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,

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

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

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