Tuesday, 29 November 2011



I have only just read this book by Alexander Masters. Not ‘enjoyable’ as such but very nicely written and very readable for those who can bear it.

It offers a vivid peep at the hideous underbelly of our human services, including along the way a glimpse at ‘special educational needs’ (Stuart has a mild form of muscular dystrophy, FSH).

With a life misspent puzzling over systemic developmental sequelae I found this book exceedingly frustrating, but then it was not written for me!

I still wholeheartedly recommend it, of you have the stomach, and perhaps especially if you do not.

Masters, A. (2005) Stuart: a life backwards, London, Fourth Estate

There has been a film too, I gather:

Friday, 25 November 2011

Mária Hári

A pedagogue of principle

In May 1983, as a contribution to the International Year of the Disabled , the government of the Republic of San Marino organised a congress. Mária Hári attended, accompanied by conductor Éva Puski. The report of the conference was published in a small booklet with parallel Italian and French texts. Here’s a snippet, from page 54 (there’s a lot more)  
‘Conduire’ ne signifie pas travailler à la place de l’enfant, il ne faut pas faire faire.
L’enfant n’est pas un malade passive, mais c’est une personne qui peut s’épanouir, peut apprendre par une méthode active.
Le conducteur est là pour aider l’enfant a terminer ce qu’il a commence et pour qu’il commence il faut render active, lui donner l’interêt, lui montrer la vie, lui demontrer qu’il a du succès, qu’il peut faire.

‘Condurre' non vuol dire dare al posto del bambino; bisogna fa fare.
Il bambino non e un malato, che è passive, ma è una persona che può svilupparsi, può imparare con un metode attivo.
Il conduttore e lì solamente per aiutare a finire ciò che il bambino ha cominciato e per cominciare bisogna farlo attivo, bisogna motivarlo, fargli vedere la vita, dimostrargli che ha successo, che può fare.
In English, something like this –
'To conduct' does not to do the work instead of the child, one should not make it happen.
The child is not a passive patient, but someone who can thrive, can learn through an active method.
The conductor is there to help children finish what they have started, and in order to begin children have to be made active, given interest, shown  life, demonstrated that they do have success, that that they can do. 
A pedagogic principle
To help, not to interfere. To teach the will to succeed for oneself -- rather than teaching dependency and helplessness. Not primarily a matter of ‘skills’. Certainly not to ‘support’! And above all, nothing to do with wooden furniture and those other all-too-familiar ‘principles of Conductive Education’. A stern way-of-life principle, straight from András Pető personally.


Canevaro, A., Cavallieri, G. (1983) Gli handicaps e l’integrazione quotidiana: le competenze di tutti e le tecniche di alcuni, Bologna, Edizione Dehoniane

* Nothing to do with AP’s rules for living or MH’s pedagogic principles, but I could not resist putting into English this little bit from Andrea Canevaro’s Preface to this book (page 5) –
The International Year of the Disabled has coincided with the global economic recession and has started a double reevaluation:
  • reevaluation of intentions and policies in favour of the handicapped and the services that enable them access, social and cultural ; and 
  • reevaluation of the practices and the very concept of integration that have been, perhaps unconsciously, linked to  a movement of economic growth (augmentation of production, of accumulated profits and wealth) that is not certain for the future.
Integration is to live reality, seek connections and overcome obstacles, visible and invisible.
Perhaps there exists a concept of integration that is incorrect, as a proposition and result of the society of well-being, almost as a result of ‘luxury’, that could not co-exist with urban poverty, recession and eventual zero growth…
That was in 1983….

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


Oh no it's not

I received an email this morning, from which I (mis)understood that today is the first day of winter. Seized by a thought, I made a blog posting on this:


Of course, as any fule kno, in 2011 winter begins on 22 December.

So, another month of Autumn to enjoy!

I do not think that this makes any substantive difference to the argument of what I blogged this morning.

I wonder whether things will read differently on the real first day on winter, in a month's time.


