Sunday, 15 April 2012

'PETO BELIEVED...'

Well meaning but implausible stuff

Peto believed that human development is holistic and learning occurs in an integrated way, encompassing the sensory, motor, cognitive, communication and socio-emotional aspects of development.

He based his approach on newly discovered scientific evidence of his time, which described the brain's unique capacity to form new connections despite the damage that occurred within. People with motor disorders could indeed learn new skills by utilising undamaged areas of the brain and hence overcome their problems of movement and co-ordination.


One reads this sort of stuff everywhere. Where it comes from and how it has developed in its current form, what or whose purposed it serves, these may be questions worthy of study in their own right.

To greater purpose, it would be interesting to know what effects such stuff has on the general well-being and image of CE, both amongst those who advocate this approach and those who notice it and wonder what it might be. To be blunt, it looks pretty unconvincing.

I have just picked up this particular example up from a nice website for a centre in New Zealand where the annual Conductive Education Awareness Week is coming up. Kiwi CE seems rather good at spreading its message, so presumably new people will be indeed be looking in and reading this sort of stuff, and forming their own judgements.

Please stop

In all humility and with no wish to denigrate people's obviously sincere wish to make sense of the world, one has to say 'Hold on', 'Stop', since the body conductive seems generally content to go on, and on, cascading such formulations out to new audiences and down to new generations.

However sincerely held and well-intentioned, and however widely passed around, such stuff may tell something of what some people today would like to believe, and have others believe with them. Whether it says anything about the substance of Conductive Education is another matter.

Pretty fundamental stuff
  • 'Peto believed...' [Did he, how do you know what he believed, where have you come across this?]
  • 'He based his approach...' [How did he actually go about constructing his approach? Did it really emerge out of 'evidence'. If you know, do tell.]
  • '...on newly discovered scientific evidence of his time... [A simple enough task: please tell us what that evidence was/is – and where one can read it.]
  • '...the brain's unique capacity...' [The human brain's presumably? Or do you mean brains in general?]
  • '...form new connections...' [Does this mean temporary connections? Or is something else implied?]
  • '... learn new skills...' [Is this what CE is fundamentally about?]
  • '... utilising undamaged areas of the brain...' [Is this what really happens? How do you know that? Come to that, how could András Pető have known? And anyway, whether this be ultimately true or false, what relevance does it have for the talk of bringing up and teaching disabled children, never mind for the lives of disabled adults and their families?]
Simple enough questions. On how they are answered depends the public, communicable understanding of what we now call Conductive Education – and its plausibility beyond the realm of myth.

At the very least, spell his name right.

A shameless plug

On Thursday last I went down to London and spent some time examining and photocopying three of the extensive limited-circulation documents that András Pető wrote in the nineteen-fifties.

This was in connection with a book on András Pető soon to be published by Conductive Education Press. Along with further material also to be published soon, in Hungary, this will enable modern readers to form their own, rather more concrete and plausible understandings of what András Pető actually did.

What he believed, now that is another matter.

A shameless plug? It most certainly is. Keep watching this space for further information...

1 comment:

  1. Here is an example of a variant narrative, also very common, that Google Alerts sent me just today. This one relies not upon András Pető and what he supposedly believed but upon the distinct tradition established by Ester Cotton in London:

    http://www.aziaa.org/CP_and_conductive_education.asp

    This example is skill-focussed, 'multi-disciplinary', and emphasises repetition. It also understands cerebral palsy biologically – rather than as a developmental disorder as required by Conductive Education – and therefore presumes what sound like change at the biological level ('The brain will rewire new connections as it learns new tasks. …') as the basis of what is achieved.

    All well-intended and sincere, I am sure, but sounding equally implausible. The conductive practice behind it may be superb, its effects considerable and their appreciation by everyone involved most deserved. It may well incorporate and manifest the humane pedagogic tradition that has been handed down from the days of András Pető himself.

    Importation of theoretical ideas from the conductive folklore may, however, prove more a hindrance than a help to getting people to take the centre's good endeavours seriously.

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