Tuesday, 19 August 2008


Birmingham declaration has implications for all

Text of address to the Foundation’s 

Annual Awards Ceremony

Franz Schaffhauser
Rektor, International Pető Institute
20 June 2008
Dr Sutton, esteemed professors and colleagues distinguished guests, proud family members, graduates!
First of all I should like to thank the Foundation for Conductive Education and the National Institute of Conductive Education for their kind invitation. I feel very honoured and privileged to be here on behalf of the Pető Institute.
Being a small country, Hungary has introduced only a few ideas to the world but Conductive Education is one of them. Its primary aim is to work hard to build a personality, to foster intentionality, self-control, success and dignity. We teach dysfunctioning individuals to learn and to shape their ambition for self-development. Together we explore their potential in order to set goals that they will see as their own demands. According to the essential principle of Conductive Education, not only do the educators have impact on the children or adults but they in turn affect the educators as well. In the course of education motor-disabled individuals and conductors develop simultaneously as a result of concerted activity.
I think it is now for our organisations to open a door and become enriched by exchanging ideas and sharing recent developments with each other.
Let us face some significant facts and events of the near past and let us try to examine these with a critical eye.
In the nineteen-fifties and sixties András Pető and his institute were quarantined by the ideologically narrow-minded and politically blind communist regime. The Institute, in fact the whole world, owes it to British society, to the British parents who took the development of their children into their own hands, and not least the Government of the United Kingdom, that this isolation was ended. In the nineteen-eighties your initiatives proved really productive when the Pető method attained the forefront of professional interest worldwide, Conductive Education became an opportunity for many families in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and the names of András Pető, his true student Mária Hári and the Pető Institute were introduced to the world. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this initiative, which at that time received our support and then, building upon original joint interests and collaboration, an institute offering conductive practice was set up and conductor-training launched. 
The real community of interests seems to have suffered damage when science, normally cultivated in your country in a critical, free and responsible spirit, presented its first results related to Conductive Education, while you chose to follow your own less restricted, non-dogmatic practice when the contents of the training were to be determined. At that time the Pető Institute too was not immune from dogmatic preconceptions, either in terms of scientific research or conductive practice. Now eighteen years have passed since fundamental change in Hungary's political system and we are still struggling with a number of after-effects of dogmatism that are still reflected in attitudes.

On the other hand, Pető's original, authentic ideas were safeguarded, fostered, systematised and represented, consistently and when necessary harshly, by the management and the entire staff of the Pető Institute. You will certainly believe me that this has had an unfavourable impact up to these days, particularly on the practical training of conductors. The Institute and the management were concerned for this effect and tried to protect Conductive Education against any external influence that may have lessened it in their interpretation. To this end, students of Pető’s College were not allowed to meet therapeutic teams or communities and had no chance whatsoever to learn how to work in such a setting. Conductors undertaking to work in teams alongside professionals representing different approaches met with disapproval. 
Following a promising beginning then, barely had the system of our personal and institutional connections been established and the training commenced, when the negative effects of the previously mentioned circumstances started to appear; to emerge moreover as a tendency. To the management of the Pető Institute, your own free way of thinking and more flexible approach, sometimes even your mere interest, seemed almost provocative and those working in the administration and especially the training system of conductive education responded again with reservation and self-isolation. Then the problem culminated in a question that induced conflicts: Who is the authentic representative of Conductive Education? Who is entitled to stand up for it on international level? Essentially the conflict came to a head in connection with the right to continue training and to grant conductor qualification.
The point of view that we now take is clear: every institution that asks for and gets national or international accreditation must know what conductive pedagogy is and be able to provide high-standard practical training attached to theoretical instruction. You certainly share our opinion that those aspiring to be important actors of the Conductive Education scene must be very familiar with conductive pedagogy and capable of carrying out research in theoretical and practical areas in this discipline, to effect measurements related to Conductive Education processes and to present evaluations for scientific criticism. 
Here I would like to express our appreciation, as to the best of our knowledge you were the very first to formulate the aforementioned criteria and have adhered to these with remarkable consistency.

