Sunday, 31 January 2010


Where can I look it up?

A correspondent writes –
I am searching for a published definition or explanation of 'upbringing' or anything which pays attention to the concept in some detail. Do you have any suggestion? Was it your book about Hári which had something about this notion?

I am looking for something in English that gives some clarification of the term, not necessary in CE, just in general terms.
What an elementary but nonetheless searching enquiry. Since my correspondent is Hungarian, and a conductor to boot, then once I should have thought that she could perhaps answer the matter raised in her first paragraph far better that I might. Her second paragraph, however, suggests that she is asking something different – I think. So here is a rather discursive response that might help her formulate something of the answer that she requires. 

The only way in which I can think of structuring this is to recount it historically.  

I first really came upon Conductive Education some thirty years ago, at one of those three-day courses run by Ester Cotton. I was immediately struck by a glaring, inherent contradiction in what she was saying (funny, no one else was and few seem to have been since):

  • on the one hand there were the most remarkable developmental transformations that she described so enthusiastically, occurring in some distant and unreachable Shangri-Lâ called 'the Institute', locked away at that time behind the Iron Curtain, in Budapest, Hungary
  • on the other, there were the simple nostrum of the 'five principles of Conductive Education' that she was sharing on the course that weekend – that individually or together, and however well they might be executed, could patently never attain anything like the transformational effects that she reported from Budapest.
As a psychologist with a little background in Soviet psychology and special education, I could, however, see behind this something of the universe of forces that might actually be leading to the results reported from Budapest.

Only much later, as I have very slowly unpicked the tangled mix of myth and misinformation around what we call in English 'Conductive Education', did I begin for myself to see more concretely what Ester Cotton had patched together to create these 'principles'. That, however, is another story. More important at that time, was to understand something of what what she had missed.


Before I had really met the work of L. S. Vygotskii and his fellows, my first loves in Soviet psycho-pedagogy had been A. S. Makarenko and vospitanie. In the early nineteen-seventies I even ran a university extra-mural course around this for a couple of years, called 'An alternative psychology of childhood'. I do not know what the punters thought they were signing up to under that title (in the early seventies of all times!) but most of them seemed to enjoy it. A good proportion of those who came were teachers – and a large slab of each of these two twenty-week courses was on vospitanie. In those days, anyway, the sort of teachers who would surrender their own time and money to going on such a course seemed to find all this intrinsically plausible – and rather enviable!

Makarenko is a lot less 'intellectual' than Vygotskii (I'll say!) and a lot more practical. His life and ideas can also be great fun to put across, the primary sources are a jolly read, and the pedagogic technology developed out of this, in the family, in school and in wider society, was awesome, both in its substance and in its implications, perhaps especially so in those would-be 'radical' times.

The Russian word vospitanie is most readily translatable into English  as 'upbringing', meaning what is involved in bringing up children – particularly bringing them up to attain your goals.

And as my correspondent well knows, the equivalent word in Hungarian is nevelés. Indeed, when she was a girl, and a teenager, and a student, and a young conductor, the equivalence between Soviet vospitanie and Hungarian nevelés was all the greater, because of the massive influence of Makarenko across the then Soviet bloc. She and her peers, and the generation before in Hungary, experienced in their schools not just 'upbringing' but a Socialist upbringing closely modelled on the Soviet model. She experienced benefits that she and her peers may sometimes now look back upon with a certain guilty nostalgia, the little blue neck-scarves, the funny salute, the stirring songs, the jolly, free holiday camps... from all of which that now remains just the 'Pioneer Railway' in the Buda Hills.

The full name of the State Institute for the Motor Disordered in Budapest proclaimed that it was nevelési – to do with upbringing. Student-conductors at the State Institute were lectured on Makarenko (by Ildikó Kozma, no less, for a time). There was even a children's town in Fót, for delinquents, directly analogous to Makarenko's own Gorky Colony (Mária Hári's best friend from her school days, was a psychologist there). With respect to Conductive Education, the only thing for the aware visitor from abroad to question was whether the Hungarian czoport (group) differed in substance from Makarenko's kollektiv and, if so, how.

