Tuesday, 4 September 2012

LIFE, DEATH, AND LIFE AGAIN

The struggle continues
Evolution

Ralph Strzałkowski writing on his blog about cessation of the conductive program in Gainsville, Florida, provided by the Jordan Klausner Foundation, comments as follows –
More often than not it’s the initiative of parents in small communities that put these programs together. And they deal with limited resources, lack of visibility and run on low funds when the economic crisis hurt or limited some of the public funds to depend on. Some of the big centers are in turn either too expensive for some parents or not conveniently located close to where they live...
Recently I got a call from a mother in a neighboring State of Georgia. She told me she would be perfectly willing to pay for a CE center if she could find one. Apparently there were none, free or fully paid for at least in her part of the State. She will come together with parents of other disabled children and form some kind of structure. They are looking into hiring a Hungarian Conductor and starting the H1B visa process. And it gives me hope. It reminds of the drive everyone at the Klausner Foundation had. For as long as there are kids with disabilities, there will be parents trying to make it better. One school will close and the other will open. Nature abhors a vacuum. For as long as there is passion and dedication these kids will be fine.
http://blog.lawyeronwheels.org/2012/08/conductively-marching-on.html
I suspect that I might express a more qualified view than does the concluding sentence here but I agree with his wider point about the wider process, the social dynamic that sustains so much of international Conductive Education.

An American trend

Five or six years ago David Dvoral surveyed conductive programs in North America (most of these being in the United States), his findings illustrating just how fragile and ephemeral so many of them were. As far as I know, there have been no further such surveys (certainly none published) but, if his findings are generalisable to the years following his survey, then the Jordan Klausner Foundation will have followed a fairly characteristic course. Here is the formal Abstract of David Dvorak's published report 
Development of Conductive Education services across North America has been driven by parents of children with motor disorders seeking to establish Conductive Education programs local to their homes. During 2006-7, some fifty programs were found in various listings. Only thirty were found to be operational, twenty-five of which responded to brief enquiry on the management challenges that they experienced. Center administrators’ responses clustered mainly in five areas, finance, conductors, overall management, leadership and marketing/publicity. Respondents also offered suggestions as to how these issues might be addressed, helping in the creation of a Management Report on Conductive Education Programs in North America.
I do not know whether any general measures were taken to implement suggestions that arose from this survey. Be that as it may, Ralph's posting suggests that the wheel of life continues to turn: the Jordan Klausner Foundation might find another related activity, a parent in the next state will take up the onerous burden of funding, organising, running a tiny program, and so life goes on.

Parents create and access services, conductors find jobs, and for many involved that may be enough, but there are wider questions:
  • What about affecting social policy about the nature of services, or even just the understandings of the existing established professional services?
  • What about effects of all this upon Conductive Education?
The answer to the first question is probably that Conductive Education in the United States, for all the energy, hard work and good heart to which Ralph refers, does little to change either the general policy and professional environment in which it operates now or the context in which others will have to start up in the future.

The answer to the second question may be that correspondingly it is CE that has had to bend and change – and will continue to have to do so.

Evolution

With passing of time and greater hindsight answers may become clearer.

For the moment, as for social policy and professional understandings, even if constant creation of new centers, and re-employment/redeployment of conductors, have no positive effect, one should not rule out the possibility of a negative one, establishing and reinforcing a perception of Conductive Education as something on the fringe – while the world carries on as it was going to do anyway, leaving unchallenged the dominant assumptions of our age about developmental disorders and what might be done about them. Conductive Education has had no effect at this level in any country as far as I know – including, I suspect, Hungary.

As for effects upon the practice and theory of Conductive Education itself, who knows? Years of this such working now have generated no discernible, explicit knowledge base for how conductors might work to maximise what can be done in such circumstances, in other words there is no 'literature' and there are no training courses on this (I do hope that people will correct me if I am wrong in this). Nor has there emerged popular education to create public awareness of what parents can reasonably expect from such provision and what they might have to do to ensure that it impacts maximally for their families' benefit (again, correction please). The valuable, individual knowledge, experience and insights that individual conductors and parents might have picked up and taken away with them from working in this way have remained personal, and there has been no explicit advance in general public awareness of conductive practice as a result, leaving 'newbies' to have to approach it blind

This is not to say that all the expense, hard work, hope, love etc. expended over the years has been wasted. Perhaps it has left indelible marks upon the personal lives of hundreds, perhaps thousand of people. But what, one has to ask, do these personal effects mean for the generation of families just entering the lists. Indeed, what do they mean for the present and next stages of life of those who have themselves been already directly involved?

Things do not remain as they are, things change. Constant death and renewal of social entities like programs/centers, as much as of living biological organisms, raises the uneasily Darwinian question of how the next generation of programs and parctice might differ in small ways from the present one, as presumably the present one already differs, however minutely, from the last... Minutissimal changes, each individual case differing from the next, have the potential to fall into step and come together as something new, something unforeseen, unplanned, unwanted even. And once arrived, the new state of affairs may seem as natural, as unproblematical and self-evidently correct to everyone involved as have preceding manifestations in their time – however outmoded and passé they might be regarded now.

Towards a new stage?

So watch out, Ralph, for what the Jordan Klausner Foundation decides to do next, on the basis of what seems right and feasible in new circumstances, and look out for the specifics in the proposed program in Georgia. Perhaps such specific exemplars might offer pointers for what to look out for in contemporary developments elsewhere? Never mind what is happening in the 'big centres', what is happening below and around these to response to parents' 'passion and dedication'. Whatever immediate needs this may satisfy, is it necessarily therefore unmitigatedly 'fine'?

The spontaneous evolution of a system under the stress of working in the United States, with all its opportunities, enrichment and temptations, may offer a tremendous spur for developing conductive practice and thinking. I can think of individual examples. Potentially this is an enormous plus. And the possible bad news? Perhaps, CE in North American model lives on what may be ever greater conceptual distance from what might be regarded as its roots – the ideas, practices and values of its founder and those who followed him – this growing distance becomes a problem, as original values dissolve into the new background.

Perhaps it is with this at least partly in mind that ACENA (the Association for Conductive Education in North America) is convening this week in Grand Rapids, Michigan, around the theme 'Tradition: our door to the future'. This certainly sounds interesting. I wonder which tradition or traditions in particular people have in mind (come to that, which future). It could be interesting to a far wider audience still if some one or some body would report what is proposed and discussed around this conference theme, and what courses of action are decided upon to unlock this uncertain door...

After all, the questions that Ralph's report raises are hardly unique to Conductive Education in the United States – nor necessarily restricted to Conductive Education.

References

Dvorak, D. (2009) Management report: Conductive Education programs in North America, Recent Advances in Conductive Education, vol.7, no 2

Strzałkowski, R. (2012) Conductively marching on, Lawyer on Wheels, 23 August


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