Sunday, 31 July 2011

Turning in the grave

Souls go marching on

This week on my Facebook page I posted links to two videos recently published on line.

These have provoked vigorous comment, raising impotant questions that I have to address in more detail. In the meantime here is my response to one specific comment made, in which conductor Judit Szathmáry expressed herself charctistically to the point –

Would Dr Pető András like it? You have got your answer. Sad very sad. Pető would shut the place down.

Time after time Conductive World has cautioned against believing all the implausible things that one hears beginning with words like ‘Professor Pető believed…’, ‘Professor Pető said…’. Perhaps, though, what Judit wrote here is somehow different, being less a statemnt of supposed historical or academic fact than a rhetorical way of expressing her powerful emotional belief in a certain poetic truth (no doubt Judit will correct me forceably if I am wrong).

I personally do not know how the mortal remains of András Pető might react in his urn in its perhaps surprisingly prominent position just inside the main gate of Farkasréti Cemetary in Buda, though I do suspect that he had a sardonic sense of humour – and did not suffer gladly...

Remember Mária

One thing that I do dare guess at is the glacial anger with which Mária Hári might have responded, and the harsh terms in which she might have expressed herself in her fragmented English.

Imagining this, I of course recognise and wonder at the historical validity of what I do. Had it not been for the cancer, Mária might now be a sprightly, alert octogenarian, free of institutional constraint and, even more than she had been ten years ago, relishing the new power of the Internet and her flourishing ability to woo the worlds of the media and politics. Perhaps she could not have beaten back the social and economic forces pressing down upon Conductive Education, but what a rallying point she would have been. Our present world of Conductve Education might have not been quite what it is now – and certainly less comfortable for some! And of course, political animal that she was, she would have learned to develop her ideas in the new environment, and probably to appreciate practical innovations true to the spirit of the heritage that she treasured.

Who knows? Counterfactual, what-if history...

An apocryphic tale?

All that I can do here is to pass on her final public pronouncement on the changing world of Conductive Education, delivered about this time of year in 2001 (she died early that October) as she stormed out of the Pető Institute for the last time, slamming the doors behind her.

As reported to me, close to the time, she shouted behind her –

You have destroyed me.
You have destroyed this Institiute.
You have destroyed Conductive Education.

Reliably reported? Apocryphal? Who knows? At least now this is in the public domain, and I think that she might have approved of that. I hope so, anyway.

Should the History of Conductive Education become again an an academic subject, this would make a wonderful basis for a seminar or examination question.

Gill Maguire and I are collecting materials for a resource book and reader on András Pető, to be published by Conductive Education Press. When it comes out more people might be able to make somewhat less uninformed guesses on what he thought of (some) things that he knew in his time. And even make their own guesses about what might set his ashes rotating.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Danger: grey goo

Public awareness of Conductive Education

A yesterday I shared the following link on Facebook –  

Very, very bad online advice on opening a Conductive Education center:​923_start-conductive-ed-center​.html 
Written by online expert ANDREW BUTTON, from Newfoundland
(A real person, not
a typo!)

Today I have posted another –

Threadbare, worn, shabby, moth-eaten scraps of knowledge
Misinformation, half-truth
, misinterpretation, myth, wishful thinking...
Stitched together with threads of poor English
by a nurse in Ham
Is all publicity really good publicity?

The two items linked to have in common that they concern Conductive Education and have bobbed up quite independently on the Internet within a day of each other – and that they both comprise second-rate, uncritical nonsense that does no one any good but could harm. 

I presume that such writings earn their authors a few pennies or dimes (the second of the sites quoted above mentions incomes of $1,200 month, not a fortune nowadays but not to be sniffed at). I suspect that they misinform sincere and perhaps vulnerable people and that on a different plane each such production makes its own small contribution to the devaluation of the cause of Conductive Education.

There is an awful lot of such stuff about and one can predict only that there will be an awful lot more – exponentially so.

I shall probably amuse myself for a while taking pop-shots at these when they appear, but it would be comforting to hear shots ringing out from other parts of the forest, before such stuff really takes hold and begins to replicate...

