Thursday, 8 January 2009

Questions of Conductive Upbringing

A green, but not yet green, "Green Man" by Susie Mallett, 7th January 2009

Part I. Problems with words

I been mulling over this subject for a long time now and the simple posting that I had wanted to write just isn’t getting finished, but getting longer and longer and beginning to cover a wider area than I had first visualised. So I have decided to do it Hollywoodsty-le, which seems to be quite the trend these days, and do a bit of sequelling.

One of the things I had been wondering about while working in Norway, and since, is how the term “Conductive Education” ever got established in the first place.

English and Hungarian

At the time in the 1980s when the world was getting to know about the Petö Institute and its work, the term "Conductive Education" was already well established but only used outside of Hungary. This is true to this day.

You will find the term Conductive Education used in English translations, English presentations and in the English version of the Petö Institute’s own Website, but in Hungarian practice and theory as far as I know it is always referred to as konduktiv nevelés (“conductive upbringing”).

The expression "conductive pedagogy" is the term used in Hungarian, and occasionally in English, to describe the actual pedagogy used within the practice of conductive upbringing. When I discuss conductive work with Hungarian colleagues in Hungarian, wherever I am in the world, we use the term conductive upbringing and not the various foreign adaptations.


I was sure that the term Conductive Education had been coined by Ester Cotton after her early visits to the Petö Institute in 1965, but Gill Maguire at the Conductive Education Library posted a blog on Tuesday 6th January saying that Ester Cotton had made no mention of Conductive Education in her 1965 report.

I had asked Gill Maguire whether she has any more information on this and, as you can read on her blog, she immediately came up with some interesting facts one of which is that Ester Cotton did use the term but not until 1967.

So from this I can probably assume that my belief that “Conductive Education “ was being used in England at the end of the 1960s by Ester Cotton and her small band of associates is correct.

But who actually coined it and why?

Is it an accurate description of what they were actually trying to describe? But then there is the question of how did the people who might have coined the phrase actually understand and interpret what they were seeing. Their interpretation of what they saw would certainly have influenced the terminology that they used, especially if they didn’t speak or understand Hungarian.

I do have one more bit of information on the early usage of the English term “Conductive Education” Certainly when Dr. Mária Hári first went to England in 1968 she and her translator both adopted the expression.

Dr Hári read two papers at a study day at Castle Priory College in England in 1968 and in both of these there is absolutely no reference to conductive upbringing but constant use of the terms Conductive Education and conductive pedagogy.

It is stated in the introductory pages of the book that contains these papers, “Mária Hári on Conductive Pedagogy”, that the interpreter who accompanied Dr Hári chose to use Conductive Education to translate konduktív nevelés. Or did he/she choose? Did the translator just adopt a term already in use (Cotton, 1967), or was it a term suggested by Dr Hári herself?

Different times, different places, different words

Lots of questions and musings, all of which arose while I was working in Norway. Why is it important to state that it was in Norway that many of my questions where formed? It is because there the term Conductive Education isn’t used, they say “conductive pedagogy”.

I begin to think about the many different forms that Conductive Education has taken on as it is practised around the world. I wonder about the similarities and the differences between what Ester Cotton saw and described in the mid-1960’s, what many Western parents first saw and decided to bring out of Hungary in the mid-1980’s and what I experienced and learnt between 1989 and 1993.

I also got to thinking about the words that all these people used to describe what is being practised, and how these words might influence the acceptance or rejection of this “new” method.

The conductors I worked with in Norway were very much interested in the actual words used in the conductive programmes, which is understandable as they have three languages to deal with while working. I on the other hand was much more interested in what terms were chosen in translation to present the work to the public. This has had a huge influence on my work here in Germany, especially on its financing. We should not underestimate the importance of the choices that we make about this, as the terms could be around for forty years, and other people may have to live with the consequences.

Back to Gill (another angel), hopefully not for the last word

Perhaps Gill will come up with more answers. Maybe we shall never get to the bottom of it.

As she says on her blog it would be an interesting research project for someone with lots of time!


Gill Maguire, Conductive Education Library When did konductiv pedagogia become Conductive Education?

Conductive Education material
– Profile No. 2

Mária Hári on Conductive Pedagogy – Edited by Gill Maguire and Andrew Sutton, ISBN 1897588 22 4, available from Conductive Education Library,

Gill (another angel) - refers to several of my blog postings in December 2008, for example

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