Sunday, 31 August 2008

Make no little plans

They have no magic to stir a man’s soul

These are the words of David Burnham, the man largely responsible for Chicago’s stunning lakefront, through his famous Chicago Plan of 1909 for rebuilding the city following the Great Fire.

He was also responsible for laying out San Francisco following the Great Earthquake there. Trust him: he has a track record!

Losing the vision…?

When Conductive Education first came out of Hungary, some twenty or so long years ago, many of the pioneers saw this as the basis for a Great Plan to sweep away moribund established orders in special education and therapy/rehabilitation and lay the foundations for a brave new world.

This vision certainly stirred the blood of the men and women involved: the families of disabled children, some disabled adults and even a few professionals. This vision and the passion that it engendered was something that the media and the politicians could sense, and even share.

People made big plans, literally so in the case of new ‘institutes’, but also strategic plans for service organizations, and training and other infrastructural systems. These too stirred the blood.

And where are things now? Lots and lots of little projects sprinkled around the world, fighting to hold on to their little niches against a still generally unreconstructed and unsympathetic system that shows no sign of fundamental change. As for the grandiose institutes once envisaged, maybe the blueprints survive to gather more dust in personal archives but the only bricks-and-motor manifestation is the quarter-finished National Institute in Birmingham, England.

Now the talk everywhere is about how Conductive Education has to change, to fit in with how things are around it. Of course, all things have to change, including Conductive Education (its providers as well as its practitioners). But this alone is hardly the blood-stirring vision to rally the troops, attract new adherents, and catch the admiration of politicians and funders.

No doubt many things are needed now to reignite the one-time widespread public and professional enthusiasm for Conductive Education, and the serious academic interest (most especially in education) iabout what it is and what this implies. But nearly a hundred years after David Burnham’s Great Plan (the Centennial celebrations are next year) one need only look at Chicago’s lakefront to be reminded of his central message for Conductive Education:

Think big!



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