Monday, 20 October 2008

Русские приходят / The Russians are coming

A new force on CE’s horizon?

Last Tuesday there was a Russian visitor at the National Institute of Conductive Education, coincidentally the same day as I had my first article published in Russian. These two events were only indirectly related, and I do not like talk of synchronicity except where there is an underlying material reason to be found. Two in the same week is just a coincidence… all the same, is there something happening out there?

The visitor, Professor Irina Khomskaya, is a pedagogue from Saint Petersburg, while my article was published in Moscow in a magazine/journal edited by a psychologist, Professor Nikolai Veraksa: they represent rather different worlds, though they do have in common no previous contact with Conductive Education.

They also have in common their common intellectual heritage of a certain way of understanding human learning and development, pedagogy and upbringing, and the role of meaningful adult-child interaction in bringing about human mental development.


Russia has suffered and is suffering massive social change, not dissimilar in some ways to what we in the West have experienced over the last few decades but happening so much faster and perhaps reaching so far deeper. Family life in Russia is severely affected. The old certainties, the goals and methods of how to bring up children, are in disarray or entirely swept away. Parents do not know what to do for the best in bringing up their children. Grannies (babushki) have to work and are no longer available to help, the once magnificent network of kindergartens has almost vanished – so parents are left to work out what to do on their own.

No wonder family size has dropped, with many young adults turning away from parenthood altogether. The birthrate has plummeted, the population is in decline and the country faced a demographic time bomb. Concern for what to do about all this reaches right up to Dimitri Medvedev, the President of the Russian Federation.

Irina Khomenko’s visit

Professor Khomenko leads the Department of Family Pedagogy and Psychology at the Gertsen Pedagogic University in Saint Peterburg, the first such department in Russia, training young people to work with dysfunctional families in schools, clinics and social organizations. She believes that part of the solution to the present problems of familes must be family education and is seeking out new models for adaptation at home.

Irina Khomenko was here on a one-week study visit to acquaint herself with what we in Britain today understand of how families operate (what I gather sociologists now call ‘family practice’), and how government policies predicate upon a long-term ‘universalistic’ strategy, a two-generational approach to parent-child interaction. So, of course she saw children’s centres – and she also went to the National Institute of Conductive Education to see its parent-and-child service.

As an aside. it is interesting to see how at least the rhetoric of mainstream state services for under-fives is falling into step around Conductive Education. Conductive Education has rather more than just rhetoric with respect to this and the conductive movement, certainly in the United Kingdom, should take much more general and explicit note of this congruence.

I have long held that it is far easier to convey the essence of Conductive Education to a Russian audience, any Russian audience, than it is to an audience, any audience, of Western specialists in therapy and special education. Irena’s visit bore this out, conductive parent-and-child work fitting closely to the template of her own intellectual background and her analysis of what is required in Russia today.

What does she say is required? Parents’ learning to value their children as subjects; intervention at the level of parent-child interaction; creating change through education, parental empowerment; democratisation of knowledge of how, especially over the Internet.

It does sound rather familiar…

The Internet

For the last seven years Irina has been developing and running a website called Inter-Педагогика (‘Inter-Pedagogy’), by now a colossal edifice of news reports, summaries of articles in newspapers, magazines and journals, and above all discussion and contributions by thousands of Russian-speaking parents at home and abroad.

Some of this information and advice has just been distilled and published in a book

When Russians really do something they do it with amazing enthusiasm, and do it big. Go look at Inter-Педагогикa to get a hint of this.

What has all this got to do with Conductive Education?
Not a lot, maybe. But a few weeks back Conductive World reported upon the possibility of a permanent Conductive Education Centre in Moscow, with the further, real possibility of conductor-training there in a very few years. Many individual Russians may be as poor as church mice but many are not On the contrary many are rich (some very rich indeed). And their society has access to enormous wealth. Russia is one of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and, present world recession or not, there seems little reason not to think that these four countries will still dominate the global economy by 2050.

If Russia is waking up to Conductive Education, then it has the money, the parents, the web-savvy and the ideological framework to change the centre of gravity of the conductive world.

The title of this article came from the 1966 Cold War film The Russians are coming, The Russians are coming. That was a comedy. If they do come…

Notes and references


Irina Khomenko's book
Хоменкo, И. A. (2008) Перестаньте меня воспитывать: pебeнок в ceмье. Сaнкт-Петербуpг: Aзвука-клacсика

Nikolai Veraksa (in English)

Previous articles on Conductive World

The Russians are coming, The Russians are coming (trailer)

Moral of the story: don’t panic

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