Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The ‘conductive community’

Towards a virtual solution

A new blog on the block is James Forleti’s Conductive Education on Canada’s west coast: is there room in our schools for something that works? James’s most recent posting (2008) poses a fundamental question to all those people worldwide who struggle and have struggled for Conductive Education:

Most parents who I know, who want this [Conductive Education] for their kids are squeezing it in edgewise. Simultaneously, they are squeezing the dollars for it somehow out of their budgets. I am feeling the squeeze too, as an unpaid volunteer director. I want to build a program, but I don't know how. I want to raise funds for it, but I'm no expert at that either and I don't have all the connections or know how around it. How can I connect with the world-wide conductive community?

How can I connect with the world-wide conductive community? James’s posting attracted responses from just one source. Ben Foulger. Perhaps this in itself suggests the answer. Also perhaps significantly, Ben’s comment pointed to the potential of the Internet, used interactively, to create a new kind of community, a new medium for coordinating and advancing the common concerns of those who work for and in Conductive Education.

If Ben had not got in first, my own simple answer to James’s question, would have been that there is no ‘conductive community’ out there. You’re on your own, apart for whatever individual help and advice you can find from other individuals. To which one should add the old advice about not holding your breath.

A ‘conductive community’?

Conductive in this context means drawn together, joined up.

Community in this context means a group of people having cultural, religious, ethnic or other characteristics in common

Conductive community: please pull the other one.

Mea culpa

I coined the term ‘conductive community’ and put some effort into promoting it, not least through the then widely read Conductive Education Website. To no small part the intention was to create a Wizard of Oz entity that could be used for purposes of rhetoric and argument, to suggest that Conductive Education around the world possessed a strength and possibly influence far beyond the reality. ‘Conductive community’ rolled easily off the tongue and sounded grand. I have no idea, however, whether use of this term in fact conferred any concrete beneficial effect!

Persistent lack of collective activity from amongst the so-called ‘conductive community’ gave serious cause to rethink the legitimacy of the expression. So did recognition that this was a ‘warm fuzzy’, something that I deprecate in most places that I meet it (e.g. Sutton, 2008b). It began to seem rather embarrassing (maybe also a bit shaming) and I discretely stopped using the term.

Is there a better term?

Instead of ‘conductive community’, I have started saying and writing ‘conductive movement’ to describe the continuing geographical spread and diversification of Conductive Education practice. I’m still with this one but have to admit that this ‘movement’ is proceeding in no common direction and any attempt, by anyone or any group, to make this otherwise meets with the same success as herding kittens.

The world of Conductive Education is most certainly a highly dynamic phenomenon. Like the weather system it responds lawfully to all sort of mutually interactive forces, including its own, and we then respond to the movements that we experience as a result. But all this remains far short of constituting a ‘movement’ in the sense, say of an intellectual or political movement. It has no focal points, no leadership (for which one would have to have ‘followership’ and Conductive Education is not the place to seek this!), and there is no infrastructure, no discussed or explicitly agreed positions on anything.

Pity this, would that it were otherwise, but it is not. We are where we are and it is only from here that we can move to a different position.

I have also started to use the made-up word ‘conductivists’ to describe the individuals – and very individual some of them are – who make up this movement, a mass of individuals, all drawn to the movement for their own purposes and operating within it to meet their own goals – and with their own personal (and sometimes mutually unacceptable) understandings of what Conductive Education actually means. Hardy a unique situation: you could say the same about psychologists and many other groups.

All together now?

Not yet, unfortunately. Conductivists are mostly good-hearted at a direct, personal level. Try, however, to get them to do something in response to the needs of their fellows – not necessarily something risky or particularly effortful – and you will find few willing or able to spare time to do something beyond the immediate call of duty as they see it.

The present fuss over the Buddy Bear School Trust in Northern Ireland provides a recent concrete example. A real worldwide community would have rallied round, provided corroborative facts and arguments, lobbied relevant politicians, created publicity. Instead, I chipped in my tuppence-worth, by writing to significant politicians and publishing what I had written (Sutton 2008b). Norman Perrin did the same (Perrin, 2008). Brendan McConville wrote round to CE centres in the rest of the United Kingdom asking for support, and received but a (small) handful of responses. Er, that’s it. A small number of individual contributions, easily ignored and forgotten: a ‘community’ could have done a whole lot better and, in return, its individual members could enjoy same service themselves, should need arise. Twenty Normans acting in concert, now that would be a community.

I cannot recall a concrete example of such a a collaborative intervention having been made successfully in Conductive Education. Please do correct with examples to the contrary if any be known.

