Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Mária Hári on Conductive Education

Some renewed attention to the Little White Book

In 2004 Gill Maguire and I edited a little book of previously unpublished papers and conference presentations by Mária Hári who had died a couple of years previously and whose name at that time seemed to have been struck from the cartouches at the Institute that she had devoted her life to developing and preserving.

The materials had been written originally in English, French and Russian. Here they have been all presented in English, with the exception of those originally delivered in English which have been tweaked to bring them into line with modern English usage. There is some explanatory material from ourselves at the beginning and the whole has been strung together to illustrate how her relationship to the world outside had developed over the years.

Briefly, this narrative seemed to demonstrate that, when she started her relationship with Western European professionals in 1968, she did so with enormous faith and optimism, going out of her way to be open and sharing. The first two items in the book, taken from her very first presentation outside Hungary, in Wallingford near Oxford in 1968, comprise as full and reasonable a window on to Conductive Education as you will find in a short space anywhere. To my students, I call this the 'Wallingford window'. This window was soon to close as during the seventies she began to have increasing misgivings about how what she said were being used to legitimate practices that styled themselves ‘Conductive Education’ without capturing or conveying its conductive or pedagogic essence.

Blow-up in Brussels

My personal favourite amongst the book's contents is a stenographic (short-hand) record from a conference in Brussels in 1981. She was the guest of honour at a two-day event called ‘Study Days on the Pető Method’. The programme was something that she was by now beginning to realise was falling into a pattern. She would give an opening address on the means and the outcomes of Conductive Education, then for the rest of the conference a variety of people (mainly therapists) would describe what they were doing under the same name according to the so-called ‘principles of Conductive Education’.

That day in Brussels she could stands it no more. She veered immediately away from her prepared presentation, dispensing with most of her beloved slides and 16mm films, and opened with an extemporary tirade about what she saw happening.

Excuse me for beginning the lecture by opposing myself to the title of the symposium, ‘The Peto Method’. First, as one sees in the programme, other things will be spoken about; secondly, Conductive Education is much more than a method’. (p.67)

The French-language text that we worked from here had been taken down ‘live’ as she spoke by an unknown stenographer then transcribed, again in French, into typescript. It is perhaps unsurprisingl that the official, published, French-language report of the conference made no mention of her outburst. Equally unsurprisingly, the critical factor behind the distinction that she was making fell to training:

A method can be learned during a course but the system of Conductive Education cannot be applied other than by conductors… The quality of results of Conductive Education is conditional upon the quality of the conductors’ training. (p. 69)

On the transcript, emphasis was shown in italics. Capitalisation, presumably, indicated VERY STRONG EMPHASIS INDEED:

THE ONLY CONCLUSION OF THIS SYMPOSIUM is that if one wished to have the results that we have, it is necessary to earn conduction. (p. 72)

The book today

There have been snippets on Mária Hári and her work published over the four years since this book appeared, but not a lot, certainly far less than her collossal contribution to the development of Conductive Education merits. I understand that sometime in the future a larger collection of her materials may be published by the Pető Institute. In the meantime, I suppose that four years is a long time and that Gill and I should soon be turning our attention to a second edition, to correct a few typos and other relatively minor errata and perhaps introduce a couple of other papers. Next year maybe.

The book has been brought back to the forefront of my attention this week by a couple of postings by bloggers Susie Mallett and Gill Maguire. Susie writes a sort of review, pointing out how Mária Hári had the knack of bringing ‘Ahah moments’ to her students in lectures. Susie writes that she can feel this here too, through the written word. Parents, she writes should also experience this through this book. Gill tells a little more about the book's current availability.

You can buy copies either from Gill or, possibly more conveniently if you are in the Americas, from CaféPress. Amazon is currently doing a bargain offer

Notes and references

Mallett, S. (2008) Mária Hári on conductive pedagogy, Conductor, 2 September

Maguire, G. (2008) Mária Hári on conductive pedagogy, Conductive Education Library, 3 September

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

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