Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Provide the means to touch others

Mária Hári's life touched many people's lives..

She was also herself a little touched (in British English the word 'touched' can also mean a little mad) and those whose lives she touched often became a little mad too. Parents, conductors, others,  all might at times have despaired at some of the things that she did or said, and to  have had cause to fear her sometimes arbitrary decisions and actions, but it is rare to find any who do not nevertheless maintain a strong streak of affection and loyalty for her, sometimes very strongly indeed.

I was lucky, I had privileged access, but I was not unique in this. I know that many of the early Brits in Budapest, particularly those there over say the three years from 1985 to 1988 (after which the whole thing began to get out of hand) came away a little touched by her for life. She was no demigod (as neither was her predecessor), but one may still meet parents from that era who held her in awe, who figuratively speaking revered her when she was alive and who are still fervently loyal. I know that there are many more Hungarians who feel the same (slightly differently perhaps, and maybe even more powerfully) and who too remain fervently loyal.

Such fervent followers are not of course a peculiarly British or Hungarian phenomenon -- but they are not on the whole what I refer to below as 'disciples'.

What do disciples do?

Intellectual movements often have their near-mythic originator, the fons et origio of the basic ideas, and perhaps also of the institutions that maintain these. In the case of Conductive Education this was András Pető. Such a Great Instigator has worked with a close, perhaps slightly junior colleague, in this instance Mária Hári. Think of Piaget and Inhelder, Marx and Engels, Vygotskii and Luriya.

Such associates  -- whom I refer to here as 'disciples' -- are characteristically considerable people in their own right, and may go to the take the lead of their field when the instigator has died.

Beyond this, though, no tidy pattern is apparent. The next generation might in turn generate a host of further considerable personalities and intellects, witness the broad band of Soviet psychologists, educators and defectologists who spread, elaborated, developed and enhanced the Vygotskian tradition, or the whole thing might fraction and splinter, even within the life-time of the instigator – think particularly of psychoanalysis. No matter, along the way, disciples will preach, debate, argue, polemicise, dispute, between each other as much as with 'outsiders' to their particular movement. They will teach, recruit and attract new blood, mentor and advise, and thereby in turn generate their own disciples, and their own schools of thought. The ideas of the instigator, however lonely these might have seemed in their day, will be joined and reinforced by the extensive writings of such disciples, and the disciples of their disciples. 

Intellectually such movement spread, develop, and live. Movements, though, also split, witness the different kinds of Montessorians, or Vygotskians, or Behaviourists, or whatever, sometimes at loggerheads one with the other – but is that not the nature of the history of ideas? To think that an idea or a movement can hold together, unchanged and uncontested, as it moves from one society or from one generation to the next, is so naive and unworldly as no reasonable person would ever hold to it...

What about Conductive Education?

András Pető had a good, faithful disciple in Mária Hári. He drove and controlled her, she did his every whim while he lived and later devoted her life to maintaining the order that she felt he would have wished. But he had driven nearly everyone else away from actually working with him, because of his difficult personality and often dreadful behaviour. 

On top of all the other burdens that Mária took up, she tried to build a corpus of writing, but the field required far more than she could provide, quantitatively and qualitatively. It has needed more disciples, and ultimately it has suffered from its lack of critical and constructive dissent. Karóly Ákos might have been one inherited from András Pető, but Mária broke connection, and his tradition has most wastefully withered. There may have been others but, if so, who were they and where are they now?

(Ester Cotton? The tradition that she created has most certainly flourished, but Mária regarded her as not so much a fellow disciple of András Pető's as a heretic)

The Márian tradition?

Conductors who grew up and were formed under Mária Hári's powerful influence have been the leading force in the next generation of 'discipling' in Conductive Education. Loyal, inspired and creative workers in the groups, it is a great loss that their stories are so rarely told. Some have inspired the same degree of respect and awe as did Mária Hári herself, for the sheer brilliance and quality of their conductive practice. And at one level, could there be anything more important for the sake of those most directly involved who have benefited from their work, or to the glory of the system?

At one level there can only one answer to this. They have been a vital, invaluable part of Mária's heritage. But but what will happen in the future?

Putting aside the economic crisis and its possible effects upon Conductive Education's institutional bases around the world (and that includes in Hungary too), where is the formulated intellectual core around which a conductive movement could cohere or – just as importantly – from which splinters might consciously break away to create fresh, new coherent practices? Where is the living, dynamic movement out of which a new generation of disciples can go forth, preach and proselytise?

In 2004 I gave a short presentation in Budapest to a Memorial Day organised by Moira* at the Budapest Technical University, to mark the third anniversary of her death. The title of my presentation was 'Mária Hári, from whom we have still much to learn' (Hári Mária, akitől még mindig tanulunk). But if Mária's work and ideas are to live on to benefit new generations, beyond the direct experience of those who were actually there, they deserve and demand disciples who are also apostles.

Katalin Bíró was one who worked closely with Mária Hári for years.  She has sought to pass down what she learned from this experience:

There may well have been other attempts to analyse and synthesise Mária Hári's contribution, from various hands. But where are they? And if there are none, and none arise... in ten years years' time, what will there be to show and learn from Mária Hári's long, hard struggle, other than can still be provided by the ever dimmer memories of the diminishing band of those whose lives she directly touched..


(2005) Hári Mária (1923-2001), Budapest, MPANNI, pp. 59-65 (Hungarian)

(2007) Mária Hári and her Conductive Education, Budapest, MPANNI (English)

Bíró, K. (2006 ) Fundamentals of conductive upbringingIn fond and respectful remembrance of Mária Hári, Recent Advances in Conductive  Education, vol. 5, no 1, pp. 4-10

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