Sunday, 3 January 2010


And will have to turn out accordingly

A long, long time ago, at the very dawn of the internationalisation of Conductive Education, I coedited with the late Philippa Cottam an overview of the field of Conductive Education – or rather an overview of as much as was then knowable outside the secret world of the State Institute of the Motor Disordered in Budapest.

The second sentence of the first chapter in this book read as follows –

It is a basic principle of comparative education that an educational system is comprehensible only when related to the wide social context of which it is a part, this being the case even when the education itself is 'special' (Sutton, 1986, p. 3)

I am  pleased here to acknowledge again that I drew this sentiment from the late I. Ignacy Goldberg (1968). I see no reason not to abandon this understanding now that Conductive Education has subsequently 'internationalised' in the way that it has. Nor do I see other than that, with respect to disabled children (probably disabled adults too), the same principle should not also apply in understanding the congruent social practice of 'therapy' and the more fundamental and vital one of family upbringing and caring.

Over the last twenty or so years the migration of Conductive Education, from country to country, society to society, culture to culture, has been offering a remarkable test bed for 'applied comparative education', in which Goldberg's guiding comparative principle has been so often honoured only in the breech. This rather academic-sounding principle has been easily shoved aside in the hurly-burly of practical necessity but this does not mean that the realities underlying it are not still there, exerting their inexorable influence underneath.

Britain and the United States

Many people know that old chestnut about Britain and the United States being two nations divided by a common language. There is, though, a deeper difference between the Yanks and the Brits. Despite all the affinities of our two Anglo-Saxon societies, we inhabit very different social and cultural worlds and, in trying to perceive what is going on in Conductive Education in the United States, here is one Brit who just does not get it. To combat this I have continuously to remind myself that Conductive Education cannot be considered out of its social context, and that its establishment, its course and its future development an every country will depend upon this as much as – or ultimately perhaps more than – upon its origins.

It is so easy to forget this wider context when viewing the world through the limited prism of Conductive Education. Then along comes an example that appears 'so American'. Then another. And a third. Three in a couple of days...

...Get the basement cleaned and organized so we have a clear therapy area and Conductive Education area available daily without having to move a bunch of stuff when we want to use it. 

We currently have him in Conductive Education, but we want to get him into acupuncture, and we’ll have to look into the Anat Baniel method too... He now does Conductive Education once a week and my wife works with him each day too (she’s a certified massage therapist).

...there has become so many more therapies that have showed true promise! Stem Cells, sensory learning, Tomatis, hippo therapy, water therapy, suit therapy with IMOT, DAN protocol, G therapy, ABM, RDI, Conductive Education, oralfacial myology, supplementation, and a few I am sure I have forgotten.  How as a parent do you choose where to spend money and time. How do you decide what will work and what is a waste? The answer to that..... God.

Tiny straws in the wind perhaps, no more, from the blogs of intelligent, devoted parents, struggling to make sense of their unexpected world of parenting. Want some more? Click across to Norman Perrin's Conductive Web and look at the listing of Parents' Blogs there. More intelligent, devoted parents, mostly Americans, their blogs brought together there because they have in common that they all at some point 'did' Conductive Education (or so they believed, though they seem mainly to have experienced only a snatch). Read their blogs for any mention of Conductive Education now, swept aside by all the other 'therapies' that desperate people try.

Faith in God is there too, as well as faith in a therapeutic model of intervention, but where  in this is the image of a Conductive Education that would have offered the desperately needed practical philosophy to bring up disabled children, and restore agency and control to their parents?

Perhaps such parent-bloggers provide a skewed, self-selected sample of some kind. How untypical are they, how untypical are their lives of shopping around for therapies, and explicitly 'doing God'? If they do represent a sizeable chunk of the potential American market for Conductive Education, is it any wonder that understandings of Conductive Education in the United States, may take on a particular flavour in that country? What indeed is the prevalent understanding of Conductive Education amongst American families who might comprise the popular bedrock for founding programs and centers? Perhaps American readers can oblige with some further views and information.

Of course the United States is a coruscatingly diverse and individualistic society, and in its house are many mansions. Two large and important such mansions in this context are the immensely secure special-education and therapy/rehabilitation establishments, both of which appear to have closed the door firmly on Conductive Education for the moment anyway, with no immediately foreseeable prospect of changing their minds.

What sort of failure in society leaves families of motor-disabled children particularly in this terrible plight? Do American families of children who are deaf or blind find themselves abandoned and lost in such a way?

Criss-cross-cultural comparisons

Many times over the years I have tried to explain (sometimes to justify and excuse) the background to the development of Conductive Education in the United Kingdom to Europeans of all sorts (not least Hungarians) and to people from more distant parts, including Americans. I have done so (patiently, I hope) to field all sorts of weird and wonderful suggestions that, however self-evidently excellent they might seem to well-meaning outsiders, are just not viable in my own country, for all sorts of very good reasons, cultural, social, structural, financial, legal... When I do this I feel that people experience me as a killjoy, a wet blanket, a defeatist going out of his way to find reasons to reject good advice. Maybe all of this is true, but is also true that good advice from Society A may not be worth tuppence in Society B. No matter: listeners typically soon get bored with all my awkward background stuff and go off to give the same advice to someone more accommodating.

