Friday, 4 June 2010

Just let your conscience be your guide – 2

The extra ingredient in 'Conductive Education'

From my recollection of the animated film, Pinocchio's humanity depended not simply upon imparting vitality of his limbs. He had a continual companion, Jiminy Cricket, who added an extra, moral factor, a conscience. In the film, Jiminy Cricket sat on Pinocchio's shoulder, and spoke directly into his ear.

Over my years involved with Conductive Education I have frequently benefited from just such Jiminy Crickets. They know who they are. They have not minded my lack of moral restraint when it has come to dealing with the enemies of Conductive Education – however wicked I thought I was being I could never hope to match some of the unmitigated evil that I met on that front. If along the way I did manage to create a little distress and mayhem in confounding the machinations of the enemies, then so much the better.

No, their contribution was to bring me up sharp if they spotted that I was not keeping the interests and dignity of families firmly to the forefront in what I said, wrote and did. I have learned an awful lot from my Jiminy Crickets.

Many of those who have taken up the cause of Conductive Education have been parents (grandparents etc.) themselves. They have had no need of such Jiminy Crickets, their 'conscience' in this respect comes in-built. Their needs have usually been 'technical' – better information and understanding of what the system itself and the various social systems in which it becomes inevitably entangled.

I presume that those who like myself do not have this in-built facility find their own personal access to one, like I have done, and respond accordingly. Of course, in writing 'I presume...' like this I am indulging in some pretty heavy-handed British irony. In fact, I would hope that they do – and I know damn well that to varying degrees that, though some do, many others do not.

To put it less obliquely, there are conductors, administrators, fund-raisers, administrators, researchers, perhaps others too, out there, who are part of the conductive movement (perhaps vital members of their institutions) who do not have a Jiminy Cricket on their shoulders, speaking the voice of families into their ears.

Maybe some of them might readily admit this and, further, vigorously assert that then nature of their particular role actually requires that they do not. In certain instances, they be right, Without rather more transparency about such considerations, though, and the opportunities that this would bring to discuss such matters openly, then we are unlikely to know.

And the conductive movement as a whole? Where is the current balance of implicet allegiance amongst those within it? To a large degree parents still foot the bill – and carry the can – and have a disabled child at then heart of their families. But, as one used to ask, what about the workers?

Quite a few conductors, for example, came into Conductive Education as direct result of having a disabled child or adult in their families. They presumably (and I mean it here) import their family conscience and consciousness into their practice. Others, however, live or work in contexts in which they too learn from their own personal Jiminy Crickets. And the others, what influences might they experience?

Historical change

What we now call 'Conductive Education' sprang from the personal rehabilitative and habilitatative practice of András Pető. His practice was his own and, as this grew into a small 'institute', this was his own personal satrapy. I suspect that any Jiminy Cricket would have soon been swatted out of existence in that context.

Becoming a 'state institute' in the Hungarian People's Republic left little room for individual conscience and for individual goals and values. Nor did its being subsequent absorbing into the Ministry of Education, as a residential school and later as a training college too. And whatever her manifest virtues, Mária Hári was no human-rights democrat. Then. as the monolith of the People's Republic began to fall apart at the end of the nineteen-nineties, individual rights and human values were not the prime priority for importation from the capitalist West – instead Pető's Institute became a business.

At the same time, largely at the behest and to the cost of families from the Western world, exercising just that personal choice and that financial discretion that most Hungarians had never known, 'Conductive Education' began to come out of Hungary in a big way.

None of this, by the way, is to suggest that the work of the State (and later the Pető) Institute has not been shot through with moral values. They are so powerful that you can often 'feel' them in the work and in the conversation of conductors. But 'feeling' them is as far as you will be likely go since, as far as I know, they have not been presented formally and explicitly – and I have yet to come across a conductor able to articulate them. They are implicit, and none the less powerfully expressed for that, but I cannot suggest to you what they might be.

Nor of course does it ignore the values, the spirit, the 'soul' that is inherent to the very fabric of the practice of conductive pedagogy and upbringing, the Seele that is cardinal to András Pető's Heilung. Here too, though, is something that remains implicit. Seek al;most holly in vain for it in such textbooks that you can find, in the other published print 'literature' of Conductive Education, look out for it in the programmes of professional meetings in the sector (ssek only on the CE-blogosphere). No wonder this essential component of the whole process has been whollt ignored by those who propose to 'research' Conductive Education.

