Wednesday, 27 October 2010

How Hungarian is 'Conductive Education'?

And of not, what?
Some history!

When I first stumbled unwittingly upon Conductive Education I was already well imbued with the sound comparative-educational principle that educational systems are understandable and explicable only in terms of the societies of which they are a part. This goes for special-educational systems too.

A Hungarian history

When I first beheld Conductive Education it existed only in Hungary, chiefly at the State Institute for Motor Disorders (later the Pető Institute) every nerve and sinew of which was accointed to me vigorously by my mentor and guide, Mária Hári, as stemming solely and directly from András Pető. In 1985 the late Philippa Cottam and I compiled a book to offer some academic basis for our intention to extract Conductive Education from Hungary. In preparing the necessary early chapter on the approach I wrote an account which began with the arrival of the Magyars in Europe, traced the history of the Hungarian monarchy, dealt with the Turkish occupation and then the Hapsburgs, did the Dual Monarchy, the red revolution, Admiral Horthy, and then the Second World War followed by Rakosi, bringing things up to the then present time with Goulash Socialism. From Comenius onwards there were lots of things to say along the way about the emergence of Hungarian education, not least its own determination to succeed and the national determination that it indeed should.

It was easy to slot in András Pető, what incredibly little was known about him (how little has changed!), at the appropriate place, and see the development of the State Institute in a satisfactorily teleological manner – which was, after all, how Mária Hári wanted me and the rest of the world to see things.

I have loved rooting through Hungarian history. Like most people outside Central Europe I had had no previous idea about what had happened in this neck if the words. The people who live there, however, know and treasure their histories, not least among them the Hungarians. It has always been a great pleasure to talk with Central Europeans about matters that are so important to them, such as the Myth of Dacian Continuity, appreciate the delight that the take to find an Englishman who has even heard of such things – and, I have to admit, delight in extraordinary passions that such matters arouse.

I still hold firmly to that comparative-educational principle, and I think that over the years I have gained not too bad an appreciation of Hungarian history, especially the history of the last hundred years or so.

There is only one problem, however: I no longer think that Conductive Education is particularly Hungarian.

Then what?

Let us start at the fons et origio, András Pető himself.
  • He was born into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on the Hungarian side of a then fairly arbitrary border. In the plebiscite at the end of the First World War this mixed area voted to stay in the Kingdom of Hungary. But what was he? Hungarian or Austrian?
  • He was a Jew. What language did he grow up speaking at home? Was it Hungarian? Or German? Or Yiddish?
  • He went to University in Vienna and stayed on there afterwards, to live and work. He became an Austrian citizen. As far as the Nürnberg Laws were concerned of course, he was still a Jew, so so after Ansschluss he could not become German. He moved on. Where to? Paris has been mentioned for a brief stay but then, for whatever reason, he found himself in Hungary.
  • Sometime after the War having toyed with the idea of going to Israel (allegedly), he became a Hungarian citizen, and remained in that country till he died.
Perhaps the search for the conceptual roots of Conductive Education should not have started in Hungary at all, but much more generally across Central Europe, particularly amongst things German. And perhaps they it should be directed less to educational ideas than to the philosophical and medical ideas of Central Europe in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries – perhaps with particular account to Jewish ideas of healing and human affairs (I have in mind here the thinking of Martin Buber but perhaps there are others of equal or greater importance).

What does Hungary have to weigh against all this in the history of relevant ideas?

And how important was András Pető anyway once he had brought together the beginnings of what we now call Conductive Education? To broach this question is not to deny his central importance in establishing central tenets: it merely questions Maria Hari's categorical determination that everything in Conductive Education was of his making. He died in 1967, after which many things have happened. Not least, even before his death, the organisation that he founded out of his own personal rehabilitative practice, had already come under a very different aegis, the Ministry of Education of the Hungarian People's Republic.

This Ministry of Education was not just a Central European Ministry of Education, with its own definite ideas of how educational establishments should be run and what they should teach, it was a Ministry Education in what we in the West used to call a Soviet Satellite. At such, even if at times at the rhetorical level, it would have had its own position of the mutability of human potential and personality through education, and the best means of upbringing and pedagogy to achieve the desired results. As far as the Hungarian state would have been concerned, it seems unlikely to have shared Maria Hari's central concern to maintain the legacy of András Pető, what it would care about would be to ensure that its own educational goals were met.

Mária Hári fought like a fiend against the Ministry, its ministers officials and inspectors – but how much of what I first saw in 1984 was 'Pető' and how much a blend of his legacy, of Maria Hari's interpretation of this and, perhaps very importantly, of the all-prevalent Socialist Education. I have no idea.

And now

Hungary now is only one part of the story, so is Central Europe. Now the stage spreads across continents.

