Saturday, 23 June 2012


Conductive Education requires far better than that

Here is a newspaper story that I did not notice when it came out earlier this month. It is the sort of popular-science stuff confounding mind and brain, that comes as a great flood in the public media and flows copiously into the professional press too. Many people in Conductive Education appear to love it, and will probably like this article. The title and the the subsequent introductory paragraph tell it all –
How Barbara Arrowsmith-Young rebuilt her own brain

She realised that part of her brain was not functioning properly so she devised a series of cognitive exercises to develop it. The results changed her life – and now she has helped thousands of children with learning disabilities
You can read more at:

If you are interested in such matters, don't just read the article itself. Look down to readers' Comments, and you will find a revealing mention of Conductive Education.

These extensive readers' comments covered the expected themes. Here is one, anonymously posted under the name of 'xxzzy' (a gamers' name).
xxyzy13 June
So presumably there are some controlled trials showing the method works, and some peer-reviewed papers in serious journals describing the trials? With decently conducted statistical analyses showing that the results aren't chance, and controlling for confounders like class size, contact time, parental involvement and so on?

Otherwise you might come to the conclusion that this was a load of faux-sciencey "neuroscience" rambling in the manner of Brain Gym, The Dore Method, Conductive Education (whatever happened to that?) and the rest of the "don't bother about whether it works, just feel the bravery and passion of the promoters" schemes that prey on desperate parents.

For example: "Neuroplascity is a fascinating area and she's obviously making an important contribution to ongoing research. Good for her."

She doesn't appear to have published anything (Google Scholar, PubMed). She wrote an MA Thesis in 1982 which might be relevant (the abstract doesn't appear to be indexed) but otherwise: nothing. How is she "making an important contribution to ongoing research" if she's not publishing?
It is a pity that this Comment was posted anonymously. It would have been interesting to know what sort of person wrote it. Checking the author's previous form shows an occasionmal commenter but with no particular cross to bear:

The article comes from the Guardian newspaper, so it must suffice here to assume that the Comment was probably written by one of that newspaper's bien-pensant readership and is aimed at similarly educated, right-on people.

So is this what the semi-professional classes, the bleeding-heart liberals, the would-be progressives and other sterotypical Guradian-readers think of Conductive Education, and the company that it appears to keep: gone and cranky? I suspect that many of the professional groups amongst which CE struggles to establish itself read and respect the Guardian?

And how general is this view, not just among Guardian-readers?

'Faux science'

I like the term 'faux science'. 'Faux' means 'fake', like in 'faux fur', not really fraudulent but something rather warmer, cosy, comforting even.

'Faux science' seems a useful critical notion, deserving a place alongside the existing but rather harsher 'pseudo-science' and 'scientistic'.

Conductive Education and faux science

Beware reductionism and mechanism, old-style, static psychometrics, and naïve blues-skies neuroscience. They might look like 'science' from the outside, but there the similarity ends. Follow such lines and be ultimately be judged accordingly – as xxyxy judged Barbara Arrowsmith-Young and, in a perhaps justified sideswipe, Conductive Education too.

That is justified at least in terms of the sort of statements often made by CE's providers and proponents, by the sort of 'research' (actually most of this no more than evaluations) that Conductive Education has attracted, and by much of the discourse that goes for theoretical discussion about CE.

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young credits the name of A. R. Luriya. I can appreciated that. It was his work that brought me too to awareness of Conductive Education at much the same time, some thirty-odd years ago. I have no reason to doubt that Ms Arrowsmith-Young's work may have led to all sorts of educational benefits where there were none before, and of course the proper generalisation and further development of such achievement demands effective research and evaluation. A broadly based understanding of Luriya's neuropsychology, and part of his wider Vygotskian understanding of the nature of human mental development, the methodology of 'Romantic science', would be a good start.

All this of course applies equally to establishing to a proper 'conductive science' to back up conductive pedagogy and upbringing, as urged before in Conductive World.


Henley, H. (2112) How Barbara Arrowsmith-Young rebuilt her own brain, Guardan, 12 June

Sutton, A (2012) Romantic science: a suitable methodology for CE research, Conductive World, 26 February


  1. Pity, as you say, that the commentator xxyzy13 chose to be anonymous. C'est la vie, online, it seems.

    xxyzy13 would seem to be an interesting character, though. Just how many people commenting on this article would know about "Brain Gym, the Dore Method and Conductive Education?"

  2. Just caught Arrowsmith-&c in OzBC's The Drum program. She's trying to get her system used in a Catholic school here. The Drum comperes were uncritical but, quite frankly, it looked like a load of old bollocks to me.

    A minute or two on Google Scholar reveals that she has published ZERO papers (nor, curiously, any Dissertations!) and that your "xxyzy13 .. interesting character" may also have been inspired to do the few minutes research on the subject. And possibly came across (or was the author of) this:
    "Arrowsmith is one of a number of “brain-training” programs currently on the market. Along with others such as Brain Gym and the DORE program, they claim to stimulate or re-organise a child’s brain to make it better, faster, and more efficient, helping to alleviate the symptoms of any specific learning difficulty"
    Anne Castles
    Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University

    Genevieve McArthur
    Associate Professor, Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University