Saturday, 10 January 2009

When/how did konduktív pedagógia and konduktív nevelés morph into Conductive Education?

Some contributions to a discussion

Elsewhere on the blogosphere Susie Mallett and Gill Maguire have been examining this question on their respective blogs and from their different perspectives.

The question has been previously exercised on Conductive World but is well worth returning to. Like Susie and Gill I hope that others will chip in to complement the discussion.

My contributions below are just random, end-of week snippets.

András Pető

The first formal expression of the term that I know of came in a rare published paper by András Pető (published, I think, in 1954, Gill will doubtless provide the correct bibliographic details when the Library reopens on Monday). I don’t know why this was written, or under what pressures. I do not know whether András Pető advanced the term at that particular time for particular micro-political reasons (for example to distance himself from medical criticism) or whether he had already been using the term in conversation or informal writings for some time. Human memory is too fallible a tool to answer this question. Maybe research in the archives of András Pető himself and of various official archives, desperately needed to answer all sorts of important questions, might prove fruitful.

What did András Pető call his approach later in his life? Unfortunately there is only one other Hungarian-language journal paper (again from the fifties, a strange ‘political’ document not directly related to konduktív pedagógia). There are also the (very strange) two books published in German towards the end of his life under the pseudonym Karl Otto Bärnklau. These books are not about Conductive Education, or anything that looks outwardly similar, but about Heilkunst (the art of healing). One of them, however, does drift close to the matter, having a tiny ’chapter’ called Körperlich Erziehung zum seelishen Gleichgewicht (Bodily education toward spiritual balance). This is immediately followed by an equally tiny chapter (not a lot to express what many regard as his life’s work), called Zerebrale kinderlähmung ist heilbar (Children’s cerebral paralysis is healable).

The two chapters offer no name for his method but maybe they do offer a tantalising clue about how he thought and spoke about it at that time of his life, at least in German. For example:

Die Anstalt für konduktive Bewegungspädagogik, eine Erziehungsstätte schlechthin, eine Erziehunsstätte für Kinder und Erwachene, ist zugleich eine grosse Station organische Nervenkrankheiten und ein Rehabilitationzentrum. (Bärnklau, 1965, pp. 69-70)

(The institution for conductive movement pedagogy, essentially a place for education, a place for eduction for children and adults, is at the same time a large ward for organic nervous diseases and a rehabilitation centre.)

He concluded this chapter as follows (perhaps his last published words on what has become Conductive Education as we presently know it):

Anwendung von nicht sehr grossen Mitteln, das gegebene Beispiel nachahmend, Schritt für Schritt alle, die einer solchen Wiederherstellung bedürfen, rechtzeitig erfassen und mir vollem Erfolge konduktiv erziehen könte. (Bärnklau, 1965, pp. 70-72).

By applying such small measures one could emulate the example given and, with the right intervention at the right time, step by step successfully educate all those in need of such rehabilitation conductively.

Make of this what you will but it does seem that, whether or not András Pető actually called his system konduktive Erziehung (‘education’, in the German sense), those who met and spoke with him in German might have reasonably drawn their own conclusions. I have no idea how he spoke about it in Hungarian, but the many Hungarians with whom I have spoken of this over the years have not taken kindly to the phrase that is its Hungarian equivalent, konduktiv oktatás.

This little chapter was written as a response to or elaboration upon a published report by a German visitor, Otto Klein. András Pető received a few visitors from Germany in the early-mid sixties. I hope that Gill might oblige again, by telling the terms that they used in their published reports.

Esther Cotton

When Esther Cotton visited in the mid-sixties it seems likely that she and András Pető conversed in German. If they did, then she may well have heard statements such as are quoted above (maybe even a noun arising from them).

As Gill writes in her blog, however, Esther Cotton herself did not use the term Conductive Education in print until 1967. What she actually said in the meantime, when talking in English about what she had seen, we do not know. Then, at the close of 1967, she published two articles using the term, and in 1968 Mária Hári came to England, and used both words, education, and pedagogy.

Mária Hári

Mária Hári came for this first visit with an interpreter, and Susie’s aperçu about why the switch was made from ‘pedagogy’ to ‘education’ in the translation of her first presentations is an interesting one. There is unlikely to be any way of knowing whether this was indeed the case but perhaps I can add one tiny bit of extra speculation to the analysis.

In an introductory note to these two papers when they were published as part of a collection of Mária Hári’s, I wrote:

The formal, slightly stilted language of the original manuscript bears the marks of having been written by an accomplished speaker of the sort of English common to educated Hungarians who have studied the language in Hungary. The original is probably the interpreter’s carefully prepared text based upon a Hungarian original in which Mária Hári was able to present herself with natural ease and fluency (Maguire and Sutton,, 2004, p.30).

If this surmise is justified, then perhaps Mária Hári had copies of Ester Cotton’s latest articles already in her hands to share with the interpreter when they were preparing for the visit, making the first use of this expression by a Hungarian a case of feed-forward…

Sheer speculation.

Conductive upbringing

I have no idea where this term first came from. I have not seen András Pető’s mentioning
konduktív nevelés
(conductive upbringing in Hungarian) and there is no echoe of it in Bärnklau’s books.

I have wondered recently whether this term was originally something official, perhaps part of a name dreamt up by the Hungarian Ministry of Education to describe the strange institution that had been passed to it by the Ministry of Health. The Education Ministry could hardly describe this establishment as ‘at the same time a large ward for organic nervous diseases and a rehabilitation centre’. Looking at how the place operated the in 1960s, nevelési intézet (upbringing institute, or boarding school) might have seemed the best option available to the educationists now responsible for it.

If this is indeed what happened, then the concept of upbringing intended here was rather different from that which some people, myself included, have subsequently imposed upon it.

As ever, further archival research is required, and then perhaps some reconsideration too.

Any the wiser for all this?

Possibly not, though Susie’s and Gill’s interventions have made me revisit things and sharpen up my understandings a little.

That is the benefit of discussion. Would that we had more of it in Conductive Education. I hope therefore for some critical responses from others.

Like Gill implies, there is a nice little PhD waiting to be done by someone who speaks German, Hungarian and English, and has a sound, basic knowledge of Conductive Education and the circumstances of the times out of which it arose.


Bärnklau, K. O. (1965) Unfug der Krankheit: Triumph der Heilkunst. Hanau/Main: Verlag Karl Schuster

Maguire, G. (2009) When did konduktív pedagógia and konduktív neveles become Conductive Education? Conductive Education Library, 8 January

Maguire, G., Sutton, A. (eds.) (2004) Mária Hári on conductive pedagogy. Birmingham: Foundation for Conductive Education

Mallett, S. (2009) Questions of conductive upbringing, Conductor, 8 January

Sutton, A. (2008) Terminological exactitudes. Can we begin to agree some basic terms? Conductive World, 19 August

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