Wednesday, 29 July 2015


A German tradition of Romantic Science

An early posting on Conductive World, in March 2008...
Dear Andrew,
I somehow believe that Pető’s thinking was, quite naturally, also influenced by – among others – Goethe’s Faust, where at the end of Part II there is a line or two evoking the type of things that happen during PROPER Conductive Education, which contains among other things love – intelligent love – charity, intuitiveness, ‘contact’, all that. It is its essence.
The very last line, Das Ewig-Weibliche – Zieht uns hinan, would really confuse someone who hasn’t studied Faust.
The basis of the relevance – as I see it – is that impossible things can be done, are being done, if the necessary ingredients are there, the most important of which is das Ewig-Weibliche ('the eternally female') – generally understood as equaling love, charity, intuitiveness, belief and faith, hope etc., something seelisch in Goethe’s Faust.
No, you won’t understand the German Pető without „the Germanic” in us educated Hungarians of a certain age (and class).
Anyway, to what extent is it necessary as far as practicalities are concerned? Remember old Ákos Károly’s memories of Pető? That he really wanted to be a poet, a philosopher, anything but the Director of the Institute? Goethe left poetry for us. Pető created the system of Conductive Education.
As ever,

Practice and theory

'Old Ákos Károly' and his wife Magda had been regular weekly dining companions of András Pető. They published the first edition of their important book
Dina in German, during the first flush of popular (parental) enthusiasm for Conductive Education in Germany (Ákos and Ákos, 1988). The book’s epigraph was taken from Goethe’s Faust, II:
Doch gibt’s ein Mittel… Die Mütter sind es!

In the subsequent English edition, this is translated as:
There is a way… the mothers!

I would give a positive reply to Emma’s concluding question on the place of theory in practice: ‘…to what extent is it necessary as far as practicalities are concerned?’

I share Kurt Lewin's view that 'there is nothing as practical as good theory and nothing as theoretical as good practice', and would advance the very practice work with mothers and their young cerebrally palsied babies, described in great detail in
Dina, to exemplify how a robust theoretical position can help frame a powerful model for conductive practice (and the contrary relationship, advanced in the second half of Lewin’s aphorism).

Goethe left more than poetry and plays. He was also a philosopher of science. His scientific views, such as on metamorphosis (itself an expression with a place in the history of Conductive Education in Germany), might throw interesting light on what little we know of András Pető's. In the modern-day parlance of Conductive Education, read 'transformation' for 'metamorphosis'. As for how this all squared with the later overlay of a Vygotskian psycho-pedagogy, that will have one day to be the subject of attention in its own right.

Notes and references

German and English editions of Dina

Ákos, K., Ákos, M. (1989) Dina: eine Mütte praktiziert doe konduktive Padagogik Education (Pető System). Ulm: Alabanda Verlag

Ákos, K., Ákos, M. (1991) Dina: a mother practises Conductive Education (Pető System). Birmingham and Ulm: Foundation for Conductive Education and Alabanda Verlag

A little more on Emma MacDowell

From 1972 Emma has been a ‘conductive mother’. She is also a Germanist, and a Hungarian.

And a little something on Goethean science


Since 2008 Conductive World has made numerous mentions of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and to Romantic Science – the usual search engines will oblige – and in 2012 I made a presentation at the CE conference in Rosenheim, called in English 'Pető, a man in his times', that in a German context and to a German audience explicitly pointed to András Pető's Germanness. Conductive World has also dwelt of the compatibility of conductive pedagogy and upbringing with the work of L. S. Vygotskii, A. R. Luriya and their school, and more widely still with the school of Reuven Feuerstein.

Newly published on line is an article by Australian Marxist Andy Blunden elaborating upon the frequently remarked correspondence between the ideas of Goethe, Hegel and Marx. He opens thus –
It is hardly controversial to point to a rapport between Hegel’s philosophy and Goethe’s scientific work. Indeed, Hegel repeatedly praised Goethe’s Theory of Colours and cast himself and Goethe as comrades in the fight against Philistinism. Goethe’s naturalistic Pantheism, his emphasis on development, his antipathy to Newtonian natural science and his holistic approach are widely recognised as attributes shared with Hegel... a reappropriation of Hegel’s Logic suggests itself, highlighting the continuity of Romantic Science extending from Goethe through Hegel to Marx.

And then on very explicitly in the work of A. R. Luriya, and thence to the much admired, contemporary Anglo-American neurologist Oliver Sacks...

And along the way perhaps András Pető too...

History of ideas

Back in 2008 I had blogged –
As for how this all squared with the later overlay of a Vygotskian psycho-pedagogy, that will have one day to be the subject of attention in its own right.

Perhaps when seeking to locating András Pető's pedagogy and healing in the history of ideas, in the Zeitgeist of the place and the times, this may prove a more fruitful and practical line of enquiry than searching for some Holy Grail of 'where he got his ideas from'. At one time there was a considerable interest in that question. If it continues, perhaps German-speakers may find themselves with considerable advantage over the rest of us in pursuing this line further.

Some further references

Blunden, A, (2005) Goethe, Hegel and Marx,

Sutton, A. (2008) Goethe and Conductive Education, Conductive World, 29 March

Sutton, A. (2012) Pető, a man in his times, Petö und Inklusion, Dokumentation zur Kongress, March, pp. 231 – 236 (In German, Petö und seine Zeit, pp. 236-241)

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