Why? Because 'we' turned up, and appropriated what we could of what we saw, 'we' here being the world outside Hungary.
  • We have demanded the generation of practices that are altogether outside the ken of an education ministry in a distant country in Central Europe (now of course no longer a Socialist one), outside the experience and competence of that one institute to provide, outside of the historical experience of he system and its pioneers. We  have set about trying to adapt it to our own social ends.
  • And the dying Socialist state privatised the Institute that epitomised this practice, with the commercial possibilities of a lucrative export trade very much in mind.
  • And the Iron Curtain tumbled.
  • And a whole new dimension of practice and its development could begin, in the hands of independent conductors and self-determining families.
  • And all along the way there has been no written record to crystalise ot fix Conductive Education as a communicable body of knowledge.
  • And there has been no proper document-based historical study. We may or may not know where we are going – but we certainly do not know where we came from.
Oh yes, that notwithstanding, Hungarian big business, such of it as there is left, has declared the Pető Institute to be a Hungaricum – a uniquely Hungarian export brand.

But er..., is it?

An empirical answer

This posting opens with a question: 'How Hungarian is 'Conductive Education?' It continues by saying that, insofar as this question is open to historical analysis, the immediate self-evident existing answer to this covers some important, unresolved underlying question.

How much is the answer examinable on the basis of contemporary conductive practice?  What of contemporary conductive practice is discernibly Hungarian in its conceptual roots, and what of this survives – or indeed should survive – into families and into institutional practices, and into the training courses established around the world.

How does the legacy of András Pető fit in with with the values, aims and ideals of so many of the families who have been the backbone of its spread around the world – inclusion, empowerment, choice. How far are these even compatible with the style of so much of András Pető's healing, never mind with the system of residential schooling through which that legacy was formalised under Mária Hári.

When Philippa and I published that book it all so seemed so clear and simple. We even chose a front-cover design composed of red, white and green stripes, the Hungarian national colours, a striking motif adapted then as the corporate colours of the Foundation for Conductive Education.

I have played some personal part over the years in promulgating the idea around the world that Conductive Education is Hungarian.

I got it wrong.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Andrew,

    now I have read the original post which I should have done first but I was desperate to answer.

    I can answer some of your questions.

    He was born into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on the Hungarian side of a then fairly arbitrary border. In the plebiscite at the end of the First World War this mixed area voted to stay in the Kingdom of Hungary. But what was he? Hungarian or Austrian?

    -- I andswered this question under the other blog post/article. He was a Hungary-borned Hungarian from Hngarian parents.

    He was a Jew. What language did he grow up speaking at home? Was it Hungarian? Or German? Or Yiddish?
    They did not speak German, we can say this 100% sure. Supposedly I would say they spoke Hungarian (mom is a teacher! dad is a trademen!) and they might have some Yiddish, but Pető himself grew up in a Hungarian environment outside home for sure (schools!)

    ...he found himself in Hungary.
    He went HOME. :-)

    Sometime after the War having toyed with the idea of going to Israel (allegedly), he became a Hungarian citizen, and remained in that country till he died.

    Look Andrew, I have a half jew parent with an Austrian name, guess what she lived in Szombathely (Pető's home town), I have been in the UK for years, and in Italy for a bit before the UK, and I plan to move home some time. If someone ever questions my Hungarianness reading my memoirs, whould he/she be right?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Andrew,

    and the other thing, I missed it when I first read through the article: Szombathely never voted to stay part of Hungary. As far as I know it was Sopron.

    Szombathely is in Vas megye (county?) and it lost a lot of its area after the war, so the border was very near to Szombathely (10 km -- 6 miles), but never actually in Szombathely.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you so much for all this.

    First, oh dear, I can't tell my Szombathelys from my Soprons! No excuse. It was the Sopron plebiscite that epitomised the whole Burgerland question and dodgy (and to me impenetrable) politics whereby the whole boundary issue was settled. I suppose that if I were 'a Hungarian', the whole thing would seem crystal clear.. Not of course that this overly matters in the present context.

    You wrote:

    'They did not speak German, we can say this 100% sure. Supposedly I would say they spoke Hungarian (mom is a teacher! dad is a trademen!) and they might have some Yiddish, but Pető himself grew up in a Hungarian environment outside home for sure (schools!)'

    You are very certain of this, 100%-certain. I have never come across this before. Can you offer a source for it. It is remarkable that he could study medicine in German as a young adult, and go on to write involved Hungarian prose (contrary to what I have been told of how he wrote in Hungarian, but I am no judge of that). This matters little here either, except in that easy adult participation in the German language and culture would have opened far more to him that just medical training but the whole of Viennese intellectual life, and the buzzing ideas within this at that time.

    You also wrote:

    'He went HOME.'

    Not home to Szomathhely he didn't, but to Budapest, a city that surely he had never really known, the capital city of a county that must have seemed a veritable haven after what he would have seen in Vienna following the Anschluss, but still a hostile, alien city with anti-Jewish laws, lacking moreover the sophisticated charms both of the Vienna that he had known as a young adult and the Paris where he had just, allegedly, spent a few months with one of his brothers. Again, whether 'HOME' is a fact of a gloss, this is perhaps not terribly relevant to the question of the ideas he was carrying with him. Presumably, he could have taken these with him to other places (America would have been the most sensible choice). What might have happened then, who knows?