We think the work and research you are pursuing is crucial and progressive and deserves recognition. It is obvious from the figures, that in the international literature treating conductive pedagogy, its international status and the Pető Institute itself, British authors have so far excelled both in terms of quantity and depth. 
In summary, we may state that, after a favourable start and a dynamic progress, our relationship has not always been serene; collaboration has sometimes been interrupted or even suspended. As for our part, we would like to put an end to this fluctuation. 
At this solemn moment, taking this festive occasion, I would like to announce that we are willing to re-establish closer links and indeed interested in re-uniting forces with you.
On our end, we undertake to prepare our College and its institutions for collaboration with your organisation and other international factors in order to renew Conductive Education. Why could it not be British and Hungarian conductors together who pioneer the innovation and animate others to accomplish successful renewal? 
Dear Graduates! 
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my congratulations to you all. I also would like to express my appreciation to the hard work of all the members of the university, your fine teachers, and also the members of the staff who have all contributed toward your successful education.
Graduation is the reward for all the late nights in the library and the long hours studying and working. From now on, no more exams, no more apprehension. Still, I hope you will not stop being students, and go on learning. You must remain fit, both mentally and physically, to be able to execute this most challenging profession. 
You have achieved your goal, and now you are ready to begin another chapter. Now you really start real life. You may face unhappy things, hindrances, obstacles and complications. So it is important to have determination and optimism and patience. Success is defined in a myriad ways, and you will find it. People will no longer be grading you, but will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine is quite strong.
Please always remember that you are carrying a treasure. This treasure must be guarded with caution and respect, for the benefit of many thousands of children and adults with motor impairments.
My heartiest congratulations on this day that means so much to you and to your families. May your future be worthy of your dreams!
I am pleased to publish this text here for wider consideration. I can no longer of course speak for the Foundation but I would like to record my personal response.

First, and I am sure that many, many around the world will echo this sentiment, I am delighted at such a frank and open public statement from the head of the Pető Institute. I can feel assured that relationships with the Pető Institute will now be conducted on the same lines as with any institution of its nature and status, something that can act only for the good of Conductive Education as a whole. And at the very least I hope that one effect of this will be that other organisations within Conductive Education will follow suit and aspire to the same high standards of discourse, again for the betterment of the whole.

Franz Schaffhauser’s concise overview of the dynamics of the ‘history’ between the Pető Institute and the Foundation that I used to direct is a fair one. Yes, British society, British parents and even the British Government played a vanguard role in breaking through the Iron Curtain and bringing Conductive Education to the world. British society here included its media and Diana, Princess of Wales. British parents led the first exodus to Budapest and were subsequently to the forefront of the movement to establish small autonomous Conductive Education centre here, an important model for services in the period of internationalisation that followed. British politicians of all parties responded to the popular enthusiasm and, with the Foreign Office very much in the lead, eased the way for the unprecedented East-West collaboration across the ideological divide, that had ben established by the Foundation and the Pető Institute.

Such a promising beginning. Then, as Franz Schaffhauser reports, a wildly inappropriate model of research put ammunition into the hands of the enemies of Conductive Education. Further, dispute over the ‘ownership’ of the system brought a bitter and alienating legal conflict. The Cold War between the Foundation and the Peto Institute persisted for a decade. The media lost interest, parents began to find solutions and new problems nearer home and, paradoxically, the end of the real Cold War in 1991 meant that the Foreign Office no longer had cause to drive other arms of Government into involvement with Conductive Education.

History now, all history – but it is never the end of history. There is so much still to do, such debts of honour to the past and such obligations to the future. Insofar as some of Franz’s generous and complementary remarks might have been directed towards myself, I personally look forward, to take up his words, towards re-establishing closer links and indeed re-uniting forces.

An era has ended, out of which many individuals and institutions already have their own ‘histories’. Franz Schaffhauser has closed a door and opened another. There will be many around the world keen to explore the opportunities for genuine collaboration that this might offer.

Notes and references

Foundation for Conductive Education, Award Ceremony

The pivotal media contribution in creating British (and later world) interest in Conductive Education was Standing up for Joe, first shown by the BBC on 1 April 1986. The contribution of its producer, Ann Paul, was recognised at the same ceremony:

Sutton, A. (2008) Standing up for Joe: Anne Paul's pivotal contribution to Conductive Education, 24 June


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