Conductive Education has fluttered to Earth in so many countries now, and all sorts of cross-cultural (mis)understandings have been  possible.
  • The earliest comparative, cross-cultural analysis came with in attempts from the first 'conductive countries' to make sense of Conductive Education as observed in Hungary. This is rarely done nowadays, very rarely indeed, though bits and bobs of earlier reports are still trotted out, completely out of context (with some truly dreadful Hungarian 'statistics' still proving attractive).
  • Hard on the heels of this came the understandings that people in Hungary formed about the potential market for Conductive Education in the West – market that is in the financial sense. In the closing couple of years of Socialism, official Hungary got this spectacularly wrong, and the expectation of major monetisation has been handed on down. Official Hungary bothered little about Conductive Education since then, though the Hungaricum business showed the persistence of fantasies about the foreign buck still waiting to made..
  • Large numbers of Hungarian individuals (Hungarians who have worked and lived abroad have by now had to come to  their own personal understandings of the social position of Conductive Education in all sorts of countries around the world. What an enormous well of untapped, unformalised, ignores knowledge they are. As far as I know, no attempt has been made to collect or synthesise this knowledge, so future individuals will have to continue to work things out for themselves, developing amazing personal insights – or getting it spectacularly wrong.
  • Correspondingly a lot of people around the world, service-providers and service-users, have had to get to know about conductors, for themselves, usually in the event about Hungarian conductors.
Common to these is the Hungarian axis. By 2010, however, the process of international-isation has been going on for a long time. Conductive Education is establishing itself in its own ways. In different places, it is becoming naturalised into new social contexts, as have some of those who have moved abroad with it. As some of these latter will tell you, they now longer really understand how things are 'at home', and often cannot explain what it is they now do and why they do it so, in their mother tongue to their former compatriots. If they cannot explain it to the folks back home, who can?

More widely, how can one understand the long frustrating fate of Conductive Education in Australia, in comparison with how it has relatively flourished in New Zealand, without recognising the harsh system of social care in the former country in comparison with the very different social atmosphere of the latter? How can one explain why Conductive Education has flourished in Israel, in in such a thoroughgoing family way, without accounting the fabric of its society and the nature of the Jewish family and the Israeli state? And what social factors would you advance to explain the trajectory of how things have turned out for Conductive Education in the United Kingdom?

Tread carefully. It is so easy to drift into national stereotypes and social determinism (both sins possibly  already apparent in this article) but do step this way, carefully, into the global future of Conductive Education.


If I look across the Atlantic, or over into Europe, or outwards to the nations beyond, I see things are done in the name of Conductive Education that bear little or no relation to what I once knew or aspired to, or indeed even to each other. Some even run contrary to what I feel appropriate practice or what I consider likely to have beneficial effect. Some sound amazing, some sound awful.

So what does this imply?
  • I am not advocating a cosy, all-inclusive, all accepting approach to the dissipation of Conductive Education into even more disparate practices and ideas, self-defined as conductive and educational even when they are patently neither.

  • I am saying that this the process of adaption to new host societies is beyond anyone's ability to control but that, following I. Ignacy Goldberg, without relating it to the wide social context of which it is a part, the process may also be beyond understanding in a generalised way –. and that thoughtful and self-critical cultural adaptation should not be unthinkingly resisted, because good might flow from new syntheses.
It is no good bleating about whether a given practice is 'pure', i.e. what some people recall from some Golden Era of their youth, perhaps in Villányi út under Mária Hári (though there were those even then who regarded even that as far from 'pure', more a betrayal of András Pető's ideals).

The best that we might hope for is that the processes of adaptation should run their course, and to help them to do so in as effective a way as possible. Those who work at the cutting edge need every help that they can find, every encouragement, every tool for the job. Conductive Education may yet survive as a coherent and effective entity, if those involved can identify and hold on to definable essences of conductive practice, be that in family upbringing or in professional pedagogy, but there is no feasible or desirable alternative to their getting on with it in their own way and within their own contexts. The best help that they can be offered is not based upon old models of working and thinking, drawn from the social contexts of elsewhere and yesteryear, rigidly defended – but collaborative measures and practical inputs to apply and further develop generalisable principles.

What those outside other people's context cannot do, whether new practices be situated in America, or China, or settings yet to emerge, is try to prescribe how such practices should go, what they should be and where they should be aiming for.

Remember, we are now into the year of the Hong Kong Congress, hosted at the very epicentre of most radical cross-cultural leap in the history of Conductive Education, from which 'the West' (here including Hungary too) may have so much to learn.


Goldberg, I. I. !068) Comparative special education for the mentally retarded, Proceedings of the First International Conference for the Scientific Study of Mental Deficiency, Reigate, Jackson, pp. 147-154

Cottam, P., Sutton, A. (eds) (1986) Conductive Education: a system for overcoming motor disorder, London, Croom Helm

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