Wednesday, 5 February 2014

AN AMERICAN STORY

Margie LeVant

In the late eighties and early nineties, parents in the United States to a large degree missed the initial rush to try out Conductive Education for themselves in Budapest. Whatever the reasons for this, it was at the time a matter of general remark amongst early parent pioneers from other countries. 'When,' they would ask, with some trepidation, 'will the Americans come in?'

The trepidation stemmed from a fear that superior numbers and buying powers might squeeze others out. They need not have worried. By the time that North American parents began to take an interest the world was already moving in. In the nineties parents who had once tuned to the Pető Institute in Budapest were beginning to move to a new model: importing conductors to work in their own countries, and that was becoming the model of the future.

One of the parent-pioneers in the United States was Margie LeVant of Washington DC who in 1996, with her husband Michael Gilman, set up the Capitol Association for Conductive Education .

Some of those early pioneers (not just in the US) were most alive to the importance of public and political awareness in furthering their personal cause, not just in their local press and broadcasting but also through major media outlets with clout – and very effective communicators and propagandists some of them were. In 1998 Margie pulled off a really big coup, a long and impactful feature the Washington Post magazine section, written by artist and writer Russell Creger Barajas. The item was to be published on Monday 28 October 1998. Margie was nine months pregnant with her second child. The Capitol Association's first full-time program was just about to begin.

Early on the Saturday morning before, Margie went into labour. She experienced an amniotic embolism and died almost instantly. Her new-born baby died thirty-six hours later.

Reading about Margie

In the nineties, the world of Conductive Education was even smaller than it is now. I met Margie LeVant once, in Calgary, at a meeting of activists convened by another remarkable North American CE-pioneer, Jerry Maslanka. As I was speaking I was aware of a pair of intense eyes fixed on me from across the big conference table, and found myself in contact with a sharp, critical intelligence and a burning passion for Conductive Education. Margie's death was a terrible thing for her family but it also struck as a major loss for the future of Conductive Education in North America.

When she died, the magazine feature was already in press. Staff writer David Montgomery wrote an accompanying front-page news story for the same day's Washington Post. The Post consigns its online archive inconveniently to Highbeam Research. A couple of years ago, however, Russell Creger Barajas republished the full text on her blog, much more conveniently, along with that of David Montgomery's news item:


Two years later she blogged a moving open letter to Margie:


And the following year the Washington Post also published a follow up (only from Highbeam, I am afraid):


History

I used to share paper copies of the Washington Post articles with student-conductors when teaching about the early history of Conductive Education in North America. I see that at the University of Maryland Agnesanne J. Danehey has 'Rescuing Jonah' as required reading for her course Introduction to Special Education:


The rich personal experiences and private recollections of families and other involved in the processes of Conductive Education are of course their own business and their own property. Those few that do emerge into public light, however, are part of the essential stuff of history.

Individuals and institutions change, and pass. The Capitol Association later became the Cerebral Palsy Ability Centre. Now in 2014 it no longer provides a full-time service, though continues to run summer schools.

Jonah is a young man.

The real world moves on. History of course remains, and may even grow. 


References

Barajas. R. C. (1998) Rescuing Jonah Washington Post Magazine, 28 October
Montgomery, D. (1998) A mother's crusade ended by her death, Washington Post, 28 October
The texts of both the above were republished in a single document, on 28 May 2012:

Barajas. R. C. (2000) After Margie (blog posting) 3 October 
Republished, May 2012

(2001) Revisiting Jonah, Washington Post, 28 January
Available through Highbeam Research:







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