Monday, 23 June 2008

Viktor Frankl on love – 2 (longer)

Extended narrative

In November last year I made a first very brief acquaintance with Franz Schaffhauser, the new Rektor of the Pető Institute in Budapest, on the basis of which I ventured the opinion that ‘There was little opportunity to take things further but he does seem a nice bloke and it will be a pleasure to do so when opportunity arises.' (Sutton 2007). The last couple of days I have been able to spend considerably longer with him, discussing the history of ideas, swapping information and exploring all sorts of questions of theory and practice.

My first impression has been more than born out. He is indeed ‘a nice bloke’ and just the man the place needs. I wish the best of luck to him.

Finding Frankl

During Franz's visit here to Birmingham (see a slightly later posting) he presented me with a pithily inscribed copy of the second edition of the English edition of Viktor Frankl’s seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning (Franz is the translator of the Hungarian edition). Actually, Franz's search for a copy of this to present me, in the big Waterstone’s bookshop in New Street, Birmingham, gave unexpected but concrete illustration of an issue that we were to discuss later that day in more theoretical terms.. This was the gulf (the chasm!) that has opened up between what the Anglo-Saxons mean by the word ‘science’, and the Wissenschaft, the tudomány, the nauka (наука) of Central-Eastern Europe. This may all seem highly abstract but it presents real problems for Conductive Education both back home in Hungary and here in the English-speaking West.

He had looked unsuccessfully for Frankl’s little book in the academic psychology section on the third floor of the bookshop and, having failed to find it, set off hopefully to ask the nice lady at the service desk up there. I did not think that he would have much luck. On the contrary: ‘You won’t find that up here,’ the lady said, ‘it’s on the next floor down, under philosophy. I’ll go and get you a copy’.

Franz was amazed at the English classification of this book – though this came as no surprise to me. I was, however, a little surprised when she added, ‘I know we’ve got one, because I sold another copy from there only this morning’. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, the book is after all an international best-seller. Maybe I should just get out more – out of Conductive Education, that is. Maybe a lot of people should.


As many do I tore through a quick first reading of this gripping little book. Along the way I was pulled up short by the following paragraph:


Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being until he loves him. By his love he is able to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; end even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualised but which ought to be actualised. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualise these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true. (Frankl, 2004, p.116)

There is so little said about ‘love’ in the public explication and evaluation of Conductive Education (see for example Sutton, 2008a). Those who have heard my lectures on conductive pedagogy will recognise the congruence of Viktor Frankl’s position to my own view of the role of ‘love’ in effective, transforming pedagogy, and the fundamental implications of this for the nature of conductors’ professionalism and the role of parents/carers. I make no apology therefore to returning here to this vital but largely unsung ‘principle’ of conductive pedagogy, and will doubtless do so again.

I am not suggesting here that András Pető ‘based his method on Frankl’ – there is more than enough such nonsense of this sort about already to need Frankl’s logotherapy (Sutton, 2008b), to be thrown into the already indigestible mix. What I am saying, and I shall reiterate this next month in Chicago to the conductivists of North America (Sutton, 2008c), is that Conductive Education in the form in which we know it around the world today stands on three ‘legs’. One of these legs comprises a nexus of features like faith, hope, love, pedagogic optimism, ‘soul’ (for example, Mallett, 2008), and what Mária Hári (1988) struggled to articulate as ‘the human principle’ (and the greatest of these is…).

Frank’s formulation quoted above represents a powerful strand of thought around the place and time of the origin and development of the origins of Conductive Education, though that might be termed Jewish-German-liberal – or in this context, more generally as German-liberal or, more generally still, just plain liberal. Whichever you prefer, this thread of meaning contrasts radically with the stiff, mechanistic notion of ‘professionalism’ that permeates so much contemporary practice in heath, social welfare and education here in the West. Nor does it fit with and the often loveless psychological science that modern professionalism invokes to justify its status.

The Brit in the bookshop was not surprised to hear that a major international writer on human practice is classified and shelved downstairs in philosophy, well away from the professional ‘literature’: the Central European visitor was. To me this speaks volumes of the wall of incomprehension between on one side Conductive Education, its practitioners and proponents, and on the other the professionals and their institutions that so often comprise its day-to-day working environment.

And because I swim in the Anglo-Saxon sea, this posting will be found indexed in the left-hand column of Conductive Education News, under 'philosophy'. Whatever the Europeans think, that just seems more 'right' to me...