Not just the weather

I am told that today is formally the first day of winter (in the Northern Hemisphere). Here is Middle England the world outside the window looks just as it did yesterday, chill and drear, with nature continuing its annual, anticipated decline, bur formal communication and acknowledgement are now possible that quantitative change has brought about qualitative – as it does.

I refer of course to the weather. After all, I am English.

Can spring be far behind?

Of course not. In formal terms, spring will be upon us in precisely three months to the day, though as ever its arrival will seen so slow and gradual.

And metaphorically?

Have the myriad changes in our human world over the last few years cumulated enough yet to constitute a ‘winter’?

If I look out of my metaphorical window things continue to look dull and drear, like they did yesterday and the day before yesterday, and probably will tomorrow. Is it yet possible to say with agreement that these changes are coalescing to create a new state of being, a new era? Oh, for the wisdom of hindsight,of history, to be free to refer to some arbitrary, defining division and say: ‘We live now in the age of…’, and deal with its implications accordingly.

Can metaphorical spring be far behind?

It cannot work that way, for human affairs are a not simply of nature but of economic, social, cultural, historical forces and – so as not to sound too deterministic about things – individual, psychological forces too. There is no annual rhythm, indeed no inevitable cyclical rhythm of any other kind, not even boom and bust (or from where we presently stand, bust and boom). If winter is upon us, there is no necessary spring to follow – in three months’ time or indeed ever.

Though for individuals, groups, movements, whole societies, there will always be tide in the affairs of man…

As ever, where is Conductive Education in this?

If this indeed be winter, there is no inevitable cycle to take us back to how things were before, no spring marked by reproduction and rebirth of how things used to be in some receding, fondly remembered summer.

But there will be opportunities to be seized, and there will be those, right or wrong, who will seize the day and create something new *.

Whether what arises from this turns out to be better or different, or worse, from what we have now is another matter.

We live in such interesting times…

*  Shakespeare put it rather better
    Julius Caesar
    Act 4, sc. 3, ll. 215 ff

Thursday, 17 November 2011



After an earlier career in Uganda, lecturing in social work, Leslie moved to Birmingham to continue his work away from Idi Amin – where in time he fell victim to early onsetting Parkinson’s disease.

In the early 1980s the ‘Birmingham Group’ (Philippa Cottam, Ronni Nanton, Andrew Sutton and Jayne Tichener) was making the first thorough-going investigation into Conductive Education from outside Hungary. Ronni’s presence ensured that Parkinson’s disease and services for adults were integral considerations from the outset.

A pivotal time

The commitment of Mary Baker, then the Director of the Parkinson’s Disease Society nationally, was central to the Group’s intention to commence adult work – and Les, a young local academic with Parkinson’s, articulate and mentally and physically determined, was a vital link in the case being constructed. Ronni led a fact-finding expedition to Budapest (yes, believe it, a visit to Budapest in the mid-eighties really was ‘an expedition’) and Leslie's participation in this ensured that the user’s voice would be part of the Society’s deliberations on this important matter… and believe this too, that was pretty radical stuff in the disability charities of those days.

Not just a voice, though:as soon as he arrived at what was then still the State Institute, Les had thrown himself into the work of a group, language notwithstanding. This would be CE reported upon ‘from the inside’ – yet still, when he returned to the UK, his written report would phrased as a cool, academic appraisal, written by the Leslie who he always was.

Leslie's activities contributed to the support of the Parkinson’s Disease Society, both moral and financial, when the Foundation for Conductive Education was created in 1986, thus ensuring that CE in the UK should never be viewed solely in terms of childhood or cerebral palsy. Leslie was a founder-member of the first Parkinson’s group when it commenced in Birmingham in 1990 and maintained his participation for the remainder of his life, for some of which time he served as the Society’s representative on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

In later years Leslie suffered ill health and became very frail, though still outliving most of his Parkinsonian contemporaries. Family referred to his as a ’phoenix’ for the way in which he would come back from the seeming edge, again and again. Hard to see perhaps in his later years that he had played badminton for the English Universities – but the spirit was still there.

An apocryphal tale?