Runaway replicators

The grey goo scenario of runaway self-replicating nano-technology has been the stuff of serious nightmares and, when Prince Charles put his fourpenceworth in, the stuff of hilarity too. It has, however, raised useful questions, as yet not wholly unresolved.

When it comes to information and awareness on a given topic (CE for example) it also offers a useful model. 

In the world of ideas, tiny organisms of not the slightest importance of their own (for example, uncritically plagiarised phrases or sentences, cut and pasted uncomprehendingly from the Internet) can assume a new significance. It is not that they have any virtue in themselves but they are easy to understand and do little to challenge common assumptions. They may therefore be superior in terms of their competitiveness to ideas that bare more relation to reality but are harder to get one's head round.

They could therefore race across the environment, so the grey-goo scenario goes, devouring and smothering other organisms in their path... Ugh!

So beware such nonsense about CE, pouring into Cyberspace, soon to be cut-and paste in its own turn, passed on and further replicated. Small beans in itself, but pity the poor innocent trying to make sense of it all.

On Facebook

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Waste not, want not

I may as well post this anyway...
With an ode as a bonus

There is a very large informational site, from the US, called I have cerebral palsy:

Three days ago ago it published the following  –

Question by reaswaiss: Why is Conductive Education not widely known about or practiced in the US as opposed to many other countries?
Conductive Education is a method of teaching that addresses the specific needs for children and adults with cerebral palsy. It’s been around since the early 1940s but is barely talked about, understood, or heard of here in the US. I’ve seen amazing results with CE. What’s the hold up here in the States?
Best answer:
Answer by AyishaGisel
Unfortunately US seems to be behind in implementing a lot of proven research in the area of learning disabilities and disabilities. Unfortunately it seems that money controls it all. Schools are not even following their legal mandates for disabled children because of trying to pinch the budget. It really is shameful.

Rea Swaiss is certainly a real person *.  Aisha Gisel is a presence on the Internet, but harder to substantiate.

Some one else, under the name of spedusource, also then reponded –

Conductive Education IS in use in the United States. If it is not available where you live, but you’d like to see it introduced, you should contact the organizations already researching and providing CE.
Here are organizations working on having CE fully researched and established in use in the US…
Sorry, I misunderstood. This is not the site's own response but comes from somebody who answers an awful lot of questions on the Internet.

This answer is careless and sloppy, but presumably considered by the writer good enough for Conductive Education and for perhaps desperate people who might be looking to find out about it. So I banged out a quick response of my own, at least to set people on the road towards finding more–

I am afraid that the first answer so far given here to this question is misleading, and just another sign of the widespread misinformation on CE that is one of the reasons contributing to this approach’s not being more widely taken up, in the US as elsewhere
So answer no 1 on what to do: study, study, study!
'Unfortunately US seems to be behind in implementing a lot of proven research in the area of learning disabilities and disabilities'. No, one of the problems for CE in the US, and elsewhere, is precisely the lack of a certain kind of 'proven research'.
It does rather look like the first respondent is intent on hijacking the question to pursue personal agendas!
What to do in such circumstances? Do not let people get away with this. Correct them, as here.
The site’s own response is the start of a better answer. Yes, there are quite a few CE programs across the US, but the US is a very big country!
I am afraid that is is rather over-egging reality to say that the three mentioned organisations are ‘working on having CE fully researched and established in use in the US’. As far as I know, there are no organisations in the US doing this.
If you would like to see a recently updated (March 2011) list of US centers where you can see something of Conductive Education. go to:
This is but one of the resources listed on the Conduction website. Another that you might find helpful, that deals with bigger issues such as the one asked about here, as well as the day-to-day human realities of Conductive Education at every level, is The Conductive Post:
Good luck,
Andrew Sutton
That was three days' ago. My comment is still 'awaiting moderation'. How moderate must one be?


* Ode to Conductive Education

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Új konduktorok: egy kis pletyka *

(New conductors: a little rumour)
Unverified, and unverifiable

I was told the other day:
  • eighty-three new conductors graduated from the Pető Institute in Budapest this summer
  • of these twenty have been offered jobs at the Pető Institute
  • services in small towns in and the countryside in Hungary are not attracting conductors to fill vacant jobs
So, granting further study, parenthood, career changes etc., where do the rest go? Presumably some, perhaps most, go to seek their fortunes on the international conductor market.

