Thursday, 11 March 2010

A critical correspondence

Towards reconstructing Conductive Education

Following Wednesday's posting on Conductive World, I wrote to Vikki and Donnie via Facebook to thank them. With Vikki's agreement I publish here, in full, the quick, intense correspondence that followed over the course of the following day (times are GMT), to see where it might lead.

Viktoria Szolnoki 10 March at 08:46

Thank you, Andrew. Hopefully some more parents will read the discussion now. I don't know how else to get to them. A lot of parents I know are raising money for some crazy therapy and it's painful to watch.


Andrew Sutton 10 March at 09:02

More than painful, heartbreaking, especially for me when the 'therapy' in question is some strange vision of Conductive Education.

For years I have said with respect to all these supposed therapies that I don't blame the parents, I blame the established system of professions and services for leaving families so desperate and so unprepared.

With specific respect to Conductive Education I now feel, with very great regret, that a similar analysis is possible, and perhaps necessary. I don't blame parents for what they might spend their money on under the name of Conductive Education. Instead I consider the missed responsibilities and opportunities that are down to Conductive Education itself.


Viktoria Szolnoki 10 March at 09:47

No, the parents are not to blame. They are the victims, not the offenders. They are desperate and they would do anything, and the hoards of wolves out there take advantage of them, with the professional world kindly discussing this between themselves, and nobody helping the parent.

When it comes to Conductive Education, I think we did it so terribly wrong... I read most of the 'research' I had access to through the Cochrane Library and PubMed and ERIC. The methodology in these are so obviously flawed at every point, they look like they were hastily put together by amateurs and funded possibly by some local authorities desperately trying to prove that 'it doesn't work', so they don't have to provide it and can keep the existing system. It's beyond me to understand all the politics behind this, but we're certainly down in a deep hole.

CE went to the West all those years ago being backed up by not much more than anecdotes, through the media, making it inevitably look like a 'controversial practice'. Whoever stood up by it often made more harm than good through fatal misunderstandings and bad translations. Those were often provided by conductors, who had no understanding of anything other than their own language and culture. It's really bad luck...


Andrew Sutton 10 March at 09:51

I am afraid that I was one of ' Whoever stood up by it...'


Viktoria Szolnoki 10 March at 10:13

You paid CE a huge service unlike others and you weren't the one who spread the B.S. It's just unlucky that there weren't a hundred more Andrews with a lot of power to drown the voice of those 'academics' who 'can't see the forest because there's a tree in the way' – as we say in Hungary.


Andrew Sutton 10 March at 10:33

What' 'BS'?


Viktoria Szolnoki 10 March at 10:44

It's 'bullshit'...


Andrew Sutton 10 March at 10:55

It's very nice of you to say that but I have certainly made grave errors, tactical and strategic. No matter now, it's history (though one may learn something from the past). What matters now is correcting old mistakes, trying to restrain those who determinedly repeat them and, most important of all, admitting that much of what has been done is WRONG and do some of the radical rethinking and painful adjustment necessary to get the show back on the road.

I agree with you about the culpability, mendacity and negative destructive force of so much 'research' (actually in many cases no more than clumsy attempts at evaluation) but I do not regard the academics, or even their paymasters, as having been Conductive Education's major problem over the last twenty of so years. Far more important have been the bewildered energy and uninformed faith of families – and the 'politics' around what they have tried to do that come inevitably when there is money and status and career to be generated (i.e. from 'the professionals', amongst whom must now also be counted conductors).

Sad to say, there is no simple narrative for either side of this equation (and few obvious 'goodies' and Baddies'). All of us are in some way trapped in how it pans out. We are all in one sense victims and at the same time we are all in a way to blame.

Step 1 towards a new future will be for some at least to admit to the problem, as essential prerequisite to solving it.


Viktoria Szolnoki 10 March at 21:16

Well, I have to agree. As I wrote before, I just feel we're down in a deep hole, but when it comes to strategies to climb out, I'm in the dark.

