Sunday, 16 November 2008

Dialogue with Judit – II

Was András Pető a professor?

Specific questions, specific answers

Four days ago, quite unrelated to the topic of the previous posting on Conductive World, I received the following email enquiry from Judit Szathmáry.

I had an interesting and compelling enquiry from László [Szögeczki], regarding the validity of using the professor title in front of Pető’s name. Do you know or have any document, which proves that Pető was given this title officially and if yes when?

In the book published in Budapest for the Pető centenary, in September 1994, under ‘In Memoriam Pető’, Mária Hári, the then director of the Pető Institute wrote:

‘All those who respected and knew Professor Pető will know that he unselfishly sacrificed his life for an ideal, that he rejected any rewards or personal praise demanding instead the development of the network.’ (page 32)

So it’s double wrong: titling him ‘professor’ and he would have rejected it anyway.

No apologies for the very long response to this. László and Judit have made explicit a small but important issue in the narrative and the image of Conductive Education. Perhaps what is written here, and any comments or corrections that others might like to add at the end if this article, will emerge in future Internet searches as a necessary corrective to one small part of the misinformation around Conductive Education.

The simple answer to the main question asked here: No, András Pető was not a professzor – and therefore it is wrong to refer to him as 'Pető Professzor' in Hungarian, and 'Professor Pető' in English and other languages.

As part of the permanent András Pető display, on the first floor of the Pető Institute in Budapest, there hangs a photocopy of the letter to Pető from the Ministry confirming his appointment as főiskolai tanár (‘college lecturer’) at the special education college. There is nothing to suggest that he was ever an egyetemi (university) lecturer. As you both know better than I, the distinction, between főiskola and egyetem is more jealousy guarded in Hungary than has come to be the case in the United Kingdom over recent years.

Why have people persisted in calling him this over the years? Laszlo and Judit, you both grew up and were educated in Hungary, including at the Pető Institute, and you have both known some of the chief protagonists in this tale. You tell me. I can but guess…

Sorry, I just do not know his own attitude if people referred to him as Professzor. I suspect, however, that such was his power over his acolytes that he could have stopped this instantly had he so wished. Incidentally, the title that he seemed to favour during his directorship of the State Institute was a Főorvos (the ‘Head Doctor’). (Possibly conversely, Mária Hári was universally known till her death as a Doktornő (the ‘Lady Doctor’ – die Frau Doktor), and still is by those who knew and loved her. I see in your first Comment to the previous posting on Conductive World that during your training:

We were constantly told ‘This is what Dr. Pető said… this is the way the Fõnök wanted things to be done and why…

Főnök means the 'the Boss'. I had not heard it used before in this context. Thank you, Judit. How general was this usage in referring to Pető when you trained, almost twenty years after he had died?

A way of speaking

Certainly, many people in Hungary still speak and write about ‘Pető Professzor’, without apparently thinking about what the term implies. This was the case in the past and it has persisted to the present day. Where do they imagine him to have held his chair? In what subject?

Others, who know something of András Pető and, just as important, the proud standards of Hungarian academe, are likely to shake their heads and smile wryly if asked the same question that you have asked me. I know, I’ve tried it – and so should you if you don’t believe me.

András Pető may have been many things but one that he certainly was not was an academic. I base this partly on what (admittedly little) I know of his written work. This was in no way akademische or tudományos. He was a ‘doctor’ but in the medical sense, a physician. I don’t know what this means in Hungary but in the United Kingdom this is an honorary title, not in itself indicating academic training. That is why ‘research doctors’ go on to take a PhD. András Pető had no such further training.

One may wish to argue this judgment (though I do suspect that there will emerge no evidence to do so). It is not, however, possible to set aside the formal fact that he did not hold a university post.

No university, no chair, no professzor.


With reference to the previous posting on Conductive World, people seem to like the phrase ‘Dr Pető’ said…’ This sounds so much more authoritative, ex cathedra, if it is stated as ‘Professor Pető said…’ That is of course unless the listener knows or even just suspects the truth – in which case any respect that the view reported might merit in its own right may be immediately discarded as just a con. This is reason enough, in a situation in which the reputation of Conductive Education remains so delicate, to avoid the phrase like the plague.

Probably the reason that people continue using the phrase at all is in most cases no more than habit. They have seen it written or heard it said so many times, from sources that they may regard rightly or wrongly as impeccable… and even when it is challenged they may have nowhere to turn in order to help form a more measured judgment (is that why you wrote to me...?)

This is just one more small illustration of the problems of having as yet no consolidated corpus of ‘literature’ in Conductive Education.

Still, ‘Professor’ he now is, in some at least of the popular imagining. The best way to deal with this is for sophisticated people in Conductive Education with the best future interests of the system at heart to discipline their own speech and eschew this expression entirely. Further, they should gently but firmly correct others when they hear or read it.

