Friday, 4 May 2012


CE and special education in the US

The US special education 'industry' is huge, its institutions exceedingly well developed and quite powerful. This must be very much to the good in all sorts of ways, but could also mean that vested interests and resistance to change may be very powerful indeed.

Be that as it may, Conductive Education in the United States is in a long, disappointing road to nowhere, other than as yet another of the jostling crowd of fringe therapies, unless it cracks special education (I am sure that there are those who would disagree and could argue a case for a contrary course but they don not do so, publicly anyway). Breaking into special education in the United States would take a long, concerted and well-founded campaign that ought by now to be entering its third decade.

Of course this matters in the US but it matters to much of the rest of the world too, especially the English-speaking world and to societies that depend upon the US for all sorts of cultural matter. If the US special education industry takes something up and runs with it, then the rest of the world will likely follow (choose your own examples of this). If the US ignores something, then only particularly strong local traditions and institutions may be able to go it alone.

20C and 21C

There were indeed special educators involved in the early days of the US interest in Conductive Education, but since then there has been a discontinuity, with little of no engagement now between CE and the special educational establishment.

As far as I know there has no comprehensive, published bibliographic review literature on CE in the United States from an educational standpoint. I do hope that I am wrong. Here, though, is what little that comes immediately to mind from the last few years.

Christine Pawelski and Columbia Teachers College

In 2007 Alberto M. Bersztyn's Praeger Handbook of Special Education included amongst its authoritative entries one by Christine Pawelski. At the turn of the century she had led a three-year study into complementary practices within special education, at Columbia University Teachers College, New York. Her thoughtful and sympathetic account (pp. 84-88 of the Handbook) is available in full on line, free of charge:

Other traces of that project can still be found on line, for example:
Christine and Columbia are no longer connected with Conductive Education.

Exceptional Children

After a long gap, the publication of an academic article CE in the US special education journal TEACHING Exceptional Children (vol. 41 no 5, 2009, pp. 66-72, 2009), by Katharine Ratcliffe and Cindy Sanekane, seemed initially a matter for rejoicing, even though its tone, content and conclusions were chillingly familiar from the medical press:.

Since June 2010 the complete article has been available on line on docstoc, for US$ 6.95 (less than a fiver in British money):
Its online abstract, though, is free –
Conductive education (CE) is an intensive, holistic approach to the education of people with physical disabilities that recognizes that teaching and learning are related to the emotional, cognitive, and physical aspects of individuals. Despite its popularity in the United States and throughout the world, research has not demonstrated a clear advantage of CE over traditional forms of schooling and therapeutic intervention. Yet, the number of centers offering CE continues to increase, and school districts are being asked to consider this expensive and time-consuming approach by families who advocate strongly for CE programs for their children with disabilities. This article addresses the history and content of CE, the different types of programs available, family perspectives about CE, comparisons between CE and traditional special education services, and the benefits and challenges of different CE models so that teachers and administrators can make informed decisions to appropriately support children and families. (30 references)
More research is needed, as they say. The suggestion has yet to be taken up (again, information to the contrary would be very welcome) and no further interest or discussion appears to have been stimulated as a result of this publication. As far as I can see, no further published articles have referred to it though  of course its conclusions remain, indexed in the public domain.

Award-winning young teacher-blogger

In 2010 Jennifer Quincer, a new teacher in California blogged enthusiastically about her experience of CE at the ConductAbility centre, in the Reality 101 blog of the Council for Exceptional Children. If the comments on this blog are a guide, 'outsiders' could not hear what she was talking about (no fault of her articulate account, outsiders rarely grasp the essence of CE without the benefit of direct exposure):
When people visit our room, they are amazed at what our students can do. I think of it as building upon the old saying about accomplishing what we put our minds to. I have watched my students’ motivation and control translate directly into their ability and enthusiasm to connect to and use what we learn every day in class.
Her account is available in full on line: 
She appears no longer connected with CE.

So it goes...

Disconnection from the education system as a whole (or, as L.S. Vygotskii might have said, its dislocation) is quite a characteristic of Conductive Education, not just in the United States.


Sutton, A. (2001) When Worlds Collide: Promises and Realities, Conductive Chronicle, 2 February

Sutton, A. (2009) CE in US special education literature, Rejoice, rejoice, Conductive World, 8 May

Sutton, A. (2010) All change. As conductors say, on the train, Conductive World, 17 March

1 comment:

  1. I have been racking my brains and cannot come up with any other articles of the type you mention. All I can think of are a number of articles published re CE, and CE in the US but not specifically linked to Special Education thinking.There are seven of such articles in the Virtual Library catalogue on Conductions website


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