Besides the damage that academics have done, I have to tell that we conductors have plenty of reasons to blame ourselves. Conductors often say incredibly silly things, which often comes down to the unfortunate fact that thoughts that make sense in Hungarian don't make sense when they're translated into English words. The language barrier continues to be a huge problem. When conductors say what they say, it is then badly misunderstood by parents, journalists, and at the end nobody knows what they're talking about. A lot of parents, who have been in the CE world for ten years or so, think CE is a day-long exercise program and is interchangeable with intensive therapy. How did this happen?

Then a lot of frustration comes from conductors saying things that are not true. Last year at the conference a conductor twenty years my senior was on the opinion that we're working towards the aim of institutionalizing the British children because that's how CE worked in Hungary. Well, we're not. She's delusional.

I have a forwarded email sent to a parent by an older conductor explaining that CE can only be done in a group, so the parent has to work on organizing a group before she can use the services of a conductor. That's just wrong. CE can, and has to be done all the time in someone's home, which never, ever means 'having to exercise the child'. A conductor around instructing the approach, routine and activity changes and how-tos are close to the best thing that can happen. And we didn't even mention all that a conductor can do at a mainstream school.

I perceive the problems about CE to be so deep-rooted and so diverse. It is frustrating because I know I can approach individual parents but the changes made feel like a drop of water in the ocean.


I leave the last word here to Vikki. It is not of course the last word! I know that over the years I have talked with a vast number of conductors and non-conductors, providers and service users, who have view as trenchant as Vikki's – or more so. It has been very rare, however, to read these – and almost unheard of to read them in the public domain as here.

Vikki's views as expressed above focus upon particular points – and take a particular critical orientation. There are of course other points to be made – and other viewpoints to be take. It has been a continuing gripe here on Conductive World that so few people take a critical public position within and around Conductive Education. The inevitable result is that the overall public position is uncritical, there is no substantial problem, there is nothing needing to be fixed. Everything in Conductive Education is so nice, for the best of all possible worlds, and so it all goes on.

Also proposed in Conductive World has been the broad generalisation that, with the pioneer generation in the internationalisation of Conductive Education now almost gone, the cutting edge of the 'conductive movement', its practical and moral leadership, will now 'skip a generation', with substantial advance having increasingly to come from the new generation, particularly the new generation of parents and conductors.

Well,what do you have to say on this?


Sutton, A. (2010) Give me a squadron of Donnies and Vikkies, Conductive World, 19 March


  1. Andrew and Viki,

    Thank you for sharing with the public your correspondence. I have read the exchange of emails with great excitement, a conductor finally expressed opinion very honestly and without hesitancy; with passion and care…perhaps this is the beginning of a proper professional dialogue which may lead to the development of an academic discourse of CE??!!

    It is not a lot what people can do about how CE has been interpreted, applied, developed and advocated by a range of people, conductors, parents, professionals and academics all around the world; it is the past but history does not stop there!!!. What is published about CE will be always there until someone says otherwise in a more contemporary and convincing manner, supported by meaningful evidence. For years and years we went on to discuss the need to nurture conductors into a culture where they would reflect on practice, talk about their work, start sharing experiences, challenges and dilemmas which by time may turn into some professional dialogue as would be expected from many professionals in the 21st century. For this now we need new voices and an ability to engage with critical discussion, as Andrew say we need a critical orientation. I do not deny the existence of lots of awareness raising events, local and national conferences, but I am rather sceptical in respect of their influence; many of these are not disseminated at all; perhaps I am wrong to assume that they are for this purpose…

    Perhaps your generation Viki will take on this job. Maybe others may have very similar thoughts just does not know where, how and why to express it. We hear the least from conductors themselves. Perhaps your opinion will encourage others to have their say.

    Having been in CE for a long time, then moving on from being a conductor to a different area but keeping my passion and interest in my original profession, perhaps I understand now more the necessity of making effort to get out from the ‘deep hole’ as you describe the state of CE. I also feel that we are in the 24th hour and if internationally no effort will be made to address this deficiency it is hard to believe that CE will develop further on firm professional foundations and a strong and competent workforce.

  2. PS
    Of course here I talk in very generic terms without denying the importance and significance of some excellent examples such as the individual blogs on Conductive World, number of people with different perspectives, who speak up and out influencing with small but significant steps what is happening around the world in different areas of CE.
    However to make a real difference we need a critical mass. Viki’s correspondence with Andrew is a new voice, an additional one and the more is better to develop that critical orientation which we need so desperately.