'I was told...'

This is no way to run a railroad. The fragile web of Conductive Education services around the world, and the largely invisible private market, are almost wholly dependent upon the Pető Institute for their conductor workforce. There seems no foreseeable chance of significant change in this situation.

As far as the continuation of conductor-training at the Pető Institute and the long-term future of present international conductor-employment are concerned – the two exist symbiotically. It might go a tiny way towards securing the future of both if the Pető Institute were to publish concrete information of its annual conductor output and what, as far as is knowable, conductors go on to do once they have graduated.

At the very least this would offer a hint of dialogue

The year 2011 may of course be too late to start this with any hope of its developing much further to mutual benefit.. Who or what can honestly now do realistic business-planning for a future extending beyond the next couple of years or so?

The information reported above is no more than a passing pletyka.

* Pletyka

pletyka. A Hungarian word translatable literally into English as a 'gossip' or 'rumour', but meaning something rather more.

I first met it in Hungary when that country was part of the Soviet Bloc. Credible information was hard to come by and no one trusted anything that sounded official. News and information could still travel fast, however by word of mouth: pletyka.

There is no need to have played the children's game 'Chinese Whispers', or taken part in a psychology of rumours (Aussage) experiment, to know what this leads to.

So the best way of dealing with a pletyka when you heard one was not to believe it literally – or even not believe it at all – but cross-check, double-check and reality-check, to see whether a pattern might begin to emerge through the fog. Then wait to have your resulting surmises confirmed or, as often as not, confounded by events. Most frustrating and worrying, especially for those in no position to wait before having to decide and act anyway.

In the context of those days my contacts with Conductive Education seemed to involve a pletka at every turn. But, once Hungary became part of' the West, I naively thought, those days would pass.

What can one say?


Silly, biologistic word for such a potent social force

She's got it
  • Over the years I have come across them, as I am sure will have many who read this posting, parents, (mainly but not exclusively mothers) who have just 'got it'.
  • They have never have had any relevant formal instruction, not even read anything explicitly relevant, but – wow! – do they 'know it'.
  • What they do, what they say, how they live their own lives and their families' lives, are living exemplars of everything that a conductive upbringing should be – they 'live it'..
Pass it on?

How to convey this to others, how to train practitioners to help bring it about (not by 'training, surely!), how ever to explain it to all those sad professionals who do not and will not see this in front of their noses? Search me, Buster.

How to bottle this, how to explicate and share the qualities manifest here? Were I younger I should regard understanding and communicate this as a central task within the wider social transformation essential to moving beyond the absurdities of contemporary special educuation and rehabilitation. Well, that will have to be somebody else's job.

No, not 'natural' at all

But before handing on this baton I must rid myself of the daft, careless word with which I headed this posting: 'naturals'. Such parenting is no more 'natural' than any other human activity. Nor is it a bundle of 'skills' to be trained,. Nor is it God-given! It is product of particular human experience, learning, development etc.

In 2011 the Internet and the liberation of the blog offer bright windows through which to look in upon the favoured upbringings.of children whose own experience, learning, development etc. unfold within such family lives. These favoured upbringings stand forth from amongst so many other parents' blogs in which love, hope, optimism, hard work, vast cost and the very best of intentions, are heartbreakingly revealed being squandered on dysfunctional (and perhaps even dysfunctionalising) activities.

Not in 2011 but one day the world might be readier to entertain a far better paradigm.

See what I mean

I mention this because chance has led me to Jennifer Seymore Montgomery's blog, The crunchy and the smooth:

Do you see what I mean?

Monday, 18 July 2011


Nothing to do with us, Guv'nor

Up until the end of 2010 Conductive World appeared daily, permitting space to include regular consideration of economic trends likely to impact upon the continuing development of Conductive Education. Since then economics have been barely mentioned on these pages. Six months into 2011, is there less need to draw the attention of the little world of Conductive Education to world economic trends? Perhaps these have gone away... 