Who cares?

In the nineteen-sixties and seventies, 'the West' (particularly America) had been fascinated by the motivated, achieving, well-behaved and aspirational schools and schoolchildren reported from behind the Iron Curtain – compared with the increasing educational shambles and failure experienced in school systems in the English-speaking world. Sputnik and what this said about the Arms Race brought this very much home to political and therefore academic attention. After all, if Soviet children were really doing better, how they were being brought up by their families, their schools and society at large, provided the obvious place to look! If you want to read about Soviet education and Soviet upbringing, go to the second-hand bookshops and look around for the wonderful stuff still to be found there. You can find plenty of books from the sixties and seventies on vospitanie

There I was, at the start of the eighties, with a new-found interest in what was already beginning to be called in English 'Conductive Education'. I was certainly not the only person outside Hungary interested in Conductive Education at that time and I thought that some of the others might be delighted to be introduced to the much wider current of interest directed towards Soviet psycho-pedagogy. Whoops! It took me very a long time fully to wake to the fact that I had now left the world of intellectual excitement and enquiry, of social relevance and serious political concern, and tumbled down the rabbit hole into the Alice in Wonderland world of physical disability – Mária Hári's allusion, not mine.

In my naivety, using the simple samizdat tools of the day, I produced a range of leaflets and pamphlets to introduce people then working in the light of Ester Cotton's 'principles' to some of the other factors that they might consider. In the well-known words of Corporal Jones: 'They did not like it up'em'. Not entirely true: in Birmingham Philippa Cottam, Jayne Titchener and I formed the 'Birmingham Group' to explore the relevance of such ideas (soon joined by Ronni Nanton). In 1983 Ester Cotton formed an organisation, the Conductive Education Interest Group. Philippa, Jayne, Ronni I went our separate way (Sutton, 1984), setting off the chain events that a couple of years later led unwittingly to the international migration of Conductive Education.

In this, however, relatively few have seemed to care much about explicit questions of vospitanie, the international CE movement having assumed forms and developing practices that have permitted little or no attention to upbringing, practical or academic. Most astonishingly, in both the English language and in other 'literatures' translated from it (who translates from Hungarian?) Ester Cotton's 'principles' have floated buoyantly along on top of it all – you can even hear conductors repeating them!

By the way, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever about what the new generation of conductors learn about upbringing, wherever they are trained. Maybe they are all still taught about Makarenko and (as I used to teach too, about the 'post-Makarenoan' V. A Sukhomlinskii). Perhaps not. Perhaps there is nothing like vospitanie in present-day conductor education, perhaps it has been substituted by something different. No harm in that of course, as long as the new is compatible.

(It is another strange feature of the world of Conductive Education that it does not publish what its front-line operatives (the conductors) are actually taught to believe, do and to aspire to. Perhaps, though, those who pay for conductive practices, or agitate for the public services to do so on their behalf, really ought to know such things. If the public services are ever to take this matter seriously, then they surely will want to know.)

What to read?

So, if my correspondent's question means that she is looking for academic-professional publications in English concerning 'conductive upbringing', then I am afraid that she will be rather disappointed. The sad fact is that no widespread discussion of conductive upbringing was ever sparked off from that early attention in the UK, and upbringing as a component of Conductive Education has not been subject to either academic research or professional description. With isolated and generally ignored exceptions, and whatever may happen in practice, we have had a described 'Conductive Education' free of explicit account of how to bring up children, how to inculcate values, in fact free of child-rearing and the role of personality-formation in general. Since in the UK education  in general seems to operate with a similar gaping void at its heart then perhaps this is hardly surprising in that country, but one might perhaps have expected some other countries to expect better..

(There is one obvious European exception: the theorised work of Yves Bawin and his colleagues in Belgium. And of course in Israel, for quite different reasons, there is the work of Tsad Kadima).

