Saturday, 9 April 2011


What to do for the best?

Yesterday on my Facebook page I comment unfavourably upon something just sent me by Google Alerts:

....focused therapeutic exercise program called Conductive Education to help repair or form new connections from the brain to the muscles'

Not the first sighting of such a 'new connection', by a far too long chalk, but I did feel that this one was boldly going into a new dimension, out into the peripheral nervous system, to which I commented –

This seem to be a peculiarly North American CE-myth, stemming (I think) from uncritical repetition of a remark in the commentary of a TV news report some years back, perhaps growing in its retelling.
One wonders what such proposed reconstruction of the peripheral nervous system is supposed to mean in biological reality, and how anyway it would relate to the nature of CNS-based anomalies of development and living, such as cerebral palsy and stroke.
Why do people say things like this?
Why do others let them get away with it?

Susie Mallett and Anna Wittig chipped in.  Here is an edited version of what they said.

Susie developed my point –

...many similar statements, as you say, can be found in many videos and websites about conductive education, conductive pedagogy, conductive therapy, Pető therapy etc., and they are spreading the word very fast. I often ask, as you do here, why do people say things like this? I ask, even more often, why do people who are conductors say things like this, and not only in America? Where does this information come from? And as you ask here, I also ask “Why do others let them get away with it?” I do not have any answers just more questions. What can we do? How can we prevent it spreading like it is?  There is enough in the Internet to read about what conductive pedagogy is, with no mention of changing brains, and I certainly did not learn as a student, or since, that it has anything to do with new connections in the brain.

Anna responded –
  • Susie, I did ask someone lately why they use this neurotosh and apparently it is to sell CE.,,, organisations trying to sell their product.... I think this is a very dangerous short-term solution. People who are looking for cures to their brains in general do not stick with CE for long, because a lifestyle change is hard work and mostly not what they hoped (and even signed up for). I think we in CE should stick to what we know. By the way have you noticed how little news coverage there is lately of CE that doesn't have braintosh? I tried to get some newspaper to come around but without braintosh and reality it seems like CE is not newsworthy. It doesn't hit the Zeitgeist of neuroplasticity.
Susie responded in return –

Yes, I suspect that the neuro-tosh is to sell something, but not conductive pedagogy. And not to the people who are looking for a way to bring up their children. The buyers as you say will be those looking for a cure, who will soon leave, disappointed that it is not what they signed up for. What happens when someone starts asking the people who are talking about brains questions about how this works? There are no answers, there is no cure, neurologists do not know very much about what happens in brains. Looking a fool is not going to sell any amount of CE. If you look at the TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson... you will hear education being talked about in a way that would give space to conductive pedagogy without any mention of brains... It is interesting that on the new site of the Belgian parents there are four videos, with brains and some without. I wonder which way the scales will tip there. My French is not good enough to know whether this is intentional or not. The question still remains 'What can we do about it?' How can we survive doing what we know in a time when the Zeitgeist requires us to do something we do not know? Something that I have found is that since I have become involved in the schooling of children, who have been brought up conductively from two or three years of age, the emphasis is on education rather than on therapy. It is also less on changing brains and more on learning and transforming and making every wish a possibility. I find the same when working with adults who are hoping to return to jobs, to driving a car, or to their lives as parents and partners. We discuss changes in lifestyles, transformations in how we approach problems. We discuss how to make wishes a possibility. We steer clear of the neuro-tosh. Anne we can, I hope, survive on selling what we know and do, until the Zeitgeist allows us to flourish.

In response to specific points raised 

Facebook serves well to launch discussion topics. It is perhaps not so good as a platform for the actual discussion. Here are my own thoughts on what has been said on this topic so far –

  • One source of the specific notion promoted here probably originated in the highly hyped and much linked-to CBS report 'Mind and muscle…'. The TV company must have got the idea from somewhere, but whether it came from the production team itself or from somebody at Aquinas College we may never know.
  • The 'new connections' story – usually set 'in the brain' – is more widely spread and goes back quite a long way. Apart from obvious factors at work her, such as wish-of Communism, in any sector concerned with human learning, would have known this – and felt the need to parrot aspects of it whether they understood or agreed with it or not. Some of this drifted into the CE 'literature', and may have helped nudge some people towards 'new neural connections' etc. As a remedy, I recommend a good course in Luriya!
  • Why do we let others get away with it? I can speak only for myself. I find myself in a contradictory position – and I am too soft. My position is contradictory in that I dearly wish that more people in CE, users and providers (especially conductors) would speak out, describe what they do, explain what it is that makes CE so special. When some do this, I have applauded for the sake of the individual involved, and drawn attention to it pour encourage les autres. I do not wish to carp over specifics: it makes me sound a miserable old curmudgeon and, more importantly, might discourage the very actions that I wish to encourage. So I tend to take the soft option. I suspect that I may be remiss in this – striking the wrong balance. In future I should of course still give due praise, but at the same time vey gently point out that some of the things said by the ingenue are wrong and may be actively harmful to the cause. Two current buggaboos going round at the moment are the 'neuro' epidemic and, more parochially, the astonishing resurgence of the 'five principle'. There are too many instances of both to do them retrospective honours but I will try as kindly as possible to follow this line in future. I do hope that others will join me. 
  • As for the Zeitgeist, there's the final frontier for you., Crack that and CE and the other transformative pedagogies (cognitive educations) will have no further problems! Don't ask me how to do this – if only I knew!. In the meantime, it is worth remarking that the neuro Zeitgeist that both Susie and Anne mention is an ignorant Zeitgeist – pop science rather than the peak of human understanding. People in CE should be operating at a higher level of scientific understanding than this Zeitgeist, and drawing reassurance from what is said by the better class of brain scientists (and psychologists, and educators).  fulfillment, the wish for prestige, there is perhaps a simple misunderstanding of something within neuropsychology.  A. R. Luria and the Soviet psychologists, and before them the physiologist I. P. Pavlov, were concerned with establishment of temporary connections. All those working in Hungary in the post-War years, up to the fall
There is plenty else to elaborate on and criticise on this posting. Do feel free, via the comments below, on Facebook of you prefer, or elsewhere.  And as usual, if you have a problem using Blogger's Comments system, email me and I shall post what you want to say for you:

The general term for unconsidered and ill-informed discussion around the brain is 'neurobabble'.

On Facebook I dismissed the particular statement quoted here with the word 'neuro-tosh'. On reflection, I prefer the term 'neurotrash', for both its obvious but differing associations in American and in British English.

Ken Robinson's TED talk:

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