Saturday, 15 November 2008

Dialogue with Judit – I.

The oral culture of ‘Petö said…’

This afternoon I was moved to respond to something in a recent posting on Judit Szathmári’s blog. When I came to post this, however, I found that Judit’s blog has no facility for Comments – or, if it does, then I couldn’t find it.

I did not wish simply to discard my response. What Judit had written raises an important point that merits further and wider consideration. I have therefore taken the liberty of publishing what I wrote here, and welcome any comments.

Dear Judit,

I was intrigued to read the following in your recent posting:

When Dr. Petö said bring order into disorder, learn and teach a better way of organisation, recognise and show each other the beauty of the world, believe and let everyone believe that they can and will learn, create an environment where everyone feels that they belong to and so on… He didn’t just mean have a well organised, clean and tidy environment, structured and inspiring programmes with high expectations, but he meant a lot, lot more…

It’s not specifically what he said that intrigues me, I have heard and read many similar messages over the years. What intrigues me is the question: ‘How do you actually know what he said?’

I have come across all sorts of people in CE who start what they are saying or writing with something like 'Dr. Petö said/believed ...' It can sound very authoritative (and doubtless it is sometimes mean to sound that way). My question has always been: 'How do you know that he said/believed that?' This of course relates not just to you and what you yourself wrote here but to all the other people who say/write such things.

Did you read it somewhere? I have to say that if you did it was probably not a direct quotation but somebody’s unreferenced report. Or are such sayings primarily oral tradition... representing a wider culture that concretises its unwritten principles, and perhaps aims for a certain legitimacy, from invoking the Word of Pető?

If that makes the people involved happy, and along the way helps convey some of the ‘poetic truth’ of that culture to the next generation of adherents, then so well and good.

But for many of us, especially those outside looking in, we have to distinguish a different kind of truth, an historical one, including what Peto might really have said (and what he meant by this), from what may be later perhaps hagiographic embellishment.

I know from conversation with you that you could probably could dig out old papers, lecture notes etc. and tell me lots of stories from learning situations that you met in your training, not least from Mária Hári, in which it was explained what Pető said and meant in given situations.

I suspect that, even so, in terms of the actual historical record we may not be able to get back beyond the oral tradition to which you are heir, via the anecdotes etc. of the generation who knew him personally, especially perhaps Mária Hári.

Oral tradition and the words of those who transmit it (and, we have to recognize, who also inevitably transmute it) are also facts in themselves. With respect to Conductive Education these are potentially very important, even essential facts in ‘knowing’ the essence of the Conductive Education of the recent past with a view of its effective transmission to future generations to adopt or adapt as they wish. Yet oral report alone is a notoriously fickle mechanism for passing on knowledge of even the most basic kind (did you ever play Chinese Whispers?).

The knowable substance of this oral tradition may indeed be as important to us today as the essentially unknowable actual words of Pető. Conductors of every generation, but perhaps most importantly of yours, owe it to the rest of us that you write down your oral tradition, the principles and the beliefs that you have carried with you throughout your professional lives, the ‘Dr Petö said…’ principles such as the one that you brought up here, and the ‘Dr Hári said…’ ones too.

There is no huge task required in this of any single person, it requires no more than individuals’ sharing snippets that they recall or have written down in lecture notes etc. That would be enough to begin a written codex

Is the cultural tradition within Conductive Education open, selfless and generous enough to do this?

In struggle,


I don’t hold out much hope for the culture’s displaying such enlightened self-interest… and, anyway, something like I have suggested above is hardly likely to take place without leadership of some sort. All the same, while hope for the salvation of Conductive Education continues – amazingly – to be invested in expensive and futile outcome research, here is a nice little anthropological investigation for someone to take up into the beliefs of the conductive tribe. This would not cost much and could prove very productive for coming generations.

And if not? A couple of days back I found myself writing about Mauritius, and Susie Mallett's Comment to that item has reminded me of something else Mauritian to consider when thinking about the need to exercise more enlightened self-interest, mentioned in my previous paragraph.

The dodo.


Szathmári, J. (2008) It’s good to come together… Sourcesense, 13 November


  1. Andrew, you write: "All the same, while hope for the salvation of Conductive Education continues – amazingly – to be invested in expensive and futile outcome research ...". I agree. But would you care to expand on your thoughts in a future blog posting?

  2. Norman, thanks for your comment. I have alluded to this point several times on these pages but have yet to come right out and say it as explicitly as I should. At the moment I an overwhelmed with ‘I should’ things but I will take your encouragement to heard and write something concrete around this topic – probably when the next sad diversion of attention and resources is trumpeted!

    In the meantime, you will probably have seen the basis for my thinking in my knol CE-related research: a memorandum to the Norsk Forum for Konduktiv Pedagogikk. This was written and submitted nearly two years ago but published, on the Internet as a knoll, only within the last month. Nothing intervening period has served to change my mind.

    I have published five knols so far but frankly at the moment they all look like recession-hit building sites – abandoned, which is what they are. As soon as I have time, they are on my list of catch-ups. When I have mastered the knol technology and feel satisfied that I have a workable, effort-free format for what I want to do, then I shall be digging down into my store of ‘old stuff’ and publishing a whole lot more, on a range of topics.

    The knol mentioned specifically here is at:

    Its companions are listed on the right-hand column of that page.


  3. Dear Andrew,

    Thank you for your valuable thoughts. You are absolutely right. I do apologise if I was talking out of turn when I wrote: ‘ when Dr. Petö said bring order into disorder’ etc. I wasn’t directly quoting him from a book or from one of his handwritten notes hence I didn’t put the text into quotation marks.

