interface between Conductive Education and family life with a disabled child, the very stuff of conductive upbringing.

And a few parental blogs are published from within that crucial band of parents who take up cudgels of behalf of the wider cause by opening and running their own services. I have already remarked two such blogs that I find particularly thought-provoking (Sutton, 2008). Why are there no ‘professional’ blogs like this?

No doubt this brief account is missing a lot, social networking, groups etc. Tell me about it.

What about the workers?

Certainly if you read about Conductive Education on the Internet in English, there’s very little about conductors as human beings. The appear as commodities to be bought and sold, objects rather than subjects in their own right. Even if they do write something they often withhold their identities, signing themselves as ‘conductor’, ‘konduktor’ etc. (can this really be continuation of the tradition instigated by András Pető himself, or are there more mundane reasons?)

The only place in Cyberspace to catch the voice of conductors is on the Hungarian-language discussion forum Konped Fórum – not much use if you cannot read Hungarian.

Some conductors may read the blogs of parents but, outside Hungary, most service-users and most employers just cannot read Hungarian – and it seems likely that a great chasm separates the bulk of the conductor workforce from those whom they serve.

Of course there have been remarkable exceptions but they remain just that, exceptions.

New kid on the blog

Let not this be thought of as a criticism directed specifically towards Hungarian conductors, Over a hundred English speaking conductors and ’teacher-conductors’ have been trained (I do not know how many still practise) – and they have been equally apparent in their absence.

Just started up, however, is an interesting blog by Susie Mallett, covering (so far) theory and practice of Conductive Education, art and life.

This includes an important contribution on András Pető and the question of die Seele (the ‘soul’), one that could be made only by a real conductor and one able to read German at that. It is not often that you see anyone, never mind a conductor, writing about the man himself on the basis of what he actually wrote rather than through myth and wishful thinking. Not least in Germany, funny that!

Susie is British. She trained in Budapest under Mária Hári but has worked ever since then in Germany. I do hope that other conductors will also now take courage, chance their arms and reveal what conductors think and feel about their work and other aspects of their lives.

Notes and references

The Blogosphere

Dan Gillmore, Bloggers and mash, New Scientist, 18 March 2008, pp. 44-47

Parents blogging

Jacolyn Lieck. Lieck Triplets, http://lieck3.blogspot.com/

Leticia Búrigo, Educação Condutiva – com amor, http://educacaocondutiva.blogspot.com/

Andrew Sutton, Blogs I like, Conductive Education World, 12 February 2008
http://andrew-sutton.blogspot.com/2008/02/blogs-i-like.html

Conductors' forum

Konduktív Pedagógiai Szakmai Fórum http://www.konped.hu/forum/

A conductor writes...

Suzie Mallett, Conductor, http://www.konduktorin.blogspot.com/

Monday, 17 March 2008

Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United...

Sheffield Schmeffield

On 23 February I reported how on the following Wednesday Sheffield City Council would finally make a decision in the long-running saga of the of PACES Conductve Education centre. In this I posed a hardly original question:

Why, oh why do existing official bodies (almost everywhere) make so little effort to stimulate and cherish the fragile flower of Conductive Education, seeming sometimes instead to hunt out every (for them) minor difficulty that might be placed in its way?

I added:

Have a look at Norman Perrin’s blog for the latest episode in this toe-curling story of bureaucratic obstructionism.

Perhaps ‘maladministration’ would be a better word in our supposedly brave new world of joined-up services, statutory-voluntary partnership etc, etc). Keep an eye out later in the week, to see whether Sheffield City Council finally does the decent thing.

On 25 February Norman Perrin posted a Comment on that page, to say that he had now learned that the relevant Council committee would discuss this matter 'in March, possibly on the 12th'.

Later the same day he added a rider to this, writing that his endeavour would be better characterised by the name of Sheffield's other football team:

Meant to add that although your posting is headed 'Sheffield Wednesday', what we are really seeking is to embed conductive education as nearly as possible within the mainstream system - so 'Sheffield United', as it were.

Nice one Norman!

On 13 March Norman published a futher bulletin on his blog.

Read it and weep.

References

Andrew Sutton, Conductive Education News, 23 February 2008
http://andrew-sutton.blogspot.com/2008/02/sheffield-wednesday.html

Norman Perrin, Re: Lease/Release, 24 February 2008

Norman Perrin, Re: Lease/Release (2) - updated/deflated, 13 March 2008

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Conductive Education Awareness

Is any publicity good publicity?
There was an upsetting medical-negligence story in the New Zealand media last Sunday. At least Conductive Education seems to have made a contribution to the well being of the child and family who are left with the aftermath.