Er, not quite...
  • The economies of Iceland, Ireland and Portugal are already history, Greece is now a commonplace, Italy is looming, and Spain may be next.
  • Japan is suffering from its own economic tsunami.  
  • The US is at risk of losing its top-notch credit rating if its nationsal politicians keep playing silly-buggers.
  • China is having problems with its rate of inflation.
  • On Friday, eight out of ninety major European banks have failed a stress test, set ludicrously low by omitting the possibility that Greece might default.
  • This morning, on my own tiny island (the UK), the year's already pathetically low economic 'recovery' forecast has just been downgraded a further notch, and the public-sector unions are to fight one of the main the planks in the Government's economic plan, cutting back public expenditure (after the summer holidays, of course).
In the circumstances, how to judge whether it is 'a good thing' that China is playing an increasing role in propping up dodgy economies (like the Euro-zone), or the very opposite?

Oh, to be in a BRIC or one of the new 'frontier economies' coming up behind!

And Conductive Education?

Still making hay as though the sun still shines and always will.

CE has no public stress tests to gauge the viability of its tiny institutions against even presently apparent scenarios.

Grand plans abound. In foreseeable economic circumstances, however, spontaneous, diverse, grass-roots evolution may prove the best hope.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A CE blog-rush

What might it tell us?

Google Blogs can go very quiet sometimes on “Conductive Education”. It certainly has been of late. This morning, however, these were waiting:


What does this little sample tell about Conductive Education, what people understand it to be, and how it is gtting on in today's world?

Not a lot, except that in the English-speaking world at least a popular hunger for something bubbles on (and not just with respect to children), and that something called 'Conductive Education', whatever this might mean, is still in there, still outside the mainstream, but still a contender

I do hope that this is not an over-optimistic gloss.

PS   (bed-time, later the same day)

There have been several more since then...

A couple on summer camps:

Three 'think pieces':

And one on chosing appropriate bikes:

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Death of Shane O'Reilly

Son who activated campaigning family
Legacy lives on

Shane O'Reilly has died unexpectedly at his home in Australia. At the height of the Conductive Education excitement of the late nineteen-eighties he and his family came to England to access Conductive Education, as 'disability exiles', where he grew up and his father David died. His education over, he and his family returned to Australia.

In England his mother Sue was a doughty fighter for Conductive Education, well known amongst the pioneers of RACE (Rapid Action for Conductive Education). Back in Australia she has been a forceful figure in the hard political struggle for due recognition, rights and services for disabled people and their families. Shane's elder sister and brother, Laura and Jordan, have joined the struggle. Shane has left those who knew him a legacy of loving memories. He has also left a social legacy, for the benefit of all.

Condolences and tributes pile up on Facebook and doubtless elsewhere too, to Shane and the O'Reilly family, for example:

A time for personal grief and sympathy. And a time to acknowledge, yet again, the driving role of disabled children, and the families whom they activate and politicise out of love and hope and despair. They are the mainspring for change and development, everyone else is at best secondary. Whatever our own role, wherever we struggle for Conductive Education and for fit and proper lives for the disabled, Shane's death diminishes us all.

Shane in Sydney was one of ours. So is his family.

Marching on

Mad as Hell

Fighting Chance

Monday, 11 July 2011


Advice please

Conductive World is increasingly being targeted by a strange kind of spam, up to a dozen attacks now a day. I know this because I have a Google Alert out for new postings on Conductive World.

The attacks take the form of Anonymous comments on older postings on Conductive World. They are fairly harmless, often dodgy pharmaceuticals, recently a lot of them in Polish. I know this because my Google Alerts give me the text of these unwelcome intrusions but, when go to my postings, there is nothing there! I cannot therefore delete these comments, neither can I report them as spam in the hope of stopping tham at source.

Perhaps they are a particularly invidious form of spam, directed solely to such anoraks as take out Google Alerts! Perhaps Blogger's spam filter has already dealt with them, instantly, as soon as they arrive.

Any other explanations, or suggestions about what to do?

Friday, 8 July 2011

Don't mess with Professor Owl!