A tale from Budapest in the mid eighties was that Leslie responded so well and rapidly to Conductive Education that he took himself straight off on a walk. Outside the Hotel Budapest his re-found mobility led him too quickly off the kerb, and a careless Lada went over his toe.

True of not? The incidental, corroborative detail (‘Hotel Budapest’, Lada’) are the marks of an urban legend, but the story rings true to the Leslie whom I knew and remember. True or not, I recounted it enough in those early days. It was certainly 'him'.

It was true for me today, at Leslie’s funeral. He is remembered as a lovely, decent man.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

England: light in the darkness, cracks in the wall?

Is there to be room once more for genuinely free schooling?

BERA – the British Educational Research Association – is (gleefully?) circulating the following report –

Ofsted’s opinion of Summerhill School: from pariah to paragon
Release: 27 October 2011
A. S. Neill’s famous Summerhill School, the world’s first ‘child democracy’, has received thebest HMI/OfSTED report in its 90-year history. After decades of criticism and controversy atthe hands of the Inspectors, the School has now been found ‘outstanding’ in 8 aspects of itsprovision and practice and ‘good’ in all others. Inspectors were particularly impressed by itscontinuing excellence in relation to pupils ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural development’(SMSCD). ‘Welfare, health and safety of pupils’ was also outstanding, as were all 5 aspectsof boarding provision, welfare and outcomes’.
The contrast with Summerhill’s 1999 Inspection is total. Then, HMI condemned its philosophy, aims and outcomes, finding its freedoms to be an ‘abdication’ of adultresponsibility. The adjective the Inspection most often directed at its pupils was ‘foul-mouthed’. The finding that it offered neither ‘suitable’ nor ‘efficient’ education meant thatthe school faced closure. The School had to raise a Tribunal case to prevent that outcome.
The Tribunal vindicated the School, and the Ministry withdrew in haste from the case afterthree days. These events were vividly portrayed in an award-winning BBC drama in 2008.The parties to the TribunalAgreement accepted that future inspections of the School wouldbe accompanied by an ‘expert’ nominated by the School. In turn the Ministry demanded asimilar ‘expert’. So now the Inspectors were to be inspected, and the inspector of the inspectors likewise. Thus the possible tragedy of closure became something of a farce ofsurveillance (hyperveillance?) – but a necessary and useful safeguard for the School.
Since then, things have looked up. The 2007 Inspection deemed the school ‘satisfactory’,while assessing SMSCD features ‘outstanding’. Why have things turned round sodramatically? Two explanations are possible. In audit logic, a ‘failing’ school has beentransformed. Or, from a research perspective, a ‘failing’ OfSTED has finally acknowledgedthe virtues of the school, including uncoerced learning, democratic governance led by thepupils, and freedom in relation to learning and assessment.
Professor Ian Stronach, Liverpool John Moores University), the school’s ‘expert’ since 1999,argues that the school A.S. Neill wrote about more than fifty years ago, and the school heresearched in 1999, 2007 and 2011, is ‘essentially the same place, though the inspectorial surfaces are much more expertly polished.’ He added, ‘OfSTED deserve credit, at last, for an‘outstanding’ Inspection process and outcome in 2011’. Let’s hope this marks the end ofInspectorial persecution, here and elsewhere.
Ian Stronach
Professor of Educational Research, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool L17 6BD

Free at last?

I personally have never held much truck with the philosophy or methods of A. S. Neil but there is a higher-order principle at work here: LIBERTY.

At most Summerhill's success is qualified freedom: freedom under bureaucratic licence. That falls rather short of liberty but should offer hope and precedent to other would-be free educationalists in England, such as Paces in Sheffield. There is still a long, long way to go to get to the open situation in which the first attempt was made to establish CE schooling in the United Kingdom in the mid-eighties.

I received BERA's note yesterday. By coincidence, the same day I received from Inteconnections update the campaign EYE-Open, against Her Majesty's Government's repressive and counterproductive 'educational' policies in the early years of life:

Again, I have little sympathy for much of these campaigners' views on child development – but. my respect for liberty overrides this.