To achieve the delivery of this unexplicated component, the professional preparation of conductors is a socialisation as much as a 'training' or even an 'education', and within this, even the core activity of  technical transmission – learning from Nellie – is a powerful means whereby this moral framework is also transmitted.

A new stage and a new quality?

What developed in Hungary, out of the not-very-Hungarian ideas and practice of András Pető and in the unlikely framework of a Sovietised education system, is a remarkably complex edifice, the structure and content of which are all the more remarkable for being to no little part unspoken. This edifice is now, however, being re-erected and adapted to local climates and materials in all sorts of new social and cultural contexts, bearing little or no comparison to the circumstances of its original construction. (The words 'climate' and 'materials', of course, are here used metaphorically!)

As has been frequently expressed on the pages of Conductive World, the English term 'Conductive Education' in a mistranslation that dates from the nineteen-sixties and confuses Hungarian expressions for 'conductive pedagogy' and 'conductive upbringing'. In the ensuing mix-up, very important technical distinctions have been lost and considerable advantage lost to the advance of Conducive Education outside Hungary. The issue here is not, however, technical but to do with values and ethics.

In the Hungarian People's Republic, a technically expressed basis for conductive pedagogy and upbringing was perhaps appropriate to the time and place. Indeed, a basis expressed in terms of values, other of course than those supposed to underpin the whole of social life ,would not have been possible helpful. When, however, the workers (conductors) and their practices started re-establishing themselves in very different social-economic contexts –'the West' – swimming in a sea of very different values, then the very theoretical base that had supposedly underpinned the People's Republics would predict significant infrastructural changes both within practices and their social relations – and inevitably, therefore, within the social values of the work.

It already becoming slowly clear that the mistranslated term 'Conductive Education' – its technical insufficiencies aside – may be attaching to a new, 'fusion' approach, not simply a mechanical addition of two existing concepts

conductive pedagogy + conductive upbringing

but something infused with a third factor, something completely new.

So far such fusion is certainly far from a fully fledged satisfactory synthesis – at least not generally It has to be accepted that some contexts are considerably I advance of others). The Hungarian technical advances (and the implicit though unstated moral values of Hungarian 'conductive culture' as well) that have been handed down osmotically from András Pető to Mária Hári and beyond, though health institute to education establishment, from Stalinism to Gulash Socialism to commercial capitalism. In the Western liberal democracies what has been imported from Hungary, technical and ethical, has to sit with (and depend upon) notions of parental rights and parental choice, and with analogous forces in adult work. It confronts major issues around inclusion, social and educational, and disability rights, and it does so in close connection with who are often amongst the strongest advocates of such progressive understandings – no simple answers here! Then it also meets complex questions of personal and professional autonomy and responsibility, financial initiative and the individual's relationship to the state and its functionaries.

The first stage of the internationalisation of Conductive Education – simple exportation – is now over. This exportation has been poorly and clumsily and poorly achieved but, be that as it may, conductive practices have been established with varying success in a bewildering range of contexts. The next stage – fusion – is representably a more complex formula

(conductive pedagogy + conductive upbringing) x a notion of rights

Personal experience suggests that in some places and some individuals there have been important advances made, on both sides – while there are certainly instances where nothing of substance changes. The conductive culture into which conductors are so strongly and successfully socialised is not all sweetness and light, far from it. It includes an authoritarian streak that may experienced as bullying (by clients, assistant staff and even fellow conductors) and a degree of defensiveness and closeness about the work that may amount to a paranoia precluding all sensible enquiry or discussion. Such discordant traits are by no means exclusive to Hungarian conductors – nor, I suspect, are the general to Hungarian academic and professional life as a whole. And on the other side, what are the analogous flaws that need to be worked on to create the needed synthesis of a new Conductive Education? Maybe some conductors might like to oblige...

The conductive movement may or may not be successful in creating a new quality, a new fusion, a new Conductive Education. It might not ever satisfactorily do so of course, in which case its days are likely numbered. If it is to succeed, the essential mechanism will be open communication, including some straight talking, within what may still be regarded as different 'sides' within the movement – and within this individual Jiminey Crickets may have to play and essential role, and they will have to be heeded.

In summary, the 'content' of  Conductive Education might be viewed hierchically, like the little puppet for whom becoming animated was not in itself enough till he acquired the conscience that would make him fully human:
  • movement
  • cognitive control
  • moral purpose
It is hard to see how any part of this could really be expected to 'work' without the other two, or how the whole could be meaningfully reduced to its component parts.

Critical comments are welcome...

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