Monday, 25 November 2013


Trail so far leads back via Bill Clinton to Hong Kong

Five days ago Conductive World took up a query from Conductive Education Info, asking about the origin of the following sentence –

Ask me not what I can do for children with Cerebral Palsy, but ask me what they can learn to do for themselves.

Neither enquiry, Gill's or mine, elicited a response. Of course not.

Five websites sites were found relaying this supposed quotation:

Now four more websites

Today Google Alerts sent me a new sighting of the term, referring me to a different (new?) page on Whoopsadaisy's website:

It contained a shorter version of the same sentence, but with slight variations in wording, phrased a little more colloquially, and without specific mention of cerebral palsy –

Do not ask what can I do to help but rather what the child can do to help himself.
So where else does this variant occur?

Buddy Bear Trust

Dame Vera Lynn Trust

Unnamed parent in United States

Janet Ng, Occupational Therapist from Hong Kong

From Hong Kong... Bill Clinton's Presidential Archive

Janet Ng's quoted this sentence as the epigraph to an article that she published in the Hong Kong CE Journal – if my memory serves, her article opened the first issue of volume 1 of that publication. The actual focus of the article notwithstanding (precise physical details of the furniture used at the Pető Institute), its opening epigraph set the publication off to a flying start with what looks a major pedagogical insight, attributed to András Pető (actual source unstated).

Janet's article is available on line solely because it was included as part of an extensive bundle of photocopies that was submitted in 1993 on behalf of the then American Conductive Education Association by American CE-pioneer Mina Roth-Dormfeld to President Bill Clinton, in support of the Association's submission that Conductive Education should merit most serious official attention in the United States

The Association's initiative appears to have led nowhere but in the fullness of time the bundle ended up archived in the William J. Clinton Library, part of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, where it of course remains. The archive is also on line, including Mina's unsorted bundle and, as part of this, Janet's little article:

Janet's article has made a long journey into posterity. Along the way no one seems to have felt it important to note its source (or indeed the source of much else that makes up that bundle). Without a reference to anchor it, uncorroborated material may simply be ignored or even discounted – or may contrarily assume the unjustified but unquestioned status of authoritative fact.

But I am still no nearer to knowing where this sentence came from...


As far as the revealed items in this archive tell, nobody else seems to have contacted Bill Clinton about Conductive Education in his role as President.

I do not know whether other approaches have been made to the top in the United States over the last twenty years 

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