Not as cuddly as might seem

Earlier this morning I posted a couple of items on my Facebook page:

The second of these commented upon an entry on CE in today's edition of an online newsletter Professor Owl's Book Corner. Here is what I wrote on Facebook –

'CE uses the principles of neuroplasticity, combining elements of rehabilitation and education to help children and adults with neuro-motor disabilities improve mobility and self-confidence'
Do children in Canada really understand this stuff?
Those who don't will not be misled.

Ah, these professors and neuromythologists. Is no audience safe? 

It is a wonderful idea that children, disabled or otherwise, should be introduced to fresh, humane, conductive ideas about disability. After all, those living their own childhoods' developmental process might be more open to grasping this than are many at life's later stages (witness some of the brothers and sisters of children who have been brought up conductively). This would seem to sit well with Professor Owl's mission –

The mission of Professor Owl’s Book Corner is to provide specialized information to children and adults with special needs, chronic illness and learning challenges.

Free comment

A little later this morning, I decided to modify slightly the wording of my Facebook comment, as I sometimes do. I deleted the original comment, made my change ('Ontario' to 'Canada', as in the version reproduced above) and tried to post the amended version.

And Facebook consistently refuses to accept it! It takes test items that I offer but will not even accept the plain unvarnished URL of Professor Owl's perspective on CE. Without explanation, Facebook informs me –

The message could not be posted to this Wall.

The workings of Facebook are a continuing mystery to me. Have I been blocked, 'reported' whatever? I can see nothing in what I wrote to offend anyone other than biological reductionists (who may be evolutionarily programmed to take offence anyway!)

Oh well, waste not want not. I shall now see whether Facebook will permit me to publish a link on to this posting on Conductive Word.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Progressive ideas

Or are they?

A friend writes to describe a frustrating attempt to explain Conductive Education to a member of the Fourth Estate (the press) –

...she was a pinko-liberal, bleeding-heart leftie.

My friend is usually one of the gentlest and most tolerant of souls (believe me, it takes one to know one) and has suffered more than a lifetime's fair share of suffering fools gladly. Much (though not all) of this experience, from the perspectives of both provider and user of services, has been in the field of what used to be called 'special education' – now enduring an ugly, miserable, lingering death with the label 'special educational needs' tied to one toe.

When a future generation looks back of what happened to services for disabled children and their families in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, there will be several factors to which to attribute responsibility. I suggest that in the United Kingdom the newly emerging sub-class of 'pinko-liberal, bleeding heart lefties' who, from the mid nineteen-sixties onwards appropriated control of the labour market in the education, social welfare and charitable sectors (and in academe and the disability movement) might find themselves bearing considerable share of the blame.

Iron fist in velvet glove

My friend's words make a statement in a form commonly expressed amongst those who are not of this caste – and those who were once that way but have moved on. The words include liberal, they imply socialist and presume progressive. Without doubt protagonists sincerely believe them, or sincerely believe that they believe them but the old formulation of J. V. Stalin (among others) comes readily to mind:

Left in form but right in content

The words used might sound kind and generous-spirited, and sometimes they really are. But all too often they can cloak profoundly reactionary and oppressive policies, actions and practices. I have sat through enough case conferences and testified as expert witness in enough court proceedings involving professionals and their public-body paymasters, to see the disjunction between the woolly, whoopsiedaisy language used and the the steely determination to control and suppress – and recoiled from the spoiled, outraged horror should anything arise to question the legitimacy of the ways in which authority intends things to be done.

It can all look and sound so soft and cosy, but watch out for the iron fist of reaction clothed in the soft velvet glove of liberalism (who said that?).

This ideological position has entered the governing ideology of countries like the United Kingdom, as a useful means of controlling the aspirations of powerless groups and middle-class 'liberal professionals' alike. It allows little room for the tough love of Conductive Education or the notion of human transformability towards which this is harnessed.

Why should my friends have all the best rants? It has been a warm day here in the English Midlands and I feel like one too.

A conductor's job at a time of change

What will be made of it?

