Thursday, 9 April 2009

The personal and the political

Time for new thinking

This item was begun as a contribution to a thread of Comments at the end of Monday‘s ‘No country for old carers’ (30 March):

Then, on Friday 3 April Norman Perrin (2009) made his heart-stopping and well documented posting, ‘And when we die, who…’

I know that I am not the only person who wanted to make a public reply to this at a human level, but just doesn’t know how. Words have failed. Sorry, Norman, and sorry everyone else. I’m just not up to the task. What use are words anyway, mine or any one else’s? What can one say about the human enormity of the ‘need’ from which our societies shrug and turn away?

In default of words, what can one do…?

What can individuals do?

The only thing that will change the world in which we live is doing something about it, and that means action and politics. That is what it took for Norman, his family and their associates to get Paces off the ground, and what it will have taken to keep it going. Things don’t just happen because they deserve too, they happen because people fight for what they want, in competition with people who want other things.

Nobody taking advantage of what little is now available in Conductive Education (be they service-users, or conductors, or other employees) should ever think that Conductive Education is here because it somehow deserves to be. CE might be the greatest paradigm leap in the modern history of understanding and providing for disabled children and adults, and their families, but nobody ‘outside’ cares a tinkers’ cuss about that. It is here only because it was proselytised, politicked for, fought for, and it is certainly in no situation yet to survive if these processes cease.

The opposition, however, is. Just because ideas/services are inherently worthless, or even actively harmful, does not mean that they will be passed over by society for something new. Once they have become ‘established’, then institutional inertia and the awful problem of somebody’s having to take real decisions, means that they are here for the duration.

You know who/what I mean.

But who cares enough to take up the hard, long political fight for something new? In the internationalisation of Conductive Education this has for a very large part been the families of disabled children. It hardly needs saying, though, they have enough to do already, at two levels:
  • the primary human task of caring for/bringing up their children;
  • in the developed countries, the sometimes even harder, secondary task (with no human rewards, just bitterness) of struggling with agencies supposedly there to ‘support them’ and educate their children.

They do not need a closely related ' hobby’ on top of all this, they do not have ample spare time and huge reserves of energy but, none the less, some do take up something else:

  • the tertiary task of organising, founding, running the centres and associations on which Conductive Education’s present worldwide spread has largely depended.

How do they manage this? Don’t ask me. I couldn’t do all this.

How long can such families maintain this effort? We shall see.

What happens to ‘the conductive movement’ then? We shall find out.

A tiny number of ‘professionals’, amongst whom can be accounted a tiny number of conductors, have set up and run their own services. Maybe they are doing ‘succession-planning’. Maybe family-initiated services are able to do this too. I wonder.

Individuals are not the answer

Let me assure those who have not tried it that once you get involved in running a CE centre or other CE service then there will be little chance for operating at a fourth level of action, the political level.

  • Service management is all-consuming. There is money to be found, staff to be placated, public bodies and existing professionals/services to be kept sweet and, even if there is time/energy to go politicking, then you can be sure that there will be plenty of people amongst those just mentioned who will drag their heels or openly oppose a public position’s being taken and ‘upsetting people‘. There is little chance to identify and join up with fellow souls, to work together ‘outside’ of the immediate workplace and make a persisting public fuss.

Yet politics is all about groups of individuals' subsuming their own specific interests and aspirations into a wider common cause then advocating them publicly and strongly amongst those with weight to lend to this (OK, so this is for their own reasons, so what?) in the face of other groups whose present positions, access to resources etc, stand in the way. It’s the Law of the Jungle out there and the weak shall go to the wall.

There a homeostasis within the system:

  • if you are closely involved with the human problems of this world and their solutions then you have little time or freedom to get involved with the sorts of activities that may effect change at the societal level;
  • this leaves such matters largely in the hands of those who have little of no understanding of the real-life problems and their potential solutions, and frankly find their jobs easier without them.

Herding kittens

I can speak from direct experience only of CE in the United Kingdom. Truly, trying to assemble a common front even within CE, in one single country, has been like herding kittens.

In 1986 two bodies were formed o the United Kingdom, separate but closely coordinated, to advance on two flanks of a national front:

  • RACE (Rapid Action for Conductive Education), a national lobby group, comprising mainly parents, aimed at establishing a policy-level government response;
  • the Foundation for Conductive Education created to develop the ‘science and skill of Conductive Education in the UK.

By 1990 RACE was breaking up, as its local groups realised that strategic aims would take a long time to achieved, longer than their own children had to wait, and began to create the own local services. RACE faced reality and voluntarily disbanded. With very few exceptions the new centres regarded the Foundation as a rival rather than a umbrella body, and the then Spastics Society didn’t help as it determinedly pursued its own peculiar path.