Are there cracks here for Conductive Education to slide through, and force further open?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

András Pető at Harvard

Well, at least a considerable documentary record
You should use it!

Gábor Pintér writes –
The Moreno collection is in the Medical Faculty of Harvard University (Francis Countway Library of Medicine, 10 Shattock Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02115), which I visited in 1993 with a personal recommendation from Zerka Moreno [Jacob Marino’s widow]. The collection comprises a total of 2002 (11) thick files, each containing a huge amount of material (100 or more documents in a single file): articles, letters, films, periodicals, personal and family documents, material relating to contacts abroad – a multitude of documents, hand-written by Moreno and others, typed, and printed. I was able to look through only a few of the two thousand files. Three files (Nos 1148-1150) contain material relating to Hungary – letters and documents from Hárdy, Noszlopi, Völgyesi and others.
But the name that occurs most frequently is that of Pető, later that of Mária Hári. There was continuous correspondence with Pető from the first exchanges of letters right up to the time of Pető’s death. It was startling to see Pető’s handwriting on the open yellow postcard bearing an old 20 fillér stamp (the one with the articulated tram), with his Budapest address as the sender’s address, and to be confronted in Boston with the Hungarian-language notification of his death. In their correspondence I was able to discover the deep and intensive emotional threads of friendship on both sides. In addition, due to the political checks on letters going to America, Pető’s writing style was noticeably full of implication and avoided being specific. Pető gave lengthy accounts of his work and the new discipline of conduction, and sent copies of his articles. He likes to look back on the years they spent together in Vienna, and openly said how fond he had become of Moreno and family *. Moreno was pleased that Pető’s ‘brilliant method’ had also proved a success in England. He tried to establish contacts for Pető with movement therapy institutes in America. Later he expressed anxiety about Pető’s deteriorating health. After their visit to Budapest, he wrote:
Dear András, words cannot express my deep gratitude to you and your good friends in Budapest. Please pass on my warmest personal greetings to Mária Hári and the girl who looked after Johnathan. I hope your professional program is on the right track. I now have a better understanding of your problem.
Immediately after Pető’s death Jacob Marino wrote in a letter:
He was one of my best friends, an unforgettable man!
A nice little PhD there for someone. At the very least, a manageable personal study and a magazine or journal article to help drag CE into more serious (and relevant?) academic consideration…

We live in hope.

Contextualising their friendship

Other than this brief encounter in 1963, their actual personal friendship had occurred in the years before the Great War. Chapter 2, ‘The university years’, of René Marineau’s biography of Marino provides the only second-person account of András Pető’s life from all his years up till after 1945.

Fascinating reading it is too.

References and footnote

Marineau, M. (1989) Jacob Levy Moreno, 1889-1974: father of psychodrama, sociometry, and group psychotherapy, London, Royledge

Pintér, G. (2003) András Pető and Jacob Levi Moreno. Conductive Education Occasional Papers, no.10. Budapest: International Pető Institute, pp. 1-12

*    Moreno went to Budapest in 1963, at Pető’s invitation… accompanied by his wife Zerka and their young son Johnathan. Moreno gave a lecture at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, organised by the Institute of Sociology.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


I fear the Greeks

So should we all. The foundering life-raft being patched together by the European ‘leaders’ to keep our economies afloat for a little bit longer, presumably in the hope that something will turn up, anything, was in a sorry enough state yesterday with the Chinese not surprisingly declining the pleasure of helping pay for it. And now at last somebody has got round to asking the Greeks what they think of it all – and their answer could well be the last straw for the present world economic order and its hoped for salvation.

Where might that leave us all? For the moment, most people are doing and planning whatever they were expecting to be doing or planning anyway – except that ‘most people’ covers an ever-shrinking proportion of our populations.

How robust are your plans for 2012?

I say, I say, I say...

What’s a Greek urn?

I don’t know... Do tell me, what's a Greek urn?

What's a Greek urn? About ten drachmas an hour?

Boom, boom!

Who’s laughing?
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