So, is there nothing to read in English about conductive upbringing?. Yes, a bit. My correspondent mentions Mária Hári, specifically the short collection that Gill Maguire and I edited a few years ago (Maguire and Sutton, 2004, pp.23, 26, 75-76 and 77-80). Actually, however, this adds up to very little concrete here about neveles, either in the home or elsewhere. I am afraid that this tends to be the case in her writings in general: scatterings of mentions but no coherent whole. She was more of a 'pedagogy person', at least when it came to public presentation. Perhaps this has served to reinforce people's lack of explicit attention to upbringing.

The only Hungarian authors whom I know to devote a whole book to conductive upbringing in more accessible languages have been Károly and Magda Ákos (1991). Their book Dina has been almost totally ignored by the professional establishment in the West (and by institutional Conductive Education), though some parents have sworn by it. Dina has been published in German, English, Russian and Chinese, though not in Hungarian. I doubt that many conductors (or any other Hungarians) have even heard of it (do please correct me if I am wrong).

Few conductors write about upbringing (few conductors write!). Susie Mallett has frequently introduced and described concrete examples of  conductive upbringing on her blog, and that's about it.

And parents? Over the years Emma McDowell has published a number of items about bringing up her son conductively, and made principled statements. Had I time, I could probably trace several more. Norman Perrin's blog evidences conductive upbringing, and so recently has James Forliti's, but the English-language parental blogosphere so far is remarkable mainly for its convincing demonstration of how little parents who have 'done Conductive Education' have taken home with them to incorporate into the upbringing of their child – and presumably therefore how little effective attention is given to this vital matter during their experiences of Conductive Education.

As for professionals observing from 'outside', James House (1968) was a notable exception in headlining something related to this aspect of the process – though he did not express it in these terms. Perhaps this is part of my correspondent's problem in finding English-language literature on this theme. Without our own tradition of considering questions of upbringing, there is no conceptual framework, no common vocabulary even, for us English-speakers to use. So we tend to ignore the whole essential area, so that it just bobs up unexpectedly here and there, almost unnoticed even by the writers themselves..

My correspondent asks –
I am looking for something in English that gives some clarification of the term.
My best advice for a quick and significant introduction to Soviet vospitanie is to go to Urie Bronfenbrenner's (1974) charming little book called Two Worlds of Childhood, which at one time no self-respecting Education Library  would be without, in this country anyway. She will still find copies aplenty going for a song on the Internet (though many contemporary English-speaking educators, I suspect, may never have heard of it). She could also try and n antikvariat or two. His book has helped me understand what I mean by the term 'upbringing'. It might help her.

Pedagogy, upbringing and effective practice
(in Conductive Education, as elsewhere)

Coincidentally (I think) another conductor correspondent recently wrote to me:
Please tell me a bit more about the enormous advantage upbringing has over pedagogy.
I answered, cryptically and perhaps too briefly (but it was late at night): 'TIME and LOVE.  For good or ill'.

I do not know how far this response would really stand up critical examination. I do rather suspect, however, that 

  • whatever is done in schools or centres, however excellent the pedagogy provided there, this will be enormously more effective if the child returns home to a 'conductive family', and 
  • correspondingly, that a sound conductive upbringing at home is to be enormously reinforced by access to a good professional conductive service. 
Hardly an Earth-shattering revelation!. Indeed, self-evident to the point of being banal, But where does one ever see this explicitly stated? And how often does it simply not happen in practice? And then along come the people who 'evaluate Conductive Education'...!


1.    Former students of mine to whom I lectured over the years about V. A. Sukhomlinski will find that, thanks to the individual pioneering work of Alan Cockerill, this renounced Soviet educator is at last subject to scholarly attention in the English-speaking West. (Note that he is now Sukmolinsky with a -y and that is being hailed as a great Ukrainian educator, with a new Ukhrainian transliteration: Sukhomlyns'kyi). For a nice, recent human touch, see Alan Cockerill's recent blog of his visit to the schol at Pavlysh to see the material roots of Sukhomlinskii's work:

2.  There was actually more than one strand to Soviet vospitanie, as can be seen in Bronfenbrenner's book. Two important strands were upbringing at school and family upbringing (ideally the two were of course linked, as were all aspects of the upbringing process). If the analogy between Soviet upbringing and Hungarian nevelés of the time is a valid one, then Mária Hári's mentions were concerned largely with the former, the Ákoses' largely with the latter.


