Tuesday, 31 May 2011

ANN MINTRAM

Kiwi's pivotal contribution to world CE story

The early contributions to a social movement, even when absolutely pivotal, can so easily drop out of collective consciousness, however much such contributions may have affected the lives of people today. Without Ann's intervention thirty or so years ago the lives of everyone currently touched by Conductive Education would have been be immeasurably different.

Conductive World has only once before mentioned Ann, just over three years ago, in an item on what English-speakers erroneously call 'verbal regulation
The enormous psycho-pedagogical tradition of which the work of Luriya and Vygotskii were important parts were not taken up in the West outside a very narrow group. It was when examining Soviet defectological approaches and achievements that I myself toyed with ‘verbal regulation’ – at which time my then student Ann Mintram (now retired in New Zealand) said something like ’Have you heard of Conductive Education? It looks just like what you were talking about?' But that’s another story
It is time that more of this story be told. I was recently prompted to dive into my memory, from which I produced the following account that might be of wider interest, in New Zealand and elsewhere...

In 1979 I worked for part of my time in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham, supervising the odd postgraduate dissertation and researching Soviet education and psychology. Inevitably, the two at times overlapped.

That year I was approached by a New Zealander called Ann Mintram who was at the University for a year doing an MEd in Special Education. She had heard one of my lectures and followed up by reading something that I had written, about a diagnostic technique in the the Soviet Union involving motor coordination. She wondered whether she might do a dissertation on trying it out in Birmingham.

She explained to me that she had been a physical education teacher in NZ but, finding herself getting a bit long in the tooth, decided to move on to something else, the education of children with physical disabilities. She had not wanted, however, to do something that she was not trained for and looked for an appropriate training to prepare her for this second career.

The NZ Government used to be very generous with training scholarships to the UK but by 1979 there was no longer any specific training for teaching such children in the UK. Birmingham University at that time was still a major centre for special education research and teaching so she came there with the intention of patching together relevant study and experiences for herself relevant to her chosen field. She was successful in this, and I was part of what she arranged.

Her studies went well, and so did her dissertation. Towards the end of the summer term she came to me with some copies of photocopied handouts that she had obtained from another student living in the hostel where she was living.

'Did you know that there is something very like what you are talking about, in a school in Sussex?' she asked.

No I did not, and the prosperous south coast of England was the last place that one would look to find a Soviet bridgehead!

She passed me the photocopies sheets of paper and they both excited and puzzled me. Yes, there were references to Soviet work, and yes, the work described at that school, apparently derived from Hungary, was strangely evocative. Remember, this was still the time of the Cold War, and Hungary was behind the Iron Curtain, firmly under Soviet control. So what was going on here? I opened a file, and promised Ann that I should keep an eye out, and perhaps find out more.

'There's a short course on this at the school at the start of next term, but I shan't be able to go on on it because I shall be back home in New Zealand,' she told me, 'so I've put your name down for it.'

Ah Kiwis. Do they ever accept No for an answer?

So that September, with Ann now back home in Auckland, off I went to this funny little three-day course, run by Ester Cotton. A sequence of events followed over the next few years, leading directly to the explosion of world interest in Conductive Education in 1986 following broadcast of Standing up for Joe.

So, in a very important sense, it was a NZer who started off the whole process of internationalising Conductive Education.

I have long since lost touch with Ann....

The above is a reminiscence only. The tale merits proper documentation – when I can manage it!

Reference

Sutton, A (2008) The Soviet connection, Conductive World, 9 April

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