    You mentioned your own personal 'Hungarianness'. You sound to me like a Hungarian (isn't that a dreadful thing to say in 2010!) but what in practice does this mean. You come from a certain (very mixed) gene pool. So what? You speak a particular language. I rather like the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis about the influence of a language upon people's thought processes, but I consider their culture and history, the way that these have been imbued in the family and through the wider organs of society, to be more important, So why do you sound 'Hungarian', rather than, say, British?

    Perhaps because you (and Laci) take the 'Hungarianness' of CE so seriously. To me as a Brit such things do not, I think, matter in quite the same way. As far as I am concerned and even though this feeling is I know not universally shared, you can be a Jew, a half-Jew, an octaroon or whatever, you can have been born here or there, your parents likewise, you can be planning to move on somewhere else or intending to be here for the duration. Who cares? What matters is what you do and who you are, and if your contribution is potentially generalisable, then what goes to make it up.

    And if along the way you become yet another Indian Nobel Prize-winner or Kenyan champion athlete, or one of those footballers, we shall be delighted to claim you as one of our own. If India or Kenya or wherever want to claim a share of the credit, then good luck. And it won't matter a damn.

    I suppose that another contemporary analogy might be the Pakistani lad born in, say Kashmir, who came to the UK in his teens, completed university here, then goes back to Pakistan, and joins the Taleban. Is he 'one of theirs', because he was born there, or 'one of ours' because we educated him and gave him a new passport, or 'one of theirs' because his new life work began in a new home out there?

    Beats me.

    Andrew.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you so much for all this.

    First, oh dear, I can't tell my Szombathelys from my Soprons! No excuse. It was the Sopron plebiscite that epitomised the whole Burgerland question and dodgy (and to me impenetrable) politics whereby the whole boundary issue was settled. I suppose that if I were 'a Hungarian', the whole thing would seem crystal clear.. Not of course that this overly matters in the present context.

    You wrote:

    'They did not speak German, we can say this 100% sure. Supposedly I would say they spoke Hungarian (mom is a teacher! dad is a trademen!) and they might have some Yiddish, but Pető himself grew up in a Hungarian environment outside home for sure (schools!)'

    You are very certain of this, 100%-certain. I have never come across this before. Can you offer a source for it. It is remarkable that he could study medicine in German as a young adult, and go on to write involved Hungarian prose (contrary to what I have been told of how he wrote in Hungarian, but I am no judge of that). This matters little here either, except in that easy adult participation in the German language and culture would have opened far more to him that just medical training but the whole of Viennese intellectual life, and the buzzing ideas within this at that time.

    You also wrote:

    'He went HOME.'

    Not home to Szomathhely he didn't, but to Budapest, a city that surely he had never really known, the capital city of a county that must have seemed a veritable haven after what he would have seen in Vienna following the Anschluss, but still a hostile, alien city with anti-Jewish laws, lacking moreover the sophisticated charms both of the Vienna that he had known as a young adult and the Paris where he had just, allegedly, spent a few months with one of his brothers. Again, whether 'HOME' is a fact of a gloss, this is perhaps not terribly relevant to the question of the ideas he was carrying with him. Presumably, he could have taken these with him to other places (America would have been the most sensible choice). What might have happened then, who knows?

    You mentioned your own personal 'Hungarianness'. You sound to me like a Hungarian (isn't that a dreadful thing to say in 2010!) but what in practice does this mean. You come from a certain (very mixed) gene pool. So what? You speak a particular language. I rather like the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis about the influence of a language upon people's thought processes, but I consider their culture and history, the way that these have been imbued in the family and through the wider organs of society, to be more important, So why do you sound 'Hungarian', rather than, say, British?

    Perhaps because you (and Laci) take the 'Hungarianness' of CE so seriously. To me as a Brit such things do not, I think, matter in quite the same way. As far as I am concerned and even though this feeling is I know not universally shared, you can be a Jew, a half-Jew, an octaroon or whatever, you can have been born here or there, your parents likewise, you can be planning to move on somewhere else or intending to be here for the duration. Who cares? What matters is what you do and who you are, and if your contribution is potentially generalisable, then what goes to make it up.

    And if along the way you become yet another Indian Nobel Prize-winner or Kenyan champion athlete, or one of those footballers, we shall be delighted to claim you as one of our own. If India or Kenya or wherever want to claim a share of the credit, then good luck. And it won't matter a damn.

    I suppose that another contemporary analogy might be the Pakistani lad born in, say Kashmir, who came to the UK in his teens, completed university here, then goes back to Pakistan, and joins the Taleban. Is he 'one of theirs', because he was born there, or 'one of ours' because we educated him and gave him a new passport, or 'one of theirs' because his new life work began in a new home out there?

    Beats me.

    Andrew.

    ReplyDelete