Time marches on and the recent past can all too soon be lost in its mists. The Glory Years when Conductive Education had such a powerful impact upon the public consciousness, in certain countries anyway, were lived twenty-plus years ago. There are conductors and parents now who were not even born then, and the very degree of the furore over Conductive Education must be unimaginable in its present state of general forgottenness.
The furore just kept running, Certainly there was opposition, vicious some of it. Compared with nowadays, those were still rather hopeful, optimistic times, not least for the improvability of human nature. Looking back now it does rather look like a lot of people really wanted to believe that there could be new ways of thinking, manifest specifically here in what they understood to be the message of Conductive Education.
Everyone wanted to see and hear Mária Hári. In the Summer of 1988, already more that two years after the BBC’s first screening of Standing up for Joe but with interest (and controversy) still running high, she was invited to address the Lords and Members of Parliament of the All-Party Disablement Group.
Catching her words
She was extemporising but not so fast that I could not note down what she said. Her presentation was of course delivered in her own extra-ordinary English, which my notes could barely capture. Inevitably the processes of hearing, perceiving, comprehending and transcribing create plenty room to ‘improve’ upon what was said, however unwittingly. Granting that, here are some extracts from what I have on paper –
Previously one treated such people as someone who is ill but a treatment is a passive thing. It is always essential to see the person behind the symptoms, most especially so with central nervous system disturbance as the central nervous system itself needs integrating. If one treats the separate parts separately, then where is the coordination?
We teach and educate the integrating mind that has to lead every action. It is not a treatment – we teach. The person learns how to live, not just move or function or perform but to solve problems… Our aim is not to teach functions, muscle movements, but to educate how to live, to solve problems.
The person is active and wants to solve problems and structure his own method. The teacher leads, catalyses, helps the activity, ensures success and a good direction.
What is learned from eight o'clock to nine o'clock is used throughout the day. Education extends throughout the whole day. The goal of Occupation A then becomes the means of Occupation B.
It is like in Alice in Wonderland. If one asks ‘Which way should I go?’ Then one answers: ‘Where do you want to go? Then you know which way.’
The goal is not to teach functions or movements. It is the person and the personality that is the most essential and everything else is included in this.
When one learns a function or activity the question is not what but how to do it. One does not learn a mechanical, physical function – it is also a cognitive function, in which emotional and moral factors are very important.
Therefore it is active learning, education. Children only learn if they want to. The role of the conductor is to make joy, harmony, interest, everything that is a precondition of active learning.
These [task series] are not exercises but models of how to solve problems. One gets feedback only from the outcome of an action. If one cannot achieve the whole action then, to learn coordination, one must provide little goals and make them interesting.
Older readers may find these extracts familiar and evocative. Younger readers may have had little exposure to the ‘voice’ of Mária Hári. It is a terrible shame that this is heard so little nowadays: perhaps I should dig out some more...
What she says here comprises higher-order general statements. Please read them for their meaning, not for the purposes of exegesis and, if you wish to say ‘We do that’, then do consider the wider picture that she was trying to convey.
Integrating. This is used here in the original sense of combining parts to make a unified whole.
Co-ordination. She did also use this in the sense of motor co-ordination but more usually with respect to creation of a harmonious developmental process.
These two senses, and how they relate to each other, should be clear from the above text.
Hári, M. (1988) What is Conductive Education? Address to the All-Party Disablement Group, Palace of Westminster, 5 July (as noted by Andrew Sutton)