    I was trained under the guiding hands of Dr. Hari ♥ both in the theory and practice of Conductive Education. We had a very rigorous four years training at the Petö Institute and we had to follow very clear guidelines and we were told and shown what was expected from us and what was acceptable.
    We were constantly told ‘this is what Dr. Petö said… this is the way the Fõnök wanted things to be done and why…

    If anyone would like to know more about Petö and understand him and the System of Conductive Education I would like to recommend the following books.

    Hari Maria A Kondutiv Pedagogia Tortente
    MPANNI Budapest 1997
    (The History of Conductive Education)

    Bevezeto a Konduktiv Mozgaspedagogiaba, Peto Andras eloadasai es gyakorlati bemutatoi alapjan
    MPANNI Budapest 1998
    (Introduction to Conductive Movement Pedagogy, based on Andras Petö’s theoretical lectures and practical demonstrations.)

    Petö once wrote a note on a little piece of paper for Dr Hari ♥:
    Suaviter in modo
    Fortiter in re
    Csendes, finom modszerrel, de leghatarozottabb lenyegre toressel.

    But who knows whether it was true or not. I never saw the actual paper.

    With Sourcesense I would like to guide any interested readers towards my way of understanding of the Petö System, through my experiences and my way of practice and work outside the Petö Institute. I am inviting anyone and everyone who is interested to brainstorm and come together for the purpose of sharing, co creating and for mutual expansion.
    This is all I can do. If I make mistakes just slap my wrist gently and guide me to be proper.


  4. Slap your wrist? I wouldn’t dare!

    All I wanted was a little elucidation and that is what you have provided, with your characteristic openness and honesty. Thank you.

    Mária did not throw things away and there can be little doubt that the treasured piece of paper may well still exist, if it hasn’t disintegrated along the way. If so it will be in the Mária Hári Memorial Library, along with the rest of the stuff that she accumulated over the years.

    Writing up my experience there last Monday is one of my urgent catch-up tasks, look out for it very soon on Conductive World.

    The report on my visit to the Memorial Library last Monday will also touch upon her rigidity – though what this actually threw up is too extensive and important to go on a blog. I shall probably knol it. Again, watch this space.

    As for what was on the piece of paper that you heard about (but did not see), my first thought was of the relative succinctness of the Latin and Hungarian languages:

    Suaviter in modo. Fortiter in re / Csendes, finom modszerrel, de leghatarozottabb lenyegre toressel.

    In English, also succinct, this is something like ‘Easy in manner, strong in deed’. Maybe that a bit like what Theodore Roosevelt meant when he said: 'Speak softly and carry and big stick; you will go far.'

    I do not of course know what András Pető was referring to here (surely not himself!) nor how Mária understood it. Interesting snippet though. How do you interpret its relevance here?

    I was particularly pleased that your reply gave such an insight into the way in which you students were trained (drilled?):

    ‘I was trained under the guiding hands of Dr. Hári ♥ both in the theory and practice of Conductive Education. We had a very rigorous four years training at the Pető Institute and we had to follow very clear guidelines and we were told and shown what was expected from us and what was acceptable.’

    No wonder…

    To return to the salient point of my posting, would that others who have been through that rigorous and no doubt deeply remembered socialisation could dig out from their notes and memories snippets such as these. There would be a nice PhD somewhere here for someone in chasing these up and making some sense of them.


  5. Andrew,

    You always manage to make me laugh.

    “In English, also succinct, this is something like ‘Easy in manner, strong in deed’. Maybe that a bit like what Theodore Roosevelt meant when he said: 'Speak softly and carry and big stick; you will go far.'”

    There is another translation to it: “Gentle in manner, resolute in execution.”
    I wanted two make two points with this quote.

    1. Petö tirelessly devoted himself to create ‘something’ the System of CE from nothing in 1945. There was no historical or scientific foundation to what he was able to envisage and was able to put into practice at that time.
    After the Second World War in 1945 everybody was in survival mode. As he began developing his system, Hungary became a socialist country (by pure bad luck as the Russians got to Hungary chasing the Germans out of the place faster than the English), but it is a whole different story all together. The reason I mentioned it that it was probably not the easiest time to start something new. As he was working through his days (and he worked hard) he gave out specific instructions and he was adamant that the training had to be strongly practice based.
    Now show me someone who can actually write down every single ways an individual can be guided, mentored and facilitated. Even with the same diagnoses everyone is unique and different in the way the nervous system is actually damaged, also different in manifesting the symptoms, also unique and different genetically which underlies the ability and speed of recovery and/or progress. Petö had a huge selection of programmes and task series, which were regularly updated and were very detailed. They were neatly bound and were stored in the library of the old institute on the top shelves. They were the blue prints of the practice. We had to go and search for solutions from these files as part of our training. I wish we had task series so well thought through and well structured and updated in Conductive settings nowadays.
    Anyway. My point is that when you hear or read that Dr. Petö said this or that it is because the practice was the strength of the system and
    It was the whole set up, the structure the way the staff had to behave, think and run the whole system. So you will see and hear that people will quote him without actually being able to prove that He said it.

    2.By giving the example of the quote I was simply encouraging your readers to tell us more of these I believe very important stories and share. Although they might not have any proof.

    Last but not least this quote will guide readers to understand how to facilitate in Conductive Education. Definitely loose the big stick I would suggest in a gentle manner but with a resolute execution.