Tuesday, 20 November 2012

ANDRÁS PETŐ'S HERITAGE

From the perspective of cognitive psychology

Professor Reuven Feuerstein, now 91, is the Grand Old Man of cognitive psychology, and the most prominent exponent of the position that human mental attributes are modifiable as an outcome of education.
 
It was only in 1989 that Reuven Feuerstein first heard of Conductive Education. Earlier this year he contributed the third of four Forewords to the collection András Pető. Here is are some extracts from what he wrote there –
 
Both Pető and myself had announced and declared our belief in human beings' capacity to modify their level of functioning. Further, the concept of human modifiability referred to here had been vigorously rejected by the biological, medical and even educational sciences, and this of course gave us a common destiny. Yet the Pető Institute knew nothing about the Feuerstein Institute, and vice versa.,,I soon learned that Pető and I shared a common belief in the whole of inherent human destiny, with Pető's major focus being on disorders of movement and the developmental effects created by cerebral palsy and other conditions that put humans into a state of dyskinesia. Our own theory, the theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability, refers to the propensity of individuals to modify their low level of cognitive functions, irrespective of the aetiology that has produced them or the stage of life at which intervention was started, and with no consideration for the severity of the condition.
 
My first visit to the Pető Institute in Budapest and my meeting with its astonishing leader, the late Dr Mária Hári, indeed convinced me of the strong relationship between the two theories and their practice, in spite of their differences in the orientation … watching the conductors, whom I regard as mediators both of bodily movement and the processes of thinking, revealed to me the great richness and creativity that Conductive Education has produced in its repertoire of mediated learning experiences. From my point of view these modalities of interaction are able to modify the cognitive processes of children no less than their motor behaviour. I found in the work of Mária Hári and her colleagues, following the work of Dr Pető and transmitting it through the conductors, a real belief that change is possible because it is experienced so strongly as a need.
 
...This belief has created a modality of thinking and of creativity in those implementing the approach. I admired the incredible richness of the modalities of functioning, of inventing ways of making children move, how to make the children motivated, how to make them do what seemed to be impossible given the extent and degree of their motor impairment. The enormous diversity of modalities and the amount of learning required to understand what is behind the effectiveness of the modalities continue to be absolutely fascinating.
 
Here, however, comes the problem... These mediators, the conductors who took part in my discussions with Dr Mária Hári, appeared unaware of the formal meaning of their work for the development of inferential thinking, development of comparative behaviour and a large number of higher mental processes...
 
Both our theories were considered by the majority of biological, medical and educational scientists as totally incongruent and inconsistent with dominant views of the fixity of human traits and the unchangeability of the level of functioning. That so little was known about these two theories – Pető's and Feuerstein's – was strongly related to the fact that both theories had limited access to scientific evaluation, if any at all. This has led to our both being considered as rather erratic, reflecting the wishful thinking of the representatives of the two theories. The two theories, Pető's and Feuerstein's, have been said totally to miss the body of research, with its scientifically accepted techniques, about the fixity of human characteristics and the limited amount of change that 'science' has construed can be produced in those affected.
 
It seems unlikely that Reuven's warm and positive interest in Conductive Education is shared by many cognitive psychologists, or that indeed many have even heard of the tradition established by András Pető. His Foreword also recounts something of an attempt to bring the two movements together. In the event, Conductive Education has directed efforts to find its intellectual allies back within medical ways of thinking.  His complete Foreword is published on line at
 
 
The book's other two Forewords are written by Jo Lebeer and Judit Forrai:
 

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