Twenty-odd years ago the Grauniad newspaper blew rather cool on Conductive Education, standing comparatively aloof of reporting the issue, while the rest of the British media got on with its CE feeding frenzy of brave mums off to Budapest and enraged physiotherapists. Perhaps it feared that there was something at the heart of CE that would offend elements of the liberal-progressive consensus of the time, not least its inclusionist ideology. Tempora mutantur and it is nice to see a conductor job advertised in the Guradian, possible the first such advert to appear in   British national newspaper.

British readers of Conductive World will expect the Guardian to get details wrong. Indeed, the newspaper has for years taken a perverse pride in this. On would expect, however, its advertisers to do rather better than the editorial deparment.

Conductive Education Conductor
(Specialist teaching assistant of pupils with cerebral palsy)
Required from September 2011, we seek to appoint an experienced Part-time Conductor to work on a one to one basis with a secondary aged pupil, to provide Conductive Education and in class support. Experience and suitable specialist training is a requirement. The role will involve working approximately 3 days a week and may involve some residential work.

To add insult to injury, the school's own website innocently lists this job under NON-TEACHING VACANCIES:

I cannot immediately quantify how this is reflected in salary.

The family is also to advertising this job   

...a conductor to work as a full time support, paid for by the LEA.... Ideally a conductor with teaching assistant qualifications would suit but a qualified conductor is next best.


Whilst it is wonderful and amazing that the local authority has been persuaded to pay for a child to attend an independent school, with input from a conductor, one has to wonder what the local authority believes that it is paying for.

Loughborough is a nice town, and the school looks a lovely working environment:

The right conductor might develop this into a wonderful job, a real asset to pupils, parents and school – as long as the expectations of everyone involved permit and nurture this.

Indexes of change
  • It is an amazing index of something (a definite plus for CE in the UK) see a conductor's job advertised in the Guardian.
  • The nature of the job shows remarkable change since the last conductor positions were set up and ran their course in a comparable school, St Rose's in Stroud, (possibly a plus – that must remain to be seen).
  • But  a 'teaching assistant': what a humilating diminution in the public role and status of the conductor over the years (definitely a minus).
  • The world has moved on. Exciting thing have been and are being done in CE – the ACE Project at Great Barr, not a thousand miles from Loughborough) could be especially instructive here – but in the era of information Conductive Education remains very poor at communicating what it is and can do, even to its friends (a longstanding minus that is getting worse).
Wishing them well
I doubt that many suitable candidates for this job will routinely scan the Guardian's jobs pages. Reporting this here on Conductive World and its associated Facebook and Twitter pages will doubtless broaden the potential market, and I am also informing the headteacher that he might also advertise on CONDUCTIVE EDUCATION JOBS:
Good luck to everyone in making something of this role. As ever in Conductive Education, it is not what is that matters  but what people create beyond and above this.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Just another brick in the wall

Another negative academic account found on line

The Journal of Special Educational Perspectives used to be called the NSW Journalof Special Education. Back in 2004 it added another small brick to the defensive wall around CE:

Stephenson, J. (2004) A teachers' guide to contraversial practices, Special Education Perspectives, Vol. 13, no 1, pp. 66-74

I do not think that I had spotted this particular article, by Jennifer Stephenson of Sydney University of Technology, at the time that it appeared in that journal. Perhaps I have not seached hard enough but I cannot even now find the original journal pages accessible on line. I have, however, just been able to read some of it notwithstanding (I know not why) on a posting on Julia van Tiel's Malay-language gifted-children blog, from the Nethelands, under the heading 'Therapy without scientific support':

The second part of the original article appears missing but these is enough there to offer a flavour. The link given to the original is now dead:

Here for the record is Ms Stephenson's special-educational perspective on Conductive Education:

Conductive Education (CE)CE aims to teach children with cerebral palsy or other movement disorders to achieve personal goals, increase their independence and exercise choice (Ludwig, Leggett, & Harstall, 2000). Ludwig et al. (2000) carried out a comprehensive review and concluded that the effectiveness of CE is not established for children with cerebral palsy. They note that there are many local adaptations of conductive education, which have moved away from the full-time, intensive residential approach originally developed in Hungary, and that these adapted approaches also need rigorous evaluation. United Cerebral Palsy National (1995, 1997), in two fact sheets, similarly call for more research to demonstrate the superior efficacy of conductive education over more traditional approaches.

