Sunday, 6 July 2014


'What is Conductive Education?' 

philosophical question

Thank you Rony Schenker for reminding me of an important question rarely put in writing – the awkward question of how well (or otherwise) the imported philosophy of Conductive Education fits with the educational assumptions of new host societies.

On Conductive World's Facebook page Rony had commented oa notification of an informational webpage for schoolteachers, that addressed that old, old question 'What is Conductive Education?' answering on the whole rather well –
Original and sensible overview of Conductive Education, written for educators. I wonder who wrote it. It looks like it may have come from America. This account is not without flaws but someone (a special educator?) is trying to state what is going on from the standpoint of EDUCATION.
Read the webpage that this refers to:

This notification attracted swift, sharp response from Rony Schenker –
Is this conductive education? Isn't it what EDUCATION is all about???
For some societies... and some people

Rony lives and works in a society that I suspect has a more cohesive philosophy of family, education and childhood, one more conducive to Conductive Education, than may be found in some other countries. I also suspect that this includes a generally held, positive orientation towards the educability of children and towards the institutions created to share in this task. By contrast, in my own country for example, there is no cohesive philosophy of education and childhood shared across most of society, and some of those to be found are far from conducive to Conductive Education further, there is a widely met orientation that if there are problems biology trumps all, and this orientation extends across the political 'right' and the political 'left'.

I do not to wish to Romanticise the role and function of education in Jewish society and culture, nor for a moment wish to suggest that this is unique. I seek only to acknowledge its powerful and to a large degree explicit role and force, greater than in some societies.

Importing Conductive Education

There may of course therefore be diverse answers to Rony's question of 'what EDUCATION is all about', diverse both within and between countries.

The refreshing attempt to define Conductive Education referred to above, offers a modern (probably American) educator's interpretation of Conductive Education. It expresses a certain, general educational philosophy that Rony tends to share. I tend to share it too as I suspect do many who tread the path of Conductive Education around the world. Indeed without this common philosophy none of us would be this path – and sticking on it.

But many individuals and also influential groupings within some societies may not hold educational beliefs that are broadly compatible one with the other, or with Conductive Education.

If Rony's society as a whole respects education, if families 'own' education and their culture as a shared mainstream activity that helps determine selfhood, then a cohesive, shared educational philosophy may be a defining instrument for social development and cultural sustainability. Contrast that with my own country:
  • no common, explicit understanding of the defining role of culture
  • the politics of education riven by class war
  • pervasive pedagogic pessimism
  • rigid bureaucratisation
  • obsession with 'assessment'
  • implicit and often explicit acceptance of the determining role children's biologies
  • apparent terror at the very notion of ideas 
  • the whole educational endeavour's hanging upon its supposed effects upon economic output. 
No wonder that in place of cohesion we have discord, and instead of a humane, generous view of educational process we have the grinding, managerialist push for higher measurable school achievement.

This is not, I suspect, the education that Rony and most others embedded in Conductive Education wish primarily for their children and would wish to accommodate to.

A different world

I do not myself agree with the little webpage referred to above in its every aspect. It is clumsily stated, not least because one cannot hold much a pedagogic discussion in the terms of modern Anglo-Saxon 'special needs'. And one point particularly sticks in my craw, the suggestion that children should be...
...evaluated upon their status at the beginning of the teaching process. These evaluations help educators to know what is necessary.'
And in very practical terms, two further points have to be taken with a pinch of salt:
  • families with a need for conductive educations should consult health care professionals
  • there are many helpful locations to find the learning processes that you and your family need.
Ideally, yes.  In practice, proceed with caution!

Notwithstanding, so much catches my sympathetic attention:
  • the premise that problem learners require specialised education
  • consideration of clients' physical condition, be they adults or children
  • emphasis on the whole person, as opposed to only one facet
  • personal development as important as skills being taught
  • socialisation as the first step in the learning process
  • style of teaching targeting the whole personality
  • requirement for time and understanding of needed techniques
  • activity of some sort
  • two crucial criteria to conductive teaching and learning are continuity and consistency
  • being consistent is critical
  • those in the group will likely be on different learning levels
  • individuals may require different styles of teaching
  • consistency is a standard requirement, no matter the teaching style
  • all those working with a group should display cohesion
  • confusion prevents proper learning and advancement
  • those who teach should be both technically competent and kind.
As far as England is concerned (and possibly other English-speaking countries too) many of these points challenge and offend a range of powerful entrenched forces – in national and local government, amongst other professions, amongst inclusionists and the disability movement, within the ideology of pre- and primary education, in special-needs academe, and in the liberal media. Various educational groups in our society may disagree over many things but can find common ground in objecting strongly to the philosophy of Conductive Education.

With respect to their philosophies of childhood and education, some societies may display a generally consensual picture; others might be outright discordant. Around the world Conductive Education might find itself in some very different places.

'We do that'

I recall, sometime in the late nineteen-eighties, giving an invited talk to an audience of the usual suspects, a mix of special-school teachers, therapists, plus the odd doctor. As I often did in those days, in order to clarify the various mutually dependent levels required to deliver a functioning system of Conductive Education, I used the conventional hierarchical, model that I had borrowed from Reuven Feuerstein:
  • I began with what I have always regarded the determining factor in achieving something of significance in education: the belief system, its values, theory and philosophy
  • I then moved down to what they really wanted to hear, some practical pedagogic tools and practices
  • I concluded with the necessary material base, personnel and their preparation, organisation, structure  etc.
There was the usual glum silence, then up piped a physiotherapist – 
We've got philosophy
Too true I thought, there's the problem. But in those distant days I was too concerned to maintain a little peace between us and them to pursue this further. In retrospect, maybe I should have tried to examine this statement in more detail, and maybe everybody else should have too, on both sides of the conductive/non-conductive divide.

One used to hear a lot of 'We do that!' with respect to features of the middle level of Reuven's model, from people who wished to emulate aspects of Conductive Education as they perceived them. At those levels some of it is very easy to pick up (think of all that wooden furniture sold over the years), through watching or collaborating with conductors at work for example, and can readily be conveyed on short courses too. But beliefs, values, the determining spirit of the conductive approach, how does one implant these? Some people of course already have it when they come in, from life experiences of different kinds elsewhere in their lives. Is is 'caught not taught'. Is 'training' the answer? Or is the 'traditional' system of conductor-preparation evolved for Conductive Education over the years indicative that the fundamental answer lies in 'socialisation', deep and wide, upbringing and lifestyle, living the conductive culture?

Not so much 'We do that' as 'We are that'.


(2014) What is Conductive Education? TeAchnology

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