Wednesday, 12 August 2015


Necessary or sufficient?

As far as I know it was Ester Cotton who introduced the ideas of 'multidisciplinary' and 'transdisciplinary' into the discourse around Conductive Education outside Hungary. In the mid-sixties, she had visited András Pető and reported in the journal Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology how she saw his work. She derived what she advocated as 'the principles' of Conductive Education and urged putting them into practice through staff already working in existing centres or services that were open to trying her approach. She called this way of working multidisciplinary, adding later the goal of its evolving into trans-disciplinary working. (Later still the added complexity of 'interdisciplinary' also emerged.)

(These ideas resonated with the idea of 'a single nurse-teacher-therapist', then being explored as a possible response to concerns about the increasingly complex web of 'specialists' beginning to confront some parents, as post-War prosperity permitted a degree of expansion and elaboration of professional services.)

I never really understood how multi- or trans-disciplinary practice actually works at the point of sharing, nor do I know where their actual day-to-day mechanics have been described, nor their problems and possible solutions to them.

I was reminded of all this by something published yesterday by Peter Limbrick in the latest issue of TAC Interconnexions. Not speaking at all about Conductive Education, he makes a useful summary of what he understands by 'transdisciplinary'. Unsurprisingly, the term seems now to signify rather more than it did when Ester Cotton introduced it to Conductive Education in the latter part of the twentieth century –
...if members of a child's TAC (Team Around the Child) integrate their work to the fullest extent it becomes a transdisciplinary approach. So here is my definition of transdisciplinary teamwork as I see it now. I have added explanatory notes. Your comments are very welcome...
Transdisciplinary teamwork for infants who have a multifaceted condition represents the extreme of programme integration in which the close team of people (practitioners and parent) around the child (TAC) agree to deliver their interventions through one of them chosen as the primary interventionist (PI).
The child, parent and PI work together as a threesome on a whole-child programme designed to promote the child's enjoyment of life, general wellbeing, development and learning – and with consideration of the needs, situation and wellbeing of the family.
This work includes: exploring learning and development needs (assessment); creating a single integrated programme (planning); offering it to the child as a meaningful and enjoyable part of his or her normal everyday activity (intervention); regular checks on progress (review)...

I do not know the specific areas of practice with young children, not necessarily disabled children, for whom such arrangements are currently advocated. You can read more about Peter Limbrick's formulation of trans-disciplinary working by clicking on the link above. People involved in contemporary Conductive Education around the world may find much to applaud in this. They will also find some gaping holes should it come to understanding Conductive Education solely in such terms, not least the absence of pedagogical and conductive dimensions.

Pedagogy and conductive pedagogy might be regarded as disciplines. As for conductive pedagogy, this would first require articulation and codification if it were to be argued formally.

Personal uncertainties

A point that has confused me over the years is that the jobs involved in such discussion, such as the 'therapies', these are not really disciplines at all. They are professions, jobs, trades, crafts, callings, etc., such as physiotherapy, school-teaching, social work, child care. Each such draws upon its own range of formal knowledge, values, goals, experiences etc. to help perform its stated purpose, nowadays with recognised trainings and qualifications to boot. Some of their knowledge may come from scientific disciplines (e.g. phonetics or physiology) and all this may add up and combine to provide powerful bases for professional practice – but this does do not necessarily mean that they comprise disciplines.

One of the characteristics of a discipline is presumably that it has discernible boundaries. Some things fall within the boundaries of a given discipline, and some things do not. Astronomy cannot incorporate the tenets, methodologies etc. of astrology, for example, and it is distinct from meteorology (though psychoanalysis and behaviorism manage along with other apparent incompatibilities to coexist within psychology, presumably through willing suspension of principled belief). Nearer home, physiotherapists and schoolteachers are trained and socialised into their own professional universes, with their own skills and knowedge, values and goals etc. Are their complex, internalised mental constructions really so weak as to be sharable with people with different mental constructions, then to be combined with those of others, are they necessarily so compatible for this not to bring to bring conflict and confusion? A priori, if such 'disciplines' (trades etc.) are really so valid in the first place, is there not at the least the question to be raised that something may also be lost in the blending process?

With particular respect to conductive pedagogy, might not vital aspects be incompatible with perhaps vital aspects of the practice of contemporary therapy, school-teaching, nursing and caring? No doubt good will and human ingenuity might find ways through specific conflictual situations. They do, don't they? But more generally, is Conductive Education's 'intelligent love' really aligned to educational and paramedical care as a whole, or does it at times contradict the wisdom of what it does?

It is not enough to state, as I have heard many times over the years –

But, we're all in this for the children, aren't we?

Surely those who hear this, even some of those who who say it, most see how little this warm fuzzy stands up to even mildly critical examination.

A multidisciplinary or trans-disciplinary conductor?

The practice of conductors like that of other professionals draws upon all sorts of formal knowledge, values, goals, experiences etc. Central to their very being, however, lies the common, defining existential activity of being a conductor – conductive pedagogy. In that sense the service that conductors provide is uni-disciplinary.

Surprisingly perhaps, recent years have seen emergence of statements along the lines of 'conductors are a trans-disciplinary profession'. If only this were elaborated upon then one might know what it is meant to mean.


Cotton, E (1965) The Institute for Movement Therapy and School for ‘Conductors’, Budapest, Hungary, Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, vol.7, no 4, pp. 37-446

Limbrick, P. (2015) Transdisciplinary teamwork in early childhood intervention. What is it? TAC Interconnexions, 11 August

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Anonymous Andrew Sutton said...


Rony Schenker, Norman Perrin, Suzanna Kotilehti and others...

Friday, 14 August 2015 at 07:25:00 BST  

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