Riding the technology

Whatever happens, it is the very nature of the Internet that things do not proceed according to a predetermined master plan, decided and implemented by some authoritative governing body. Large or small, conductive communities will either happen or they won’t, on the basis of their own internal dynamics and the continuingly emerging technologies that give them wing.

It was wonderful and amazing when organisations began publishing their own websites but this application of technology is now weighed down with its own contradictions. Static long-out-of-date websites wither on the vine of the Internet and clog search engines with misleading junk, just another means for transmitting the myths and misinformation of yesteryear to a new generation.

Then discussion forums seemed a liberating technology for communicating between the centrifugal components of the conductive movement. Long ago though (in Internet terms), Janine Milne (2000), the then the Editor of Internet World, warned against pinning too many hopes on this.:

…just bringing a group of people together is no guarantee that they will get on with each other. People never behave how you want, and like kids in a playground, not everyone will behave nicely or abide by the grown-ups’ rules. Petty arguments, clashing attitudes and prejudices all conspire to make rubbing along with each other a prickly business.

She was not speaking specifically about the ‘conductive community’ but over the next two or three years discussion of Conductive Education on the Internet was almost brought to a halt by the behaviour of some of its participants, snide, bullying and outright crazed. The legacy is a fearful distrust amongst conductivists that continues to impede discussion of Conductive Education on the Internet.

So now there’s blogging, still in its very early days as far as Conductive Education goes. Thus far, blogs look potentially easier to police by site-owners than forums – but this remains to be tested against the nutters. For the moment, however, things look optimistic, as they did for forums in their early days, and the new Conductive Web appears to offer a simple, dynamic tool for those who want to elaborate, or just lurk on the virtual conductive community (there are as yet far too few Conductive Education blogs to require a more sophisticated tracker). Then there’s social networking, and new technologies that I for one have yet to get my head round…

We may think that the Internet has made for significant difference in the way Conductive Education has internationalised over the last ten years or so but we ain’t seen nothing yet. We can have no idea what we shall be taking for granted in next ten years’ time. Steve Ballmer of Microsoft speaking last Thursday, was reported by David Rowan in yesterday’s London Times:

The future of the way people consume information, the way people socialise and connect, is going to change a lot more in the next ten years than in the last ten. How you find information, how you consume it, how you share it and connect with your friends… dramatic changes.

Chance for a new start, virtually

So James, it’s largely up to you and people like you. ‘…connect with the world-wide conductive community?’ you wrote. There isn’t one but there’s every chance of making a new start and contributing towards creating one.

James made his plea on a blog, very twenty-first century, a sign of the times. Ben’s comment in response was the same, with specific attention to the growing Conductive Education blogosphere. Perhaps, even though real-life community has so far eluded Conductive Education, Cyberspace potentially offers a different kind of community experience, valuable both in its own right and, just maybe, as contribution towards evolving real-life conductive communities on the ground.

What might such a virtual ‘community’ look like? It would have to represent the common interests of an enormous range of people, with different roles and sectional interests, working and living in very different societies, speaking different languages, with different levels of understanding. Is such a ‘super community’, to embrace the needs and interests of everyone even possible, never mind desirable? Perhaps in the twenty-first century it just about might be, but only via the Internet.

Or perhaps such a world vision is a nonsense, and we should go for overlapping mini-communities representing specific interests, sometimes co-operating sometimes conflicting as circumstances change. These might be communities of interest within Conductive Education, representing national groups, particular age ranges or conditions, role groups such as conductors or fund-raisers, or followers of this guru or that (not that Conductive Education has many of them). Anyone can join in and the potential permutations are infinite. It would be nice to have some geeks/nerds too, to ensure that people keep up with fast-changing technology.

Above all, virtual conductive communities can be dynamic – changing, merging, splitting organically – according to what interests people and how circumstances change in the real world (and I don’t just mean the world of Conductive Education). Legitimately conflicts of interest, employers versus employees, old ways versus new, conductors versus the rest, institutions versus each other in the competition for resources and esteem, uni-disciplinarians versus multi-disciplinarians, etc., etc. might just have the space and flexibility here to conflict and yet co-exist in a way not possible when cooped up within the narrow confines of a discussion forum.

Such virtual communities might be represented by sets of concentric circles between which individuals and institutions move back and forth according to their present circumstances and interests. Nothing new here. For right or wrong, at their centres would be diverse and sometimes divisive anoraks, obsessed enthusiasts bound to adjacent blogs by little more than recognition of mutual self-interest. Around that would be a background penumbra of ‘lurkers’ keeping a eye on things, perhaps adding their own comments, perhaps remaining silent, perhaps graduating eventually to taking the plunge and starting blogs of their own. Beyond that still there will always be individuals who deliberately keep themselves apart – or don’t know or care that there’s anything there. Some of these will sometimes drift or be drawn into a ‘community’, perhaps looking for some specific personal help or advice (‘finding a conductor’, for example), or attending events organised by those who take a more active part. Then off they’ll go again, to do their own thing.

