Monday, 15 December 2014


Well, not exactly

A little while ago a former student of mine reminded me – publicly, I am embarrassed to say – that sometimes towards the end of the twentieth century I had said in a lecture that Conductive Education regards motor disorders as 'problems of learning'.

I have to hold my hand up. I indeed used to say this – a lot  and I wrote it too. I do not know when I first used this sentence or indeed where I picked it up. Maybe I heard someone else say it, or maybe I had read it somewhere. I doubt that I made it up, though maybe I did. Anyway, over the ensuing years lots of people have restated it, and passed it on in writing too, or just spontaneously re-created it up for themselves. It is now part of the unquestioned canon of Conductive Education.

Like the rest of that canon, it merits careful examination.

Over the ensuing years my own understanding of Conductive Education has inched forward too, and it is embarrassing to be reminded of how unquestionably I once relayed this apparently so self-evident formulation. Because it just isn't true. Grand though it sounds, the actual situation is rather more more complicated than that.

A problem of development

Wherever this expression originated, it should heave been received and examined rather more critically for what it means, and for how well this represents what Conductive Education actually does.

To do this one has to begin at the beginning, with what constitutes an appropriate, dynamic understanding of moter disorders as problems of development:
  • human mental and personal development depend upon the outcomes of transactions between active learning and the material and social environment (in the latter case reflexive environments)
  • where these transactions are derailed or dislocated (Vygotskii's terms), then development wil be disordered, and likely to require rather special transactions to get it working smoothly again, back on track, back in joint
  • in the particular jargon of Conductive Education, this is expressed as moving from functioning dysfunctionally to functional orthofunctionally.
Learning and development are far from synonymous:
  • 'learning' refers to acquisition of knowledge, skills, emotions etc, through various means
  • 'development' refers to particular stages attained.
Development is therefore a product of learning that occurs in transaction with all the factors, internal and external that enable or impede its exercise: various forms of paralyses are among potential impedences to successful, active learning, and therefore in turn to development:
  • when learning is affected by problems in directing or maintaining movements to achieve what is intended, then what is learned may not be what was was intended at all – indeed it may be quite to the contrary.
  • unintended learning is unlikely to be restricted to the sphere of attaining goals and developing skills but act to shape the emotional sphere, for example the will to keep on aspiring, and a self-regard built upon too much experience of 'I can't' – developmentally a vicious circle downwards rather than a virtuous cycle upwards.
Indeed, one may review how one conceives of the process of dysfunctional development, and turn it on its head, by saying that the learner does not have a 'problem of learning'. Humans learn, that is what they do, and they learn from their experiences of life. It is not that they do not learn, but that they are at risk of learning the wrong things. The problem here is that those experiences might teach learners some very dysfunctional understandings and attributes. Their continuing learning despite everything, and what they learn from this may create a dysfunctional state that constitutes a major problem in itself.

Learning problems

There is a possible complication. Some of those who have motor disorders also have what modern English usage terms 'learning disabilities':
  • children with learning disabilities do have problems in learning that may vary enormously in manifestation and severity, and serve as the basis of developmental disorders in their own right
  • where a learning disorder develops it will touch all aspects of development
  • where learning disorder coexists with a motor disorder, then it will affect the development of the latter too
  • contrariwise, the motor disorder may act back upon the development of the learning disorder...
Both will of course bear upon pedagogy and upbringing.


Such complication aside, 'problems of learning' are inseparably problems of teaching (be this in home, or at school, or in a wider world) – at least they should be.

One might more helpfully and simply restate the sentence that I have tried to dissociate myself from here as:

Motor disorders are 'problems of teaching'

I think that this covers most contingencies.

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