Monday, 22 March 2010

What words mean

And the harm that they can do

Conductive Education in Wonderland

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. 'It means just what I choose it to mean – neither more or less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master – that's all.'

Words are power. Not its only source of course (there is always the barrel of a gun) but power nevertheless. As ever, Lewis Carroll was not joking, There is a very real truth behind this passage from Through the Looking Glass. Carroll's two books created a dark and sinister dream world (as those who have seen the recent film Alice in Wonderland will have been vividly reminded) – and I am not the first to quote him to help situate the crazy, mad world in which Conductive Education wanders hapless and lost.

Conductive Education as therapy

In the very real struggle between the forces of light and those of darkness, words are amongst the weapons deployed.

The following entry appeared a month ago on a Canada-based website for parents, The Special Life

Conductive Education Therapy for Cerebral Palsy
Conductive Education is based on the idea of teaching the body to move by way of appropriate teaching methods and repetition.  Intentional movement is integrated into tasks and practiced repeatedly in order to create new neural pathways allowing more controlled muscle movement. Another key aspect of conductive education is that the therapy is integrated with the tasks of daily living, allowing for maximum opportunities to practice the movement and strengthen the new neural pathways. Conductive Education was developed in Hungary over 60 years ago and has only started to become popular in North America in the last decade or so. General consensus is that the this type of therapy does result in slow, steady progress.

Readers of Conductive World will find plenty of specifics to fault in this brief passage (I counted half a dozen or so). In commenting on this faulty information for parents Norman Perrin rightly let these specifics pass and instead responded to the fundamental misstatement of Conductive Education as therapy –

Some confusion about 'conductive education' as therapy
by Norman Perrin
Hello
With respect... you write Conductive Education Therapy. Does it not strike you as you write this that there is a conflict between "education" as in "conductive education" and "therapy"? I'm quite sure that when you think of schools you think of education - not therapy. Conductive Education is a system of education – not therapy.The clue is in its name.

To this the Editor of The Special Life replied in turn –

Thanks Norman for pointing out the incongruence. You're right, it is an odd name to be used for therapy. However, I'm not alone is seeing it used that way. In fact, most often I've come across the term 'conductive education' when described as a type of therapy. Since the methodology is in 'education' of the muscle response is key – it doesn't really deserve the name 'education', in my mind anyway.
:-)
I prefer to think of the term 'education' as adding a different type of knowledge. My guess though is that the odd term may well have been an odd translation from the original Hungarian.

Nem, nem, soha *

Norman began his response with that much-heard phrase 'With respect...' I have never used this phrase myself. I always cringe when I hear or read it, since – in British usage anyway – it invariably implies the exact opposite of what the words convey.

Maybe that is what Norman wished to imply. Myself I prefer to call a spade a spade. I have no respect whatsoever for trying to pass it off as a bloody shovel.

'Selling' Conductive Education as a therapy, when it is nothing of the sort, has misled countless families into unnecessary and sometimes painful financial expense, it has raised hopes that can only be dashed, brought Conductive Education into disrespect, consigning it ready packaged for dismissal at the hands of its enemies and however unwittingly, conspired to put off yet further the day when motor disorders can be unproblematically seen as requiring special education and upbringing as does any other developmental disability.

I accept that the conductive movement bears a share of responsibility for such a situation situation from its own unthinking verbal usages, from its general failure to present an articulate ikon of the pedagogy and upbringing through which it works, and by not standing up for itself on a broad front whenever 'CE as therapy;' rears its head. I know that all this takes time and there are more pressing and even better things to be doing in life in life – and I admit personally to not doing enough myself in this respect. We all admit it – and nothing happens.

I have no respect for saying 'OK, that's what a world of naïve or ignorant people say and want, so I shall just have to go along with it.' (That is the same attitude that has held the door wide open for mechanistic understandings of what constitutes Conductive Education's research priorities.)

I am sure that The Special Life means well but when it comes in living with or providing for disability, as is so many other things, meaning well is not necessarily doing good, however strongly one asserts one's good intentions. Disabled children, their families and those who work with them deserve so much better than this.

Sticks and stones

It is not that long since the Pol Pot tendency in British disability and inclusion was publicly preaching that Conductive Education leads on to the slippery slope to lethal injections and the gas chambers. As Conductive Education no longer occupies such public high ground that it did in the UK twenty years ago, so the steam seems to have gone out of this position but it held powerful sway in schools and other public provision and made its contribution to undermining the momentum established by the early pioneers in the public enthusiasm for Conductive Education.

No matter that this position's protagonists have now moved on, their ill-informed, anti-progressive views wreaked harm for many whose lives could have been otherwise so much better.

One can almost regret how, in the liberal democracies, erroneous ideological positions (albeit in many instances unthinkingly held) cannot be brought somehow directly to account for the human damage that they occasioned (I am not of course thinking here solely not solely of opposition to Conductive Education).

As frequently remarked on Conductive World, words and language matter, meaning matters. The notion of Conductive Education as therapy is not just a glib phrase, it perpetuates the ideology that 'physical' disability is a medical matter, something that can be cured, rather that the basis of a derailment of social-psychological development that can be set back on the tracks by appropriate psycho-social means – by pedagogy and upbringing.

Careless talk costs understanding. The disabled and their families, and those who work with them, deserve better.

And remember what befell Humpty Dumpty. Let Conductive Education be wrecked and we may not be able to put it back together again.

* No, no, never

Reference

– (2010) Conductive Education: therapy for cerebral palsy, The Special Life: tips and tools for special needs, 16 February

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