Wednesday, 17 March 2010

All change

(As conductors say, on the train)

From California, 'Jennifer' writes –

Last night I had the privilege of attending a charity poker tournament to raise money for Conductive Education, more specifically, ConductAbility Inc., which is a program I have been working alongside in my classroom this year... So there I was at 8 p.m., sitting at a small table with very, very large men who could shuffle their chips in one hand without looking while I just stared at mine and felt the dreadful realization of what I was in for slowly wash over me.

I started yapping about Conductive Education and asking everyone who they knew in the program and how they got involved. Apparently I didn’t get the memo that this was a regularly occurring poker tournament that just happened to be donating its proceeds to us that night. I was playing poker with the big boys, and it wasn’t a THING like playing online.

'Conductawha . .?' was the response I got from quite a few at my table (before the clock started and the sunglasses went on, of course). I didn’t really get to explain to them just how important the money being raised was. Recent news broadcasts in Pittsburgh and few other U.S. cities had acknowledged national Conductive Education Day, so I thought it might be nice to talk a little bit about what that really means.

Conductive Education '…is a way of life that teaches people with neuromotor impairments, such as cerebral palsy, how to become active participants in society.' The only reason I quoted that was because I honestly can’t put it any better. Conductive Education teaches the students to participate in their environment and build upon the strengths that they have. It is a form of education that pairs academics with physical awareness and I witness its tremendous value on a daily basis.

Our room probably looks like a typical OH classroom, except my students don’t stay in their wheelchairs. We have a 'parking lot' where they park their chairs in the morning; they then walk with assistance to their seats, which are either wide stools or sled chairs. When they sit, they hold on to bars in front of them so they can stabilise themselves and focus on their computer/AAC screens.

When people visit our room, they are amazed at what our students can do. I think of it as building upon the old saying about accomplishing what we put our minds to. I have watched my students’ motivation and control translate directly into their ability and enthusiasm to connect to and use what we learn every day in class.

Before I assumed my current job position, I was unaware of Conductive Education. Seeing its benefits encourages me as a young educator to spread the word that this program is out there. While it may not be for everyone, I think it is important that families and individuals with neuromotor impairments know that it is an option to consider.

....Switching to this new job so suddenly and so late in the summer was probably the biggest gamble I’ve ever taken — and it turned out to be the best bet I ever made.

Communicating Conductive Education

This posting appeared yesterday on Reality 101, the CEC's blog for new teachers. For those outside North America who don't know what the CEC is, I should explain that it is the Council for Exceptional Children ('exceptional' here meaning having developmental/educational difficulties and disorders). And for those who read this from within North America but who don't know what the CEC is, I do wonder how you think that you are doing to navigate anywhere without even the most basic map of the world in which you hope to be travelling!

Jennifer puts it well. She has obviously used her eyes and her educationalist's judgement – and communicated with her workmates. In her turn, she is now communicating Conducive Education to others, doing it rather better than many within Conductive Education have done, and many of those who have written about it 'academically' too.

Granted, she was speaking to an audience of heavy dudes in a Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament, ordinary citizens, 'lay' people with alert analytic minds and their own common sense and experience to draw upon. Give me an audience like that any day, rather than one with minds sullied and befuddled by years of existing professional ideologies, daft professional misunderstandings of Conductive Education – and professional defensiveness. Audiences like Jennifer's bring out the best in one, the other kind make one want to weep.

Part of a changing world

Jennifer's posting serves as yet another reminder that the world of Conductive Education exists in a wider world, a wider world that, like Conductive Educations, is a dymamic one – i.e. it is is a state of flux, it is changing. Never mind the sudden stress upon existing ways of doing (and therefore thinking) brought on by the economic crisis, in the US as elsewhere, there is also the steady accretionary change of generations' following generations. There comes a point, in CE as in everything else, when accretionary change brings sudden shifts and the bent stick begins to snap. Call this tectonic change, a developmental crisis, whatever, according to your way of looking at the world. What ever you call it, things are no longer the same once it happens, and Humpty Dumpty can never be put back together again.

It has been argued here and elsewhere that Conductive Education is into such a historical crisis. New people are coming forward, young parents and young conductors (and even potentially young researchers), not enchained by old ways of thinking and expressing themselves, by career considerations and even the personal bonds of self-esteem. Perhaps these youngsters have as much (or as more) in common with people similarly placed outside the immediate bounds considered by the too, too parochial CE movement. Young teachers, like Jennifer, for example, potential allies of enormous potential force over the coming years (and let's face it, the old alliances, whatever they might have been, have not got us very far!). It is an added bonus (and perhaps a significant indicator for the future) that Jennifer is an educator, a special educator at that.

One should not forget too that there are also new, young doctors and rehabilitationalists coming up with surely the same potential for unencumbered thinking. It is all too easy from the viewpoint of Conductive Education's often medically encircled wagon train to forget that some of the most radical and questioning people in health care are doctors, usually (though not exclusively) young doctors. And certainly, radical is not synonymous with youth by any mean, nor reaction synonymous with age,in any field. Without my elaborating further here on the first of these points, witness for the second the radical positions routinely published on their blogs by Susie Mallett and Norman Perrin.

Two Thank-Yous, and an apology

Thank you, Jennifer, for what I hope will be a long-term and active participation in the conductive movement. And for your example in articulating your feelings and understanding about CE to such an wide audience (I mean your fellow 'young teachers', not just the dudes!) And thank you too to ConductAbility for introducing you so well to conductive ways.

(Why, oh why are other centres generating such articulate expressions of solidarity? It will happen.Encourage it and it will happen all the sooner)

Sorry, Jennifer, for not finding your full name, the better to credit you with what you write.


By the way, Jennifer did make it to the end of the first round of her poker competition:

'Jennifer' (2010) Jennifer – good bet, Reality 101: CEC's blog for new teachers, 16 March

I should add here that, like so many who find affinity with Conductive Education, whoever they may be, she seems to have come to it with her own a long-term enthusiasm for those essential ingredients, flexibility and change:


  1. Andrew, we're glad you enjoyed Jennifer's post on Conductive Education. Thank you for sharing it with a wider audience.

    -- Anna Baker, CEC staff

  2. Mystery woman outed

    I had wondered whether 'Jennifer' was her real name. It is. She is Jennifer Quincer, of whom Jim Prust now comments on her blog as follows:

    'As a father of one of Jennifer's students and one of the founding board members of ConductAbility, Inc, I can only say that Jennifer is amazing. She brings such positive energy to the classroom and truly understands what we've been doing with conductive education the past eleven years. Thanks, Ms. Quincer!'

    Can't say fairer than that!