Inter alia the UK has since seen:

  • the National Association of Conductors (not enough conductors joined to keep it viable);
  • the Conductors’ Employers’ Group (broke up because of personal enmities and rivalries);
  • the UK Federation for Conductive Education (this was neither a federation as such nor very particularly for Conductive Education as many would understand it, but the Spastics Society and its friends wanted an organisation and a name to muddy the field,: it finally faded away when it had no members and no purpose);
  • the UK Network for Conductive Education (the institutional detritus of the UK Federation, subsequenly reconstituted as Cerebral Palsy Care for Children, a small grant-giving charity);
  • CEHEG (Conductive Education Higher Education Group) a sometimes reluctant but in the event quite productive series of informal meetings between higher education establishments with courses in Conductive Education, that ceased to exist de facto with the disappearance of the Keele course);
  • and of course along the way a host of associations, centres and other bodies (some forty to fifty over the years, many no longer extant) with little more in common than that they have employed conductors, mainly having very little to do with each other and never forming a common front to advocate or even articulate Conductive Education, or create or seize political opportunities;
  • now there is CEPEG (Conductive Education Professional Education group) and a conductors’ association (mysterious non-constituted bodies with no public persona, see Foulger, 2009).

There is no reason to expect that Conductive Education in many other countries has fared better (though New Zealand appears to have done quite well). I shall not be upset, by the way, if anyone would like to correct the facts and opinions offered here, and doubly delighted for this not to be done anonymously.

To summarise this as lots of leaders, few followers, little solidarity or permanence, is not to deny hard work and good intentions along the way (and note that some of the failures of my own career are buried in this tale). Something, however, has been missing within this mix to ensure lack of demonstrable effect over more than twenty years.

Perhaps fundamental questionaing is required.


Is the raggle-taggle ‘conductive movement‘, comprising service-users, employers, employees, various camp-followers, all with their own individual agendas and priorities, really the basis for a fighting force to change the world? Probably not. They have in common only that are all in their different ways beneficiaries of Conductive Education, but this is no necessary basis or prerequisite for constituting a political movement to advocate and advance CE. Some members of this disparate population may have vital contributions to make but possibly none is essential.

Are the various organisations, formal or informal within this movement really able to advocate and advance the system at a social-policy level? Maybe in small countries (or their constituent states, provinces, Länder etc) the situation might be such as to permit this. Certainly in larger more diverse societies (the UK, the US, Germany for example), experience to date rather suggests the contrary. Maybe existing CE institutions, as in the case of individuals, are not for the main part conductive to effecting societal change. Maybe even…

Maybe things are going to change now. But how? Why?

But change there will have to be, radical change, if ‘Conductive Education;’ is going to participate in the consideration of any big league, in wider alliances on political fronts.

I suspect that some of the questions raised here, or mere mention of aspects of the historical record, might not meet with universal approval. Certainly one will seek in vain for explicit record of much of the toings and froings, the jockeyings and failures, beneath the cosmetic, teleological level of the international conductive movement.

True, in any context, history belongs to the victors, but revisionist history comes a little easier now that victors may be getting a bit thin on the ground. If we really are now entering a new stage in the internationalisation of Conductive Education, with a new generation emerging to boot, then it may now be advantageous to re-evaluate the worth some of the unspoken baggage that CE drags with it from its past.

Is this a long way from the future that confronts Norman and his family? A long way from the testimonio of Sue Corrigen (2009) whose splendid piece in The Australian prompted ‘No country for old carers’ in the first place? That article was political act, on the political front. Go to Emma McDowell’s (2009) Comment in the 'old carers'. See where she now pitches her struggle for political change. Come to that, follow Norman’s blog and see the arena in which he has operated.

Much has been made in Conductive World over the last year or two about change, at a variety of levels., Perhaps it is time to add the political level to the list of things due for radical and explicit reappraisal.

I still can’t answer Norman’s question. The problem that he articulates he does so most explicitly in the context of a society that is happy to walk by on the other side in order to do things on the cheap. This morning saw another soon-to-be-passed-by spate of newspaper headlines from the UK, (for example Bennett, 2009), on yet another manifestation of this, the gross institutional neglect experienced by old people enjoying ‘community care’.

I do not want to lose sight of the wondrous and amazing messages inherent within CE but, really, it does rather seem at times that, for all their humane virtues and the care and compassion of its practitioners, little or nothing will be won for CE and its message without working for victory on a far wider front.


Bennet, R. (2009) Care at home: Panorama exposes a shaming tale of misery and neglect, The Times, 9 April

Corrigan, S. (2009) The struggle for care, The Australian, 30 March. (2009) The struggle for care, The Australian, 30 March,25197,25262629-5012694,00.html

Foulger, B (2009) CEPEG Conference, Geek Conductor, 15 March

McDowell, E. (2009) Comment to No country for old carers: Australian testimonio of policy that failed, Conductive World, 30 March

Perrin, N. (2009) And when we die, who....? Paces, 3 April

Sutton, A. (2009) No country for old carers: Australian testimonio of policy that failed, Conductive World, 30 March

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting...

    See Judit Szathmary's latest contribution to the thread of readers' Comments at the end of 'No country for old carers':

    Any one else interested in politicking at the side of the carers?