And don’t forget along the way that the Professor-title, once introduced, has tended to drift around in Conductive Education and get attached, equally unjustifiably, to the names of other figures in the field. These attributions should also be gently but firmly corrected. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to how these might have come about, since after all personal experience puts me in the same category! Often when at meetings abroad I have been introduced as ‘Professor Sutton’, even though it has long been patently apparent that I would never make an academic and I have indeed never held a tenured university post. Why do people call me this? Maybe it’s just because I’m an old bloke with a white beard

So is Santa Claus.

Three footnotes

1. What is a ‘professor’ anyway?

‘Professor’ is a formal title awarded by a university to academics of high academic standing. That at least is its primary meaning in British English.

If only the wider situation could be answered so simply!

In Britain the title of professor has been stretched over the last few years (British universities dumbed down? Perish the thought!) while in the United States and certain other countries the title has been more widely bestowed for a long time and in many cases means no more that university or even just college lecturer.

In some European languages the meaning of the word also extends to mean no more that ‘schoolteacher’.

Be all that as it may, there is understanding that there is such a thing as a ‘full professor’, the title being awarded in recognition of a body of significant, published, scholarly work. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s achievement of being awarded a chair on the basis of a single book is very rare indeed and, whatever his practical achievements, András Pető produced no Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Sorry to bring up these academic niceties but these are the rules of the world of academe and scholarship and they are very important indeed to those who play that game. András Pető, however, worked apart from this, in his ‘Institute’ (which was not an ‘institute’ at all in the usual English-language sense of the term but in his lifetime more of a children’s home cum rehabilitation facility, with no formal training function, and no research and publication). He was not part of the world or scholarship and academe. He did other things, in a different way, and these are what we value him for today.

I do not know the situation in other countries but, in the United Kingdom at least, if you award yourself the title Professor, you tend to be looked upon, well, quizzically… and if others then use the expression to refer to you they will do so ironically, perhaps placing it in inverted commas to emphasise what they think. Let’s avoid this for András Pető, shall we.

2. Gently but firmly

Suaviter in modo. Fortiter in re (Csendes, finom modszerrel, de leghatarozottabb lenyegre toressel). I could not resist this. András Pető wrote this (alledgedly): see the first of Judit Szatmáry’s Comments on the posting on Conductive World previous to this one.

3. And just to complicate things a little more…

There are two real Professor Petos in Britain today, both epidemiologists, the brothers Professor Julian Peto and Professor Sir Richard Peto.

No relations to our man. Peto is an English name. There’s even a Peto in Shakespeare.


  1. Andrew I would like to draw your attention to a few facts.

    The e-mails, which you published, were addressed and sent to Gillian Maguire, Librarian at the National Institute of Conductive Education as my first and direct contact regarding published and unpublished literatures related to Conductive Education.
    I wrote to Gill after I had and enquiry from Laszlo on my blog. The e-mail was also cc-d to you.
    Gill answered me and my response was the following

    “Thank You Gill. So how can they publish it in the book printed for the Petö centenary in September 1994 Budapest??
    Under in Memoriam Petö (Maria Hari MD director of the Petö Institute writes (page 32): “ All those who respected and knew Professor Petö will know that he unselfishly sacrificed his life for an ideal, that he rejected any rewards or personal praise demanding instead the development of the network.”
    So its double wrong titling him professor and he would have rejected it anyway.”

    I was very surprised to see that my e-mails to Gill were made public display.

    I started my training at the Petö Institute (as it was called) Peto Intezet and not “a children’s home cum rehabilitation facility, with no formal training function, and no research and publication” 13 years after Dr. Andras Petö passed away.

    Petö was developing a system of Conductive Education and also was developing the training related to his completely new and revolutionary concept.
    Regarding research you can find in the book written by Maria Hari and Karoly Akos Conductive Education English translation first published in 1988 by Routledge.
    Page 1. The field of application and results achieved by Conductive Education. “The information which follows represents the work of the Institute as it looked on 31st December 1968, the day for the annual admission statistics.” The statistics speak for themselves.

    When I invited people to brainstorm and come together for the purpose of sharing, co creating and mutual expansion I had a very different idea in mind and still do.

    There are so many unknown and relevant parts of the Conductive Education System that need to be heard and shared amongst us who are working with this system.
    It would be so beneficial if each and every one of us could see how precious and important part we all play. The are no ‘spare parts’ in the Universe. Every part is essential to the whole.
    If we could just see the value of our existence and the importance of our contribution we would create a more joyful and wholesome life. Where we truly understand that by empowering each other we become empowered. Where our actions are not fear based, but come from the power of our desire to serve and to lead.
    It is our choice how to take care of our own energy and direct it where we choose it to go.
    As Dr. Andras Petö wrote it on another little piece of paper for Dr. Hari

    Rajtad mulik mit teszel
    Kivel hova evezel.