Skimpy, sterile stuff as it stands. It would be most intersting to see the article's concluding pages, to see what is made of this... order to assist teachers and families make informed decisions about the practices they adopt.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The future belongs to you

Refections from Facebook

This morning I awoke to a couple of Facebook comments about yesterday's posting on Conductive World –

Gail Edgecombe 
Andrew. I wish I had your knowledge and your way of observing the way things are. I cannot think of the world of Conductive Education in better hands. Andras Peto would have been impressed.
Sivan Chechik In one of the disscussions that were in " ZAAD KADIMA" Israel one of the questions was: Which kid will benefit fron CE. One of the first-year student answered: "Every child" :)

I responded as follows –

Gayle, you have your own knowledge and your own way of observing how things are, based upon practical experiences that I could never share. So has everyone else involved is this diverse and often discordant field. Conductive Education, and more importantly its future, lie potentially in the hands of every single one, not in those of particular individuals and oganisations.
'External factors' aside (like politics and economics) CE's future will depend upon the quality of the understandings that achieve prominence within this Babel. And this will depend not merely, perhaps not at all, upon whether they are 'right' but upon individuals' readiness to check, criticise (and self-criticise), dispute (in the best sense of the word,internally and externally), refine and discarproselytise, and study, study, study – applying always the stern test of practice. Ditto for every grouping and organisation that ever emerges within and around around this field.
Look what can happen when a whole lot of people do not!
Nothing is in my hands, nor should it or could it be. Or in the hands of anyone else (and that goes for organisations too).
As for András Pető, one can have no idea of what in some unknowable future might have impressed him, and what might not. Personally, I like to think (though I do not of course know) that he possessed rather a sardonic sense of humour. This offers me grounds for some amusing hypotheses about some of the things that he did and told to people – and what he might have thought about how people have dealt with these subsequently! 
Sivan, thanks, that is a comfort. I like to hope that there are many others, and that their voices will join and be heard.
Perhaps there will be further such responses on Facebook:

Facebook: advice please

By the way, does anybody out there know how to generate a URL for a specific Facebook posting and its comment thread?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Conductive Education: who is it for?

Who is 'sweetable'? *

I often read something like 'CE is not suitable for everyone'.

In our often exclusionary societies, with their often all-too-exclusionary mindsets, one of the first questions often asked about conductive pedagogy and upbringing is 'Who is suitable?' – or 'Who is not?' Close behind (if not actually first!) come the inevitable operational questions about 'assessment' and 'criteria'.

My immediate response is threefold:
  • it is for human beings
  • for all of them
  • not just for those with motor disorders
Human beings

The simple answer to the question of who might benefit from a conductive approach is 'human beings'. Lower-order species can not, despite the occasional tale to the contrary – I recall fondly the headline story in the Daily Mirror, newspaper, in 1986 or 1987, at the height of the UK's public CE fever: 'Tibbles, the conductive cat'.

This is not a trivial distinction, and its consideration is a useful starting point for examining the fundamental human principle that makes this approach (or something very like it) not only possible but essential for effective special education, rehabilitation, whatever, as opposed to treatments, therapies, exercises..

All of them

So, which humans? The answer here is simple: all humans, whatever their age, culture or physical condition. Why not? All human are susceptible to psycho-social influences, all human beings learn, and therefore all human beings can be taught. 

I used to add '...unless they are living in a coma'. Then Miklós Fehér, a great and long-term admirer of conductors, told how in a rehabilitation hospital that he had run there had been a ward staffed by conductors. The vagaries of hospital admission meant that at one point the ward filled with patients in comas. Everything that he had ever heard and believed, about Conductive Education's being 'cognitive', 'verbal', pointed to conductors' being irrelevant here. No, on the contrary, patients made discernable response and progress – not least, I venture, in response to the non-cognitive, non-verbal aspects of conductive upbringing though, I further venture, cognitive and verbal activity probably also played a powerful role.