Ákos, K., Ákos, M. Dina: a mother practises Conductive Education (Pető System), Birmingham, Foundation for Conductive Education, and Ulm, Alabanda Verlag
Some pages of this book are available free on line through Google books:

House, J (1968) Breakthrough in Budapest. An interview with Professor James House about a method of helping severely disabled children, Ideas of Today, vol. 16, pp. 110-114

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

Sutton, A. (1984) Conductive Education in the Midlands, Summer 1982: progress and problems in the importation of an educational method, Educational Studies, vol. 10, no 2, pp. 121-124 ttp://


  1. Thanks for this great Sunday afternoon read.

    How about this for another "coincidence":

    This morning I ordered the next volumes for my Makarenko upbringing.

    Makarenko was taught to the Hungarian students in their teacher-training pedagogy course not the conductive pedagogy course. We British students-conductors didn't therefore get Makarenko taught to us in Budapest.

    I didn't get Makarenko on my English teacher-training course either. So I bring myself up as far as "upbringing" is concerned.

    Yes, Mária Hári was more of a pedagogy person until you spoke to her about a specific situation and then she was all upbringing. Those were the bits I especially loved to hear.

    I don't know but from looking at the book-shelves of my Hungarian colleagues I think there must be a wealth of material available in Hungarian on upbringing in general terms, perhaps not so much in conductive terms. Even in conductive terms, although that is not what is being asked for here, there is probably more to be found in Hungarian than in English.

    Perhaps it really is time that some translating was done from Hungarian, and not only into English.



    This is one of my two favourite paragraphs from your posting:

    "On the other, there were the simple nostra, the 'five principles of Conductive Education', that she was sharing on the course that weekend, which individually or together, and however well they might be executed, could patently never attain anything like the transformational effects reported from Budapest"

    It is a very strange feeling as a conductor to be confronted by someone who has heard about these "five priciples" and to be asked about them. It was not until very recently that I even realised that some people thought that they "existed".

    The second favourite paragraph I may come back to on my blog.

  2. Thanks for that. Ity's been too cold to go out this Sunday afternoon and do something jolly here in England too.

    Yes< I think that I knew that 'upbringing' in Hungary was part of the teacher education rather than the conductor side (so strange, and contrary to the whole philosphy, that these should be separate!).

    I'm sure that there will have been book after book on upbringing as part of general pedagogy... get yourself to the shelves of your Magyar contemporaries and see about a bibliograhy of conductive ones. Please.


  3. Tünde Rózsahegyi writes –


    Many thanks for such a detailed and specific reply, I hope others will also find it interesting and stimulating to read how you explain the notion of upbringing.

    I remember the time when you were working on the Hari book and we spent some useful discussion on how to interpret the term 'neveles'; as you suggest it is not simply a linguistic issue but a conceptual one.

    At that time I have not thought that I would return to the issue, but I need to explain or even give a definition. As I suggested in my email the concept of 'upbringing' is very often used in respect of bringing up children and, more interestingly, mainly in dialogues which refer to parents or care- givers rather than education.

    Interestingly I have come across two publications that give reference to the 'power' of ubringing in respect of children with physical disability, both from the same author...

    Penn, H. (2000) What is normal? In Wolfendale, S. (ed) Special needs in the early years. Snapshots of practice. London: Routledge Falmer, pp. 81-90.

    Penn, H (2008) Understanding early childhood. Issues and controversies. 2nd ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press

    ... and both refer to Conductive Education!

    Your posting is definitely a reassuring one, something to be thought about and followed up in more detail. For me it is needed to explain where do my own educational values and perspectives come from but at the same time I think our dialogue highlighted a deficiency. Without clarification of the term it may be used ambiguously, what we have already seen with some other concepts, such as pedagogy, ZPD etc.

    Thank you Andrew. Once I have something substantial to share with you regarding 'upbringing' I shall ask your further opinion. Apart from all, Suzie is right this was a very worthwhile Sunday pm reading!


    21 February 2014
    Looking back, looking foreward: