Sunday, 3 July 2011

Conductive Education: who is it for?

Who is 'sweetable'? *

I often read something like 'CE is not suitable for everyone'.

In our often exclusionary societies, with their often all-too-exclusionary mindsets, one of the first questions often asked about conductive pedagogy and upbringing is 'Who is suitable?' – or 'Who is not?' Close behind (if not actually first!) come the inevitable operational questions about 'assessment' and 'criteria'.

My immediate response is threefold:
  • it is for human beings
  • for all of them
  • not just for those with motor disorders
Human beings

The simple answer to the question of who might benefit from a conductive approach is 'human beings'. Lower-order species can not, despite the occasional tale to the contrary – I recall fondly the headline story in the Daily Mirror, newspaper, in 1986 or 1987, at the height of the UK's public CE fever: 'Tibbles, the conductive cat'.

This is not a trivial distinction, and its consideration is a useful starting point for examining the fundamental human principle that makes this approach (or something very like it) not only possible but essential for effective special education, rehabilitation, whatever, as opposed to treatments, therapies, exercises..

All of them

So, which humans? The answer here is simple: all humans, whatever their age, culture or physical condition. Why not? All human are susceptible to psycho-social influences, all human beings learn, and therefore all human beings can be taught. 

I used to add '...unless they are living in a coma'. Then Miklós Fehér, a great and long-term admirer of conductors, told how in a rehabilitation hospital that he had run there had been a ward staffed by conductors. The vagaries of hospital admission meant that at one point the ward filled with patients in comas. Everything that he had ever heard and believed, about Conductive Education's being 'cognitive', 'verbal', pointed to conductors' being irrelevant here. No, on the contrary, patients made discernable response and progress – not least, I venture, in response to the non-cognitive, non-verbal aspects of conductive upbringing though, I further venture, cognitive and verbal activity probably also played a powerful role.

He told this around the time that conventional Western rehabilitation medicine was starting to reassess its understandings and expectations about people in 'vegetative' and 'locked-in' states. Such a report from the apparent fringes of practice is no peripheral matter but another good discussion point for the process of getting 'CE' off the hook of its conventional wisdom.

Not just those with motor disorders

Contrary to one of the myths that envelope conductive practice (and theory), András Pető did not develop his work primarily with children and adults (especially children) with motor disorders. The work of his Institute and his own personal practice were wide-ranging. Changing circumstances subsequently served to limit the range of applicability of his 'method'. In Hungary, this narrowing of focus was perhaps particularly affected by the long-term effects of transferring responsibility for his Institute from the Ministry of Heath to the Ministry of Education. Now, in the twenty-first century, new internationalising practices are encouraging and enabling application of his approach to open up again, albeit slowly (and perhaps needlessly apologetically).

Notwithstanding, it has to be recognised that the Hungarian years of CE's history have bequeathed to the world a trained practice that is best defined as 'conductive pedagogy and upbringing for the motor disordered'. This is not, however, to deny that there should not be potentially other conductive pedagogies and upbringings, defined around other disabilities – or no disability at all.

So what is all this about 'assessment'

Conductive Education is an transactional process, involving 'encounters' in which those who take part act upon and effect each other in a potentially upward spiral of learning and development. (Sorry, I cannot here use the more convenient word 'participants', as it has been misused and devalued over the years within the emerging English-language jargon of CE). Call it 'dialectical', if you like.

Whatever term you chose, you have to step outside the mechanistic present-paradigm undertanding that one of those involved in the process is a fixed entity in whom 'what is' predicts or even determines 'what will be', irrespective of what others may do. Development, pedagogy, upbringing, are supposedly dynamic and supposedly have effects, otherwie why bother to do them? Taking a measure of how things are now, with all the impossibility of knowing what might happen in a future yet to be created, may have as its chief outcome to constrain the range of potential outcomes that this future may potentially bring.
Over the course of the twentieth century 'assessment', as she is usually spoke, has been a malign force upon the lives of uncountable millions across the world. As conductive practice spreads it runs inevitably into the powerful desire to assess, preferably prescriptively and preferably as early in life as possible. That's wonderful – as long it means that the 'assessment' relates not to an individual but to the sort of interactions that demonstrably enhance learning and development, in the present real-life context in which something might be done, and its outcomes are in the form of practical hypotheses about what might be done next. Such assessment suits the dynamic nature of effective, transformative pedagogy and upbringing.

Feuerstein's finger

In other words, assessment should not be of a given child, or even of that child's difficulties, or even 'needs' (read 'adults' and 'families' here too). The operational question has to be 'What might be done to achieve change?' This question of course encompases as much those who act as assessors as those who are being assessed. Indeed, one might argue, more so. And the only way of answering question is not to examine 'what is', but to start working and examine what happens, what 'works', and what does not.

Some twenty years ago, I helped in production of the documentary film The Prophet from the Wilderness (the second in the BBC's three-part Transformers series) Reuven (for it was he) gave a very simple and graphic illustration of rephrasing the question, showing how the finger of blame should be directed away from a given child, and forced back upon those who would seek in-child reasons for not taking up the pedagogue's burden.

Assess if you wish, and you may find all sorts of good objective reasons why you cannot offer someone Conductive Education, not you, not at your place, not this year. Perhaps you do not have enough staff, or enough flexibility, or enough time. Perhaps you ust do not know what to do. Perhaps there are administrative or regulatory reasons, or financial grounds. These are good objective reasons for which no one need be ashamed. So say so. And perhaps, less commendably (and this has to be said) you do not like the look of a particular child or adult or family.

But 'not suitable'? Please do not point the finger without realising that it may potenially be twisted back on you.

*   'Sweetable'   Thirty-odd years ago, early on in the process of transferring Conductive Education out of Hungary, I was surprised and rather shocked at the way in which certain conductors would deem some children as 'suitable' and others 'not suitable' for Conductive Education. Oh, our hopeless English orthographic conventions!  
'Sweetable': a ludicrous non-word for a ludicrously inapposite but nontheless harmful concept.

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Anonymous sue o'reilly said...

Profoundly humane article Andrew.I
Will never ever forget asking a pediatrician some 20 years ago, when my son was around 15 months old, what she knew about CE, because I was thinking about it for him? She almost jumped out of her chair in her haste to assure me that "CE only looks like it works because it a ruthlessly selective method which only accepts mildly CP children who were always going to do well anyway - your son is far too disabled, you'll find he will be rejected immediately as not suitable" (or 'sweetable'). I ignored her, took him to an assessment with a conductor, Gabi,who examined him closely (Shane screamed throughout, as usual) and then Gabi said - in words I'll also never forget -"Shane is a perfect candidate for CE, because you can see from his eyes he is very bright." My first introduction to the vested interests of the medical/therapy profession in talking garbage about CE.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011 at 01:08:00 BST  
Blogger Lisa Gombinsky said...

I tried to respond - but had so much to say that it was too long for a comment. I have posted my response on my blog -

Tuesday, 5 July 2011 at 05:32:00 BST  

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