  3. I hope this publication of frank opinion will encourage others to speak out and discuss, as Tunde says. Perhaps it may even lead to it be written down in an accessible way and provide the sort of literature I was hoping to be able to add to the National Library of Conductive Education for years! Please no more about using the principles, let us have something about what CE is, what it can offer, how it can offer it, and why everyone involved should stand up for it, and speak out whenever necessary - even if they are disagreeing, because as long as they can justify their opinion others will hopefully take note.

  4. I have been composing a comment to post here for hours, actually since last night when I was too sad after reading this posting to even think about writing my own, new joyous postings.

    I have had no luck in posting the comment and it is now too long anyway to fit in the space provided.

    I have emailed it to Andrew. He can do as he wishes with it.

    I cannot agree with Gill's sentiments more, thank you for stepping in and looking on the bright side of life as I always try to do too.

    I hope that what will be written down in the future will be about how Conductive Upbringing should be and how it often is, and not the self- critisism that is digging everyone further down in that deep hole.

    More about this if Andrew gets my comment up for me.


  5. I am a young conductor, taught at NICE and my conductive career is only just beginning, and I found it hard to read this conversation and the comments that followed. The first comment I would like to make is that in any profession you get people that are good or bad at their art and CE is no exception. There are good and bad conductors!

    CE has and will continue to encounter problems as it evolves and develops, but are conductors not problem solvers? I believe we have the potential and are capable of overcoming these difficulties to come out the other side, or maybe you just think I am naive. I believe we need to address the problems in a positive way, is that not what CE is all about?

    With regards to comments about language and translation of CE into another language I would also like to comment. I am an English conductor working in a foreign country (Brazil) and Vikki I can say you are right, translation from one language to another can be misinterpreted and misleading. That does not mean that CE should not be introduced to new countries, again I believe it depends on the condutor. I know direct translation does not work, I have made that mistake and it has created confusion in the past, but I also learn't from it. I spent time learning the language, understanding the culture and the people,I sought to find the right phrases and I am very proud of what I have achieved. I believe CE exists in Brazil, and I don't believe it has in any means lost any of its spirit and power along the way. Conductive Education needs to be flexible, please note this is different to change.

    I am very positive about my future within CE and have great plans. I want to be working in CE in 20 years so to read that others think we are in a "deep hole" worries me. I don't know you Vikki but if you read this I would be interested to know what you think?

    To finish as I said I plan to be here in 20 years time, doing what I love and I know that is not going to be an easy ride, but I am up for the fight, as I know are many other new conductors.


  6. Becky,
    reading you is like reading myself a few years back :-). I thought, just like you, that there are 'good and bad conductors'just like good and bad ones in any other profession. (I still think it, but I wouldn't say it any more out loud...)

    You're right and CE is all about addressing problems in a positive way. Yes, conductors are problem solvers. I really wish one day we came out the other side as you're putting it, and if we don't believe it's possible it's probably better if we just turn around and leave. It's not, under any circumstances naive to believe that there are solutions to problems. Please don't lose any of your faith.
    What triggers discussions like this is years, years, and years of frustration of looking into the faces of various professionals and all kinds of 'educated people' who demand 'proof'. I know how wonderful CE is, I know it's magic; and what do I tell to the 'smart person' who tells me 'CE has been proven not to work better than the existing services'? It doesn't work if i tell them 'yes, it does, because I know', or if I tell them stories of individual children. It may, however, help to point out the flaws in their research, which are plenty, and it would also help immensely to get that 'proof' to satisfy them (however little this counts to us, conductors, as we don't need such proof, it's ridiculous, right?). The unfortunate fact that the academic world mentions us on the same page with 'alternative therapy' is standing in the way of our advancement.
    On the last note, believe me, there is really something 'totally wrong' with Hungarian! :-) It just doesn't translate well. It's driving me NUTS on a daily basis, and it does indeed cause a lot of trouble for the Hungarian conductors. The solution here is learning (no suprise!), doing it the way exactly as you describe it.