Thursday, 28 August 2014

TILLEMANS TOM (1918-2009)

Dutch-Canadian scholar who spent quality time with Mária Hári


My second visit to Budapest comprised nearly a month's immersion at the Villányi út Institute, in the early winter of 1984.

Many things were very different in those last couple of years before the foreign invasion (that my presence there was an important factor in engendering).

It was the time of Goulash Socialism, and superficially a pleasant, comfortable society for foreigners to settle into. Hungary was 'the happiest camp in the Gulag', i.e. the most free, the most relaxed, the most open country in the Soviet Bloc (a comparative statement, you will appreciate), within which the State Institute for Motor Disorders in Villányi út i was almost altogether cut off from the outside world – not just from the world outside Hungary but from much of the rest of Hungary too.

But not entirely. In 1984 there were four young Japanese men, totally immersed, training to be conductors. There were also two English mothers already living for a while in Budapest, with their children attending the State Institute for Motor Disorders. Both children were pupils at Ingfield Manor School in East Sussex, where Ester Cotton and the then Spastics Society were trying to implement a conductive programme. Its content was based upon what Ester Cotton had gleaned from András Pető and her observations of his work nearly twenty years before, its implementation being dependent upon the endeavours of existing staff and wholly without conductors. These two mothers had been disappointed with the progress that their children were making and come to Budapest, a brave and remarkable endeavour in 1984, to try out the real McCoy.

And there was Professor Thomas Tillemans, whom Maria introduced to me and always referred to affectionately as Tillemans Tom. She clearly respected him and seemed a little proud that he should be there.

Tillemans Tom

On this early visit I was too bemused, befuddled and head-over-heels from this crazy little country to take in much about anything. I understood that In 1984 Tillemans Tom was a recently retired academic, a Dutch-Canadian professor of special education (Acadia University in Nova Scotia), and that he was spending two or three months at the Institute trying to get to the bottom of Conductive Education. His method of enquiry was simple, and a good one given the then state of formal knowledge about Conductive Education.ii He had the freedom of the Institute and could wander around at will (as I too did), and every morning that Mária's business would allow she and he spent time talking and discussing. He would then go into a little room by hers and write up his notes and understandings, which he would feed back for her critical remark the next day (I soon learned for myself just how critical, even harsh, such remark could be – poor man!)

I understood that he intended to write up the fruits of their discussions as a joint publication.

I did not know how he had seized upon Conductive Education as an object of study in those early days, nor who was funding his venture iii. He was still there when I left, but I never saw him there again. He was true to his word, however, and the joint article was soon published in the first edition of David Scrutton's widely ready collection Management of disorders of children with cerebral palsy.iv

He was a gentle, scholarly man and I think that I recall Mária's telling me that he was rather frail due to a heart condition. I was please to read recently an old obituary in the Toronto Star, from which I learn that he made it to his nineties, dying only in 2009 after a full and adventurous life:

Among other things, he was at the Battle of Arnhem where he lost an eye and served out the war as a prisoner of the Germans.

Over the years since, with the help of Gill Maguire, I have tried to put more of Maria's work into accessible form, and to tell a little about her as a person (in so far as I had personally experienced her). But I have never settled down to present a formulated understanding of her ideas. The only ones to do this have been Katalin Bíro – and Tillemanns Tom.

And today

As far as I know Thomas Tillemans never publicly returned to the matter of Conductive Education – and the interest in Conductive Education in Western Canada over the last couple of decades appears to have passed by without noticing him. His joint paper with Maria Hari can be regarded as one of the classics of the slender conductive literature – written to proper academic standards, drawing directly upon the understandings and knowledge of one of the two acknowledged 'masters' of the field, published by a leading academic publishing house – and in English too!

When time comes again for Conductive Education again to be an object of academic study, do not forget Tillemans Tom, if only for comparative consideration.

The chapter

Copies of the book in which it was prominently published are available on line.

Their chapter can also be accessed less satisfactorily, but for free, in two ways – see the note appended to the final reference below.

This is a joint paper, both authors having their own contributions to make. Sometimes one can guess at who said what, at other times there is no way separate the authorship – while other passages look like hard-fought compromises. One or two passages I have read several times in different ways, and still cannot make sense of them.

Do not presume that the flow of ideas necessarily went all one way. I suspect that Thomas Tillemans, the Canadian Professor of Special Education, made his own contribution and that it may merit further study to try and trace how far some of the things that Mária subsequently said and wrote came out of her her long discussions with Tom.


(2009) Tomas Tillemans (obituary), Toronto Star, 6 June

Bíró, K. (2006) Fundamentals of conductive upbringing: in fond and respectful remembrance of Mária Hári, Recent Advances in Conductive Education, vol. 5, no 1, pp. 4-10

Hári, M., Tillemans, T. (1984) Conductive Education, in D. Scrutton (ed.), The management of the motor disorders of children with cerebral palsy, Oxford, Spastics International Medical Publications, Clinics in Developmental Medicine No. 90. pp. 20-25

There are two ways in which one may access this chapter on line, neither wholly satisfactory.
  1. Google Books gives access to almost the whole chapter. This is of course a clear-to-read image but one cannot cut and paste from it – and two pages are missing, pp. 23, 29, 30:
  2. In 1993, on behalf of the then American Conductive Education Association, Mina Roth-Dornfeld submitted a bundle of documents on Conductive Education to President Bill Clinton. They are now deposited in his Presidential Library and are of course therefore on line, in full:
  3. University in Nova Scotia)044/010%20647140-mina-roth-dornfeld-9-21-93-10-00-am-1.pdf
    Mina's original photocopies were scanned for archiving. Twenty years ago scanner technology was less advanced than it is today, and this shows, with frequent electronic misreadings, but this text is complete with no pages missing. You will find it by scrolling right down through the bundle, almost to the bottom, on sheets nos 100-126. 
i It would be nearly two more years before this was renamed the Pető Institute

ii Given the the continuing dearth of formal knowledge of the field, the rapid processes of change today, and the retirement of long-serving conductors, it might be all to the good if this process could be repeated with other doyennes, before their contribution and understandings are lost for ever.

iii In his subsequently published report Tom acknowledged the help of James Loring and the International Cerebral Palsy Society, and of the SSHRC (the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) 

iv The second edition of this book 'details the advancement [sic] of the subject from 1984 to 2002' Over that time Conductive Education has largely dropped off the academic agenda in the context in which this book operated.

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