He told this around the time that conventional Western rehabilitation medicine was starting to reassess its understandings and expectations about people in 'vegetative' and 'locked-in' states. Such a report from the apparent fringes of practice is no peripheral matter but another good discussion point for the process of getting 'CE' off the hook of its conventional wisdom.

Not just those with motor disorders

Contrary to one of the myths that envelope conductive practice (and theory), András Pető did not develop his work primarily with children and adults (especially children) with motor disorders. The work of his Institute and his own personal practice were wide-ranging. Changing circumstances subsequently served to limit the range of applicability of his 'method'. In Hungary, this narrowing of focus was perhaps particularly affected by the long-term effects of transferring responsibility for his Institute from the Ministry of Heath to the Ministry of Education. Now, in the twenty-first century, new internationalising practices are encouraging and enabling application of his approach to open up again, albeit slowly (and perhaps needlessly apologetically).

Notwithstanding, it has to be recognised that the Hungarian years of CE's history have bequeathed to the world a trained practice that is best defined as 'conductive pedagogy and upbringing for the motor disordered'. This is not, however, to deny that there should not be potentially other conductive pedagogies and upbringings, defined around other disabilities – or no disability at all.

So what is all this about 'assessment'

Conductive Education is an transactional process, involving 'encounters' in which those who take part act upon and effect each other in a potentially upward spiral of learning and development. (Sorry, I cannot here use the more convenient word 'participants', as it has been misused and devalued over the years within the emerging English-language jargon of CE). Call it 'dialectical', if you like.

Whatever term you chose, you have to step outside the mechanistic present-paradigm undertanding that one of those involved in the process is a fixed entity in whom 'what is' predicts or even determines 'what will be', irrespective of what others may do. Development, pedagogy, upbringing, are supposedly dynamic and supposedly have effects, otherwie why bother to do them? Taking a measure of how things are now, with all the impossibility of knowing what might happen in a future yet to be created, may have as its chief outcome to constrain the range of potential outcomes that this future may potentially bring.
Over the course of the twentieth century 'assessment', as she is usually spoke, has been a malign force upon the lives of uncountable millions across the world. As conductive practice spreads it runs inevitably into the powerful desire to assess, preferably prescriptively and preferably as early in life as possible. That's wonderful – as long it means that the 'assessment' relates not to an individual but to the sort of interactions that demonstrably enhance learning and development, in the present real-life context in which something might be done, and its outcomes are in the form of practical hypotheses about what might be done next. Such assessment suits the dynamic nature of effective, transformative pedagogy and upbringing.

Feuerstein's finger

In other words, assessment should not be of a given child, or even of that child's difficulties, or even 'needs' (read 'adults' and 'families' here too). The operational question has to be 'What might be done to achieve change?' This question of course encompases as much those who act as assessors as those who are being assessed. Indeed, one might argue, more so. And the only way of answering question is not to examine 'what is', but to start working and examine what happens, what 'works', and what does not.

Some twenty years ago, I helped in production of the documentary film The Prophet from the Wilderness (the second in the BBC's three-part Transformers series) Reuven (for it was he) gave a very simple and graphic illustration of rephrasing the question, showing how the finger of blame should be directed away from a given child, and forced back upon those who would seek in-child reasons for not taking up the pedagogue's burden.

Assess if you wish, and you may find all sorts of good objective reasons why you cannot offer someone Conductive Education, not you, not at your place, not this year. Perhaps you do not have enough staff, or enough flexibility, or enough time. Perhaps you ust do not know what to do. Perhaps there are administrative or regulatory reasons, or financial grounds. These are good objective reasons for which no one need be ashamed. So say so. And perhaps, less commendably (and this has to be said) you do not like the look of a particular child or adult or family.

But 'not suitable'? Please do not point the finger without realising that it may potenially be twisted back on you.

*   'Sweetable'   Thirty-odd years ago, early on in the process of transferring Conductive Education out of Hungary, I was surprised and rather shocked at the way in which certain conductors would deem some children as 'suitable' and others 'not suitable' for Conductive Education. Oh, our hopeless English orthographic conventions!  
'Sweetable': a ludicrous non-word for a ludicrously inapposite but nontheless harmful concept.
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