This offered very good awareness for the benefits of Conductive Education in New Zealand – but at the same time and contradictorily very bad news for awareness of what Conductive Education actually is. This is how Conductive Education's involvement was described:

While his prognosis was initially very bleak doctors thought he would never develop any muscle tone he can now walk with the aid of a walker and feed himself, although he has problems eating.

Ross goes daily to a school for conductive education a combination of physical manipulation and muscle retraining developed by Hungarian Andreas Peto and has made remarkable progress. They hope he will be able to go to a mainstream school, with assistance, when he turns five in September.

News coverage can often be contradictory and there may be no way of knowing its net effects. In this instance the popular reputation of Conductive Education, in a country where Conductive Education has successfully inserted itself within the state education system, may have received a positive fillip. Technically however, its representation as an educational approach to childhood developmental disability, may have taken a dive.

The question must be whether this is a worthwhile trade-off, especially in a country where the conductors’ association is presently seeking registration as a health profession – but that contradiction is another story

References and previous postings

Donna Chisholm, Help, my baby is going to die, Sunday Star Times, 16 March 2008
http://www.stuff.co.nz/4441482a20475.html

Bold step down under, Conductive Education World, 30 January 2008
http://andrew-sutton.blogspot.com/2008/01/bid-step-down-under.html

MacPeto and the real McCoy, Conductive Education World, 21 November 2007

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

GPS 2115

Strategic planning in Norway

The national Conductive Education organisation in Norway, the Norwegian Forum for Conductive Pedagogy, began life in 1996. What once seemed only distant dreams can now be taken for granted as facts. These include establishment of its PTØ-Center in Hamar and its base in Stavanger, both incorporated into the national habilitation service for children provided by the Norwegian health service, and the establishment of a rolling programme for young Norwegians to undertake conductor-training at the National Institute of Conductive Education in Birmingham, England.

The first of the new generation of young British-trained Norwegian conductors is now working back in Hamar. In September there will be two more working back in Norway and thenceforth a slow but steady Norwegianisation of the Forum’s conductor workforce.

The dreams are coming true. Time therefore, writes the Forum’s Chairman, Tor Inge Martinsen, to create a road map to help navigate the Forum’s future path – or, to use a more modern gadget – a GPS.

This will involve re-creating Conductive Education ‘in Norwegian colours’ and working to integrate this new indigenous provision within the framework of existing national services for disabled children and their families.


First consultation

The strategic plan now in its early stage of preparation is called GPS 2015 and a small working group has already met twice to move it forward. The Norwegian Forum for Conductive Pedagogy is a parents’ voluntary organisation, like so many others responsible for the spread of Conductive Education around the world. Unlike most of these, however, it receives considerable financial support from the state.
It also partakes fully in the Norwegian national tradition of openness and public participation. GPS 2015 will receive its first public discussion at a study day at Losby Gods on 19 April.


Notes and references

Norsk Forum for Konduktiv Pedgogikk (NFKP)
http://www.pto-senteret.no/engelsk

Tor Inge Martinsen, GPS, Medlemsblad for Norsk Forum for Konduktiv Pedgogikk, February 2008, pp. 2-3

Andrew Sutton, Second Epistle to the Norwegians. Written text of an address, ‘The PTØ-Centre and the international landscape', presented to an Anniversary Seminar, Ten Years of the PTØ- Centre, 1996-2006, Hamar, 29 September 2006
www.pto-senteret.no/sitefiles/89/EpistleIIAndrewSuttonsforedrag.doc

Another Conductive Education evaluation

Funding glitch

Those who attended the ACENA conference in Grand Rapids MI in August 2007 heard in detail about the proposed evaluation project planned by paediatrician Nigel Paneth, Madeleine Lenski, Sukyeong Pi and Ken Frank from the Department of Epidemiology at Michigan State University. Unfortunately Conductive Education conferences rarely produce published proceeding so few others in the Conductive World know about this.

The Michigan project is planned to be a ‘scientifically rigorous and independent evaluation of the effectiveness of conductive education and ‘to help guide parents, cerebral palsy care providers, and policy-makers’:

Effective intervention that improves the lives of children with CP and reduces their dependence on caregivers and other resources may prove to be a cost-effective investment for health care insurers, schools, and publicly funded programs addressing disabilities.

To achieve this, the study proposes the following design:

CEEP is a randomized, controlled trial with a target sample of 80 children with CP ages 2- 6. Health and cognitive abilities must be appropriate for classroom instruction. CEEP pays tuition for one 4-week session at the Conductive Learning Center of Grand Rapids, Michigan. A modified cross-over design allows all enrollees to receive the intervention. Functional and school readiness outcomes are assessed by independent physical therapists and through parental questionnaires. Data from Gross Motor Function Measure, Quality FM, Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory, Manual Ability Classification System, Communication Function Classification System, Devereux Early Childhood Assessment and other qualitative reports will be analyzed using various statistical methods. We will compare outcomes of children who receive CE with those of children at similar CP severity levels who receive their usual CP services in the community, for a “real world” approach.

