Tuesday, 25 July 2017


What if I were teaching psychology today?

What if I were still trying to teach an appropriate psychology to students preparing to become conductors?

L. S. Vygotskii...

Would I still teach about L. S. Vygotskii as the basis for the only possible developmental psychology  appropriate to an effective, transformative, developmental pedagogy – especially with respect to developmental disorders? 

I most certainly would.

Within this, thanks to the new information of Vygotskii and his times emerging over the last couple of decades, I would change certain emphases (especially with growing confirmation of may long-standing suspicions about the role of A. N. Leont'ev and activity theory).

And I should no longer feel that I were putting my students in an awkward and embarrassing position by decrying and condemning the vast misleading English-language literature of what I called 'pseudo-' and 'bourgeois-academic' Vygotskii, for outside the usual academic suspects the newer literature is gaining growing bulk and force. Thanks to the Internet students can readily source such material, much of which in published on explicitly political sites if they learn to separate sheep from wolves.

It is a shame that a couple of professional generations in the English-speaking West have been led so far up the garden path, but there you go. Some people regard neo-Vygotskian theory in the West as a progressive force in its time. I find it hard to agree. Still, the historical process continues and future students should have access to wider, more genuinely Vygotskian literature – that is if their teachers manage not to continue misleading them with neo-Vygotskian ideas picked up as part of their own professional socialisation.

There are some interesting contradictions here to work themselves out! It will time. It will be a waste. So it goes.

In the meantime I wonder what student-conductors following various training courses around the world are taught in the way of psychology. As far as I know no clue to this has been published on line.

If (Heaven forfend) I were in the position of having to teach such a course in 2017 what might I recommend them to read?

I assume that most students will be young or youngish people, and regard themselves as 'progressive'. I would start them off with a guided tour of an article by Jeremy Sawyer, a psychologist-activist in New York:


In talking  about this I would hope to guide them to be them aware of three things in particular:
  • some of the best stuff now published comes from an explicitly Marxist (though of course no longer Soviet) stance
  • this is barely mentioned by the neo-Vygotskian establishment
  • that the author, whatever else his virtues, seems to have no direct access to the Russian-language literature, and falls back upon neo-Vygotskian texts...
Plenty to find to talk about there!

Then I would hit them with some readings from Revisionist Revolution in Vygotsky Studies, edited by edited by Anton Yasnitsky and René van der Veer . 

Within the specifically Vygotskian component of a psychology for conductive pedagogy there are other things to add too, not least to impress that conductive pedagogy and upbringing are mutually dependent aspects of a greater whole.

And holism...

Outside the specifically Vygotskian heritage, there is plenty more to teach. I always included developmental ways of thinking and acting that are not simply transformative but could be described as dynamic, systemic, ecological, dialectical, reciprocal, reflexive, transactional, mediated, and/or holonomic and radical. In recent years here has been an increasing awareness apparent in accounts of Conductive Education of what people usually call 'holistic'. I too over the years have become more and more consciously aware of this practical and philosophical dimension of Conductive Education, at almost evert turn. No wonder: it is absolutely integral with the very concept of 'conductive'. One can hardly consider one without the other.

In teaching about this dimension, after explicitly distancing pop-psychology and new-age uses of the word 'holism', it would be time to introduce Goethean science and to try to explore the tradition of holistic medicine that András Pető would have known, a strand has been practically lost from medicine in some countries.

What a wonderful and otherwise impossible opportunity to teach directly from the small amount is actually available of what András Pető actually wrote on his motor therapy.

And what a wonderful opportunity to branch out into the possible conceptual links between this and the work of A. R. Luriya and his Romantic Science (and therefore with the much admired and highly readable work of Oliver Sacks), and of course back to L. S. Vygotskii and his tradition, perhaps not so simply Marxist as has been painted...

Mind you, this could be an even more exciting course to teach in Germany. I wonder what psychology will be presented to students on the new training course to commence in Nürnberg this coming semester.

What if...?

I guess that if I had been teaching psychology to student conductors over the last fifteen years, during which the number of conductor-training courses around the world has slowly edged up, I should have felt obliged to contact the emerging courses to see what we had in common and what might be learned from each other, as was dome by CEHEG years ago. We might have found ways to co-operate, converge even.

Perhaps this is being done. There is no reason that I should know if it is.

And perhaps the incorporation of the present PAF into Semmelweis Medical University will bring a new player on to the board of 'psychology for conductive pedagogy'.

The sort of psychology for conductive pedagogy courses that I would have in mind in 2017 would take a awful lot to work to elaborate and work up. Presumably others have quite different ideas of what student-conductors require in this respect. Good luck to them. It's their world. And good luck to Conductive Education within it.


Sawyer, J. (2014) Vygotsky’s revolutionary theory 
of psychological development, International Socialist Review, no 93, n.p.

No comments:

Post a Comment