In fact, like a lot of ‘communities of interest’, in any field.


Warm fuzzies: used here in the sense of a sentimentally emotional response or something designed to evoke such a response

Ten rules for followership:

Conductive Web:


Forliti, J. (2008) Worldwide conductive community? Conductive Education on Canada’s west coast: is there room in our schools for something that works? 3 April

Milne, J, (2000) Internet World, October

Perrin, N (2008) Putting in a word for Buddy Bear and Conductive Education, 1 May

Rowan, D. (2008) Who’s got the terabytes to smash the Googlopoly? The Times, 6 May, p.19

Sutton, A. (2008a) 1984, 2008, 2050, Interconnections Journal, vol.1, no 1

Sutton, A (2008b) More for Ireland, Conductive Education World, 24 April

Footnote: one-hundredth posting

The present posting is the hundredth to appear on this site in the seven months since its inauguration on 4 October 2007. It might prove instructive to review things so far. This will be subject of a separate item.


  1. Andrew, Thanks for your words. It means a lot to me, as I've been pulling along here with bits and bouts of success. I've seen your name so often associated with CE, it's gratifying to have a chance to share ideas.
    You mentioned in an earlier blog about a CE centre that was offering competitive incentives and such. As the only person running the program; doing the hiring, managing, booking, importing of conductors, budgetting, etc. I have a lot of creative freedom to do as I wish with the program. This year is the first time I've been able to build a contract that lasted longer than the "camp" phase. (Due, in large part, to the fact that our conductor has plans to marry and settle in Seattle; 3 hours south of us in Canada.) That means she was amenable to working a full-time 7 day spring break session, a six-week summer session; AND the intervening 15 weeks on the part-time basis of only 15 hours a week. That allowed me to build a conservative, achievable budget. I crossed my fingers, wrangled with the Foreign Worker Department to get her into Canada with a stingy contract, and ta-daaa; it actually worked.
    The intervening "interim" session has been the BEST PART. The conductor can do private or group work; as the need arises. She can go to the home, or meet at the agency (which gracefully agreed to be the umbrella for my program-otherwise there'd be no CE where I am beyond those families who can hire a private conductor to visit them alone.) Folks who buy 10 private hours receive a free one, 15 hours equals 1.5 free, and so forth. Folks who buy the entire summer session receive ten free private hours BEFORE summer, so the conductor and student will know each other well before they get started in earnest. They can identify and set goals.
    It's amazing what one can do when noone is bothering them, or cares about it. Of course, this isolation works against us as well. The local, official Centre for Child Development has told three families in my city (of course, my family is one of them) that they shouldn't be doing CE because the Centre doesn't do it. All three have told the Centre, "thanks but no thanks," and have continued with conductive education; for which we pay directly. All the services and therapists from the centre are covered by provincial and employment benefits. One Mom even told the PT that she would "help her out" by not bringing her son to the centre while she and her boy were doing CE. Incidentally,the PT remarked herself that the boy was walking better without knowing he was seeing a conductor; and the boy had only spent four hours with the conductor over a two week period. Of course, the PT's response was to take her ball and go home. The Mom was told to choose, on the spot which it was going to be.
    I could blather on and on with these little tales. Things like this compelled me to start a blog.
    I do not wish to chew your ear off with a longer letter, but I would only like to ask about the phrase, "tested against the nutters."

  2. 'Nutters'in British slang are mad men (and mad women). Conductive Education has more than its fair share of each and even those of us who were rational before we came in may be somewhat unhinged by what they see, hear and experience along the way. Most of us, however, are no more than self-awarely bonkers.

    Welcome to the club!

    A few people in Conductive Education were already crazy when they arrived and there have been some who are seriously deranged, a small nunber dangerouly so. They may be of ny nationality. I doubt that most of them know who they are!


    They make the lives of others wretched in the real world and inevitably some get on to the Intenet to. This is a shame because at thimes they have used public discussion there for their own crazy and destructive purposes and/or slapped down more rational and sensitive souls in ways that have driven good people right away from public discussion of Conductive Education. To use a phrase that I think is largely applied mainly to naughty children, 'they ruin it for everyone'.

    I guess that any spontaneous mass movement suffers from the same problem. I still, however, find it hard to rejoice in the inclusivity of Conductive Education in this respect...!