It is hoped that this design will achieve the power to demonstrate effectiveness that previously published studies have lacked.

It was anticipated that start-up would be in Summer 2007. The first families are just beginning to enroll in the four weeks’ intervention but intervention has affected funding. New grant applications are under way and it is hoped that the study will continue.

ACENA’s next conference will take place on 28-29 August 2008. It will be hosted by the Center for Independence through Conductive Education and held in Chicago IL.


Notes and references

Nigel Paneth, Madeleine Lenski, Sukyeong Pi, Ken Frank, Conductive Education Evaluation Project (CEEP). Overheads presented to the ACENA Third Annual Conductive Education Workshop, Grand Rapids MI, August 2007

Conductive Education Evaluation Project (CEEP) for Children with Cerebral Palsy. Summary of poster submitted to the Premier Public Health Conference, Kalamazoo, MI, October 2008

Conductive Education Evaluation Project (CEEP) Cerebral Palsy Outreach News (SPON) http://www.epi.msu.edu/cpon/news.htm

Association for Conductive Education in North America (ACENA) http://www.acena.org/

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Brain-based Conductive Education

Where do you stand?

Norman Perrin knows well my scepticism about ‘brain-based education’ and has generously provided me with a recent review article in the American journal Phi Delta Kappan, by Eric Jensen, that would probably include me amongst ‘the voices [that] are no longer a chorus [but] a diminishing whine’. Empirically he may be right in this as a description of the present acceptance of brain-based education.

Norman’s letter arrived soon after I had introduced second-year student-conductors to John Bruer’s important paper from 1997. They always groan when the see the length and solidity of this but there is no substitute for reading it. Eric Jensen’s paper is pretty long too and attempts the opposite case. Since the assignment for that module is now complete only the most assiduous of those students will address this second paper – perhaps next year’s second-year students will have no choice!

Why is this important here? Because some extraordinary brain-based assertions have attached to Conductive Education. My personal least favourite is to hear and read, again and again, how ’Conductive Education rewires the brain’. It is not just students who would benefit from a more critical, pedagogic and extra-cerebral stance.


References

Eric P. Jensen (2008) A fresh look at brain-based education, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 6

John T. Bruer, (1987) Education and the brain: a bridge too far, Educational Researcher, vol 26, no 8, pp. 4-16

Does size matter?

How many conductors does a service need?

What constitutes an appropriate number of conductors working at a given centre?

The original model presented to the world in the nineteen-eighties, in the last days of the State Institute in Budapest, was a colossal one. A hundred, two hundred, conductors working together, with people on maternity leave, plus trainers, maybe a couple of hundred student-conductors and all sorts of supernumery staff. It used to be said that all this served the largest single population of children with cerebral palsy in a single institution that you could see anywhere in the world. Perhaps this was true.

That size of that institution (here using the number of conductors as index) could certainly not be emulated anywhere in the developed world, for a variety of reasons, though in the late eighties and early nineties there were several ambitious plans drawn up, somewhat smaller than the Hungarian model but still aspiring to what in the West would be regarded as a big-institution provision. Conductor workforces were projected for up to around fifty, with deemed otherwise, plans were cut back, ambitions were curtailed and only Tsad Kadima, in Israel, has succeeded in building up a conductor workforce around the fifty mark (interestingly, not in a singe institution, but spread out across a variety of services in different settings).

As for the rest of the world there are a very few services sized at around a dozen conductors. These may be regarded as big. I have no data to map exact size, though the distribution tails down from a still relatively few medium-sized services of, say five to seven conductors, to conductors operating entirely on their own (sometimes only for part of their time).


What do conductors want?

Some conductors are not happy at working in isolation from their fellows. Others relish the opportunities and freedom that this provides, and respond and innovate accordingly.

Looking back to my own personal experience as a young professional some thirty to forty years ago (not as a conductor!), I found working alone and building my own team an exhilarating and creative way to work. I also had two ill-starred experiences of working for others, already set in their ways and expecting to have things done in certain ways (both of which I regarded as dumb and retrograde). All most frustrating and stultifying. The ‘hero-innovator’, I found, is never less welcome than amongst own kind.

But I do know that not everyone felt the same!

Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill, the number of conductors at a particular site, in conjunction with their relative experience and a host of other factors, must be counted as something else that works to shape the nature of conductive practice as it spreads around the world.

For some, perhaps solo working, though with the back-up of a wider conductor organisation, could prove a useful compromise.

It seems that the question of the size of size of conductor provisions depends upon the conductors involved and their match with wider professional context in which they operate. Fitting the ‘right conductors’ to the right jobs, in a diverse world where it is no longer possible to define a ‘typical’ conductor job specification, may be more a important question than the simple one of size.