A practical example

As I was drafting this posting Google came through to inform me of a new posting on the blog of Lynne Featherstone, Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green in North London. She wrote to explain why something in her constituancy duties that day had made her cry:

Yesterday went to launch the sports day for the Hornsey Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy... one of the only places in the whole of London where from the age of six months parents can take their child to a conductive education school...

And you know - can you imagine what it is like? You give birth - with all the hope in your heart that nothing is wrong - and then you are told that your child has cerebral palsy. A new world that you never wanted to take part in lies in front of you. What does it mean? Where can I get help? What will my child be capable of? So many questions and so many battles ahead.When you become the parent of a child with disabilities - you will spend so much of your time researching and fighting to get what your child needs. Of course - it should be there - but it it often isn't.

Many parents come to me because they cannot get Haringey (or whatever local authority) to fund their child's education or care. And when the policy is mainstreaming - there is a great resistance to special facilities.That is now beginning to change - as the consequences of the policy have become clear - that in some cases mainstreaming is appropriate; in some cases it isn't and in some cases half the week in each is the best solution.
Anyway - back to sports day. Three groups of children up to the age of seven with about six or seven children in each group were doing races. The first group were mobile with a variety of help - of walking frames or without - and they went around a simple obstacle course. The conductive method seems to work off intense one to one encouragement and help to urge the child to take the next move. It is a kind of patterning - but I am no expert. At the finish lines, siblings, parents and relatives rejoice - and the little ones faces full of beams. The point is that they have achieved!

The next group less mobile - but in a short distance to a finishing tape - they crawled using their elbows or whatever - each with a helper urging them on each and every step. And the last group even less mobile - literally encouraged to roll to the finish line.

It is intense and it must be exhausting for the trainers - but the children from all the groups absolutely loved it. And the effort and the love in that room meant that tears rolled down my face continually. Don't get me wrong - no-one else cried - they were all happy. But I cried because the achievement was huge and the road so hard and the bravery and the love so strong.

And I spoke to quite a few of the parents - and the struggle they have had to get the funding to have their child here rather than where their local authority wanted the child to go. For parents here - they have seen what this method can achieve. The normal method puts them in a wheelchair and, the parents feel, condemns them to a very limited life. I met one parent of a girl who had not been able to walk - now she walks. For some the improvements are small by 'normal' standards - but they are all about improving quality of life and maximising what each child can do - and as a parent that is what you want.

Good politicking, Hornsey, would that more CE centres did such things – and would that more MPs should have the ’soul’ to appreciate what is involved here at a human level, and then come forward and express this like Lynne Featherstone has tried to do.

But ‘Ouch!’ (and putting aside her comment on ‘one-to-one’), look at the soulless analogy that she draws, ‘patterning’ of all things, in trying to understand what is going on. No matter whether this was her own formulation or had been fed to her, at a personal, human level she has already identified a vital, central component of conductive pedagogy, and shows herself well able to articulate it. No fault of hers (but such a pity!) that she then feels obliged to abandon this in favour of the sort of Mickey Mouse mechanism that our society seems expect. Don't blame her, pin it on the Zertgeist.

And if an attuned, articulate politician can miss the trick here, no wonder evaluation of Conductive Education in the Anglo-Saxon West has been such a destructive and damaging kybosh!

Notes and references

The Hornsey Trust

Kybosh, or kibosh. The word has now made it into Standard English, meaning ‘put a stop to’, ‘prevent from continuing’, ‘halt’. It was originally a low slang or jocular expression, Eric Partridge’s Dictionary (1984) defining it both as a verb, ‘To ruin, spoil, check, bewilder, knock out’ and as a noun, ‘Nonsense, anything valueless’ (p. 641). I am hard-put to think of a better term to cover much of the evaluative research on Conductive Education.


Featherstone, L. (2008) Why I cried yesterday, Lynne’s Parliament and Haringey Diary, 22 June

Frankl, V. E. (2004) Man’s Search for Meaning: the classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust, London, Rider

Hari, M. (1988) The Human Principle in Conductive Pedagogy, Budapest, Pető Institute

Mallett, S. (2008) SoulBack to the Seele, Conductor, 20 April

Partridge, E. (1984) A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: colloquialisms and catch phrases, fossilised jokes and puns, general nicknames, vulgarisms, and such Americanisms as have been naturalised. London, Routledge and Kegan Paul

Sutton, A. (2007) Tel Aviv encounters, Conductive Education World, 29 December 2007

Sutton, A. (2008a) The 'soul' in Conductive Education, Conductive Education World, 22 March

Sutton, A. (2008b) Stretching not shrinking, Conductive Education World 12 February

Sutton, A (2008c) Three legs: first thoughts for Chicago Keynote, Conductive Education World, 7 June

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