Tuesday, 20 March 2012

NATIONAL CONFERENCE IN ROSENHEIM

Observations and first reflections

PETÖ UND INKLUSION
 KuKo Rosenheim
 09. März 2012 / Samstag, 10. März 2012

Reporting Germany

What a country. What wealth and confidence. What culture. What civilisation.

Granted, I have taken only a tiny time sample of this, in a particularly wealthy town in generally wealthy Bavaria, a Land that, in the estimation of its own inhabitants as in the eyes of many other Germans, is its own place distinct from what the rest of us are happy to lump together as simply 'Germany'. And this sample has been taken through the other-worldly context of a national conference on what they call there Konduktive Förderung or Petö – similar but certainly not identical to the wide range of ideas and activities referred to in the English-speaking world under the rubric of Conductive Education.

Nevertheless, it is only human to have an opinion, a gut-feeling about what one has experienced, and I am asked 'Well, what was the German conference like?' I am sure that every one of the around two-hundred people who attended has been asked the same question – or will have given a personal view whether asked or not. I hope that other personal reports will be published, in German or Hungarian or English, and find their way into the public domain.

Rosenheim and its Fortschritt

Rosenheim is a prosperous, spacious provincial town east of Munich, not generally a tourist destination but for the last ten years home to a lively and progressive Fortschritt. A Fortschritt, as I understand the term, is a parent-inspired and parent-led association that seeks to operate conductive services around and as much as possible in collaboration with statutory education services.

Conference website

A dedicated conference website has provided advance information of the conference, its purpose and content, with an URL offering an immediate facility of a link from any participating organisation, and for anyone else interested.


Appropriately for a national German conference, the website is written in German. It includes, though, an English-language translation of the full programme:


Now that the conference is over the website offers chance for continuing update and has already been updated with thanks to those who contributed and links to media coverage achieved.

It also promises news on publication of the conference's Dokumentation, expected 'ca. April 2012'.

The conference

Rosenheim's railway station fronts on to the typical public space and transport interchange. Greeting arrivals there was a bold, blue poster announcing Petö und Inklusion. The town's modern congress centre was similarly adorned, so were the welcoming Brezen (twisty bread rolls) distributed to conference-goers on registration, the printed conference folder, the handbills – and so is the conference website. All in all, a focused public message. Parked outside the congress hall throughout the time of the conference was a more permanent presence about town, a blue minibus from the Fortschritt Rosenheim, proudly emblazoned on front, rear and both sides with the word Petö.

Inklusion

I do not know precisely what Inklusion means at this point in the development of German social ideals and social policy (as I have never been sure at any given time in the UK either). I am sure that there will be many working in Germany towards theoretical answers to this question. I suspect, though, that the worlds of practice and politics will move on, as they do everywhere, leaving today's theoretical formulations to history, as has happened in the UK.

My most general impression from the Rosenheim conference was that in March 2012 the development of inclusive ideals, practices and policies in Germany generally are running a couple of decades behind those in the English-speaking countries. During the conference I was reminded very vividly of the wonderful, positive, hopeful atmosphere in analogous get-togethers in the UK in the mid nineteen-eighties. These were the stuff of the early volumes of Special Children magazine, and provided perhaps essential bedrock for the initially triumphant introduction of Conductive Education in the UK. Intoxicating times for us personally involved in those heady days, and similarly so for those involved in Germany now. For the moment too, German Inklusion, whatever this might currently mean, seems something that politicians and officials seem ready to stand by, as evidenced in their plentiful participation in this conference.

In the nineteen-eighties the enthusiasm for CE in the UK gained some strength from its association with the then powerful movement for genuine parental choice. In Germany now Inklusion is possibly fulfilling a similar role.

Perhaps too association with Inklusion will help shift emphasis away from 'rehabilitation' (social as much as medical) and back to education – special education maybe, inclusive education certainly – and along with that (dare one hope?) re-engage with pedagogy. Immediate index of the possibilities here is that the wide-ranging conference programme included two plenary contributions from German university professors, both educationalists. I cannot recall even one professor of education ever contributing to the progress of Conductive Education in this way in the English-speaking world over the years (though as ever, I would appreciate correction if my memory serves me ill).

Scan the conference programme to form your own judgement of how full and wide-ranging a programme the two days allowed, in terms of topics and contributors:


Minor, personal criticisms

Hats off to the organisers: this was an excellent event. Nothing, however, is perfect and it is worth recording three problems that I myself experienced – other conference organisers please note.

The Cultural and Congress Centre in Rosenheim is a most pleasant and well-situated venue (http://www.kuko.de) but the acoustics in its main lecture hall, the core of the formal, collective event, left a little to desire. I was not the only one to find this a problem but, being a little deaf, I was particularly sensitive to its effects.

There were only two days and there is such a lot to say. Timetables arranged differently (more parallel streaming?) and firmer chairing of some of the sessions might have generated more audience interaction.

National conferences potentially benefit from foreign participation. Five of us had been invited in from the English-speaking world and I hope that our contributions satisfied expectations. But as one of us remarked to the others this Inklusion event was for us paradoxically an exclusive experience. Just being there was a pleasure and a privilege, but a little more attention to including us more could have made our presence more rewarding, for everyone.

My own bit

I had been invited to speak on András Pető. 

I have to say that the conference-organisers pulled out the stops for my plenary presentation. I spoke in English, with a German translation in the hands of everyone in the audience and also projected on to a screen behind me. I was granted twenty minutes to speak, with a further ten minutes for questions and answers (with the services of a knowledgeable interpreter for my question time. Both my English and German texts will be published in a few weeks' time. One could not ask for anything more.

In the circumstances, quite contrary to my usual practice, I read my text as for a radio broadcast. In retrospect I wish that I had spoken more slowly (even though this would have meant pruning back what I wrote) as I was speaking just a little too fast and stumbled a couple of times over my words.

Further, the acoustics and my hearing did no services for either my interpreter or my audience. I should like particularly to apologise for misunderstanding the question from conductor Zsuzsa Hadházi who asked (I thought) about my opinion of why conductive pedagogy was initially so well established in Hungary, to which my reply identified András Pető's support from the Communist Party. Later I was told that I had actually been asked and misheard a more contemporary question, about my opinion on why conductive pedagogy had subsequently experienced such take-up outside Hungary. Had I heard correctly, I would have answered by situating parents by analogy in a burning building, seeking any window, any hatch, any doorway to escape through. Conductive Education is but one of the escape routes, a very good one as it happens, in fact the best currently in prospect. There are many others...

My message to the Germans?

That in fundamental ways András Pető's ideas were German.

You will be able to read my full presentation to the conference when the Dokumentation is published. Here, though, I should mention that the conference's open plenary presentation was by Franz Schaffhauser, Rektor of the Pető Institute. He spoke in German, to the title 'Pető's philosophy and idea of man'. And whose ideas did he cite?  Germans'.

At a more concrete and homely level I ought also to mention something that would be invisible (through its sheer familiarity) to most Germans but leapt to the attention of a visiting Brit alert to András Pető's particular professional background. The five-minute walk between my hotel to the conference hall took me past a local branch of this:


O Germans, there seem to have been such scales over your eyes in your quest for the roots of konduktive Pädagogik und Erziehung  conductive pedagogy and upbringing. Let them fall. Start seeking the roots of this Pädagogik und Erziehung, for the motor-disordered and for others too, direct from your own cultural experiences.

That was my message. Its implications are for others to draw.

Note

A Land is a constituent state within the German Federal Republic. Bavaria is a Land.



No comments:

Post a Comment