  2. Dear Judit,

    I am very sorry for any misunderstanding. My fault, I am sure. I will learn from this and be more careful next time. I do hope that no irrevocable harm has been done.

    As in that email, your response here raises some very interesting sunstantive points.

    The first is one that always confuses English-speakers, the meaning of the Hungarian word intézet. Look in a Hungarian-English dictionary, as I have to, and you see it defined as ‘institute, institution, establishment’. The first of these in English tends to have scholarly implications (such as would be implied by an egyetemi intézet in Hungarian), but visit Hungary and one soon sees intézetek for all kinds of activity, in which case the third word, ‘establishment’ probably offers the appropriately neutral equivalent.

    What sort of establishment was the State Institute under András Pető? Do note that I was referring specifically to ‘in his lifetime’. I should have been more specific and perhaps bracketed out the last few years of his life, by which time the Institute had transferred to the Ministry of Education, a preliminary training course was running, and he was often a very sick man. Till then, what sort of establishment was he running while he was developing conductive pedagogy? It was not a school, some of the children there had no homes to go back to and those who did have parents were reportedly not encouraged to see much of them. There were also adult in-patients with a variety of physical and mental conditions. In trying to convey this in contemporary terms the phrase ‘children’s home cum rehabilitation facility’ does seem better-suited than ‘institute’.

    Help me. Tell me a better way of describing it to people.

    The second point is also one of translation but involves more than is simple linguistic equivalence. Again, do please help on this matter, which has caused enormous misunderstanding during my own time. This is the matter of ‘research’ , and ‘academic publication’.

    Nobody can doubt András Pető’s enormous creativity in the practical development of conductive pedagogy, nor the contribution of those who worked with him and followed him. What came out of this is a colossal achievement, making a major contribution to human welfare. The work involved in this was not just hard and meticulous, it also involved a considerable intellectual component. But none of this makes it ‘research’ as this word is generally understood (that is, I think tudomanyos kutatas, in Hungarian). And descriptive statistics do not ‘count’ as research, either.

    Using the word 'research' here does nothing to enhance a major practical and humane achievement. It does, however, raise expectations that can only be disappointed.

    Again, you are in a better position than I to suggest a better way of communicating this in the moden world. Please help.

    Myself, I don’t know anything about ‘brainstorming’ (it sounds a little turbulent for my taste) but I am desperately aware of the need for greater dialogue within Conductive Education, so that information, analyses etc can rub against each other, points be challenged, errors corrected, gaps filled, new syntheses created. As we are doing now. None of this is going to be easy, though one hopes that there will not be too many damaging storms along they way.

    By the way, I love those little notes from András Pető’s to Mária Hári. How many more do you (and others) have?

    I reckon that your latest means something like:

    What you do is up to you,
    Who you row with, and where to.

    I hasten to add that the word ‘row’ here refers to rowing a boat! This not only makes my verse translation sound a little better but also better suits your sense.

    We are indeed all in the same boat so we’d better learn to pull together.

    Friends still?


  3. Dear Andrew

    I felt obliged to answer to your two previous postings as you titled them Dialogue with Judit l and ll.

    Well yes… We all have a boat of our own and we all have a choice to go with the current or paddle upstream while we are on this beautiful planet, which is our home. (in that sense we are in the same boat, and intricately connected) We can travel together but we will always sit in our own boats and have to take responsibility for ourselves. (It’s called free will.) We all have a choice to turn our boat upstream or downstream. We also have a choice to go together (it is so much better and joyful!) in our individual boats, and as a team together enjoy the ride. It is so much more powerful. We meant to be together, to connect with each other, that was the original plan.
    Life is about the journey. Some might choose to go upstream some may choose to put their boat on the top of their car roof, drive to the destination and put their boat in the water at the destination and they miss all the fun of it.
    I am old enough (although not as old as the Dodo, but maybe as extinct) to realise it is better to enjoy the ride, and choose to go with current. I paddled upstream long enough. There were some who got the trophy going upstream and they are still unhappy. I have lived a rich and challenging life although some may think it was easy for me. It looked/looks easy hey?
    Talking about the things you want me to talk about it is upstream for me, against the current and the rocks. It is not very enjoyable for me. I have some other gifts to give. I am sure there is someone out there who would love to do it. Maybe it will be Laszlo who is a new researcher as he titled him on my blog. I love reading and I read fast and I have a real thirst for knowledge and wisdom, but I am not a bookworm not speaking pejoratively. I would like to divert my attention to something else, something, which makes me laugh, fires me up makes me feel deeply connected and uses my creative passion and creative power. I would be more of use that way. Friends are friends that’s all to that.

    So now… lets all follow this link and have a laugh. The English will enjoy it better I am sure.

    I know you will understand.