Sunday, 5 July 2009

'Do not ask me what I can do for a child. Ask the child what he can do for himself.'

The following is a comment by Andrew Sutton's that would not fit into the comment box of "The Mystery of Petö's Proverbs", as sent to me in an email this evening.

Who said that?

András Pető . Alledgedly.

The reason for this question’s arising here is that conductor Kasey Gray has wondered where the saying comes from. Gill Maguire, Judit Szatmáry and Susie Mallett are all sure that they have seen it written somewhere. Maybe they have, though they have not been able to lay a hand on it, search as they may.

You can see this on two postings on the Conductor blog, and in the Comments appended to the second of these.

In response to some of the things that they were saying I wrote the following to submit as a Comment to Susie’s blog. At thirteen-hundred words, though, it wass wholly over the top and too big to be accepted in a Comment box. So Susie has offered to post my comment here instead.
The following is what I wrote.

Here are a few comments, first upon what Susie wrote in her posting, secondly upon the subsequent comments.

No, we know very little of what Pető actually ‘said’. Indeed, to be strictly accurate we know nothing at all. We know a little more of what he has been reported to have said, and a rather more still of what he wrote (though still precious little).

I think that we can be pretty definite about ‘what people’s memories do’!

My default setting on hearing anything about what Andrá s Pető said or did is not to believe a word of it until somebody comes up with definitive corroboration.

Maybe you (and others) will consider this unduly negative, but just think of what we have instead. A myth based upon…upon what? It would hardly stand up in court! And the gospels of belief systems have a way of representing the requirements of the later adherents who commit them to paper as much as or more than actual historical events that they purport to relay. Think of the Four Apostles’ irreconcilable reports.

I know a few of the things that he wrote, in German, but (surprise?) you never see them quoted in Conductive Education. I know a couple of things that he wrote in Hungarian too. They too are never quoted in Conductive Education.

But at least I am fairly sure that he actually wrote them! One was apparently the text of a presentation, so (presumably!) he actually said this too, once anyway.

You wrote that the ‘proverbs’ were ‘something that Ester Cotton compiled in 1969‘. We cannot know that for sure either:. All we can say is that 1969 is the date on the cyclostyled document, a copy of which you will have seen’.

Yes, this document is one of Conductive Education’s many minor mysteries. There is indeed another version, compiled by the American, James House. This is virtually the same except for two of the proverbs. A long time ago now I struggled to work out which of the two might have been the primary document, with nothing to go on but this internal difference. Of the divergent proverbs, James House’s version looked a little more ‘socialistic’ so on balance I went for that.

For my pains I received a stinking letter from E. Cotton (not the only such over the years) asserting very strongly that she noted these down straight from the horse’s mouth (presumably at her first visit). I know that she did not speak Hungarian, and Pető’s grasp of English is something else that I should like to have verified to me. She was an educated Dane who had studied in Germany before the war, so I presume that whatever he said to her was in German.

Turning to Gill’s comment, if someone has stolen the copy in the Library, then that is a sad, mean-minded act of criminal cultural vandalism. I think that I recall that I received that copy from the hands of Má ria Há ri some twenty or so years ago so it might well be that there’s a copy in her Memorial Library in Budapest.

Judit, when Gill’s departure terminated the bibliographic work of the National Library, there was enough material accumulated to raise a host of questions and indicate that few of them are answerable. If you think that you have useful, publishable materials outside of this cache then I have two elementary questions that I hope you will not take as dampeners.

1. Have you considered questions of copyright?

2. Have you any idea of the colossal amount of (totally unpaid!) work that this will involve.

Susie, I too am interested in what reply you will receive. Do let us know.

This brief correspondence has illustrated one small corner of the fine mess that the fragile world of Conductive Education has gotten itself into over its knowable knowledge base. You write:

‘A good idea of yours Judit to start making some sense of our store of materials, mine is actually hanging around in Hungarian, English and German! Maybe Gill can point us in the right direction as how to begin such a job.’

I leave it to Gill to point you in the right direction in whatever way that she wishes! Myself I consider the situation absurd. Get yourself some professional bibliographic training, start out on the basis of a major donation of personally acquired source material (in Gill’s case my own laboriously and sometimes adventurously acquired personal collection, the spend the next eighteen years building up a network that will ensure that this is continuingly added to and expanded. Classify, cross-reference, discuss the content with the very few people total serious interest in such matters…

Might it not all be rather more rational if one could simply build upon what has already been achieved?

And so to Kasey’s original enquiry! Yes, I have heard this aphorism ‘attributed’. I do hope that the current interest in where it comes from will lead to conformation of this attribution, or at the very least to another source. I cannot think where something like this would have been written down, but what do I know? It might have been relayed word of mouth, in which case the number-one suspect has to be Mária Hári (she certainly likes little aphorisms like that, remember the hungry man and the fish!).

Whoever said it, it is a good thought, well expressed. I suspect that it belongs to a whole family of related aphorisms, but I currently have no time to search this out. The most familiar occurred in J. F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address (20 January 1961):

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

This is probably the most famous (and most parodied) of JFK’s saying (his second-best known being probably the one in which he confided to West Berliners ‘I am a dough nut’).

Never mind, Kasey, wherever the saying that you enquired about originated, whoever said it, to whom and when, it offers an interesting insight into the means and purpose of conductive pedagogy and is to some degree ‘Truth in a nutshell’ which is the subtitle that James House bestowed upon his version of the ‘Proverbs’, even though this one is not included in its number.

Not the whole truth, however. Look at the quotation again, at the head of this page. Nothing about creating new potential in the child, an essential starting point but no more. Whatever its attribution, it should not be regarded as ultimate truth!

Maybe readers can shed light. If so, do please write in, preferably to this Conductor blog where this discussion originated)


Mallett, S. (2009) I am still really missing the Library at NICE, Conductor, 2 July

Mallett, S. (2009) The mystery of the Pető Proverbs, Conductor, 3 July


Norman said...

Andrew points out that this aphorism captures "nothing about creating new potential in the child". Also, it omits the role of the Conductor.

Andrew said...

Norman introduces a very interesting angle on the problem.

We have no idea at all about what Andras Peto thought to be 'the role of the conductor'.

Remember, he died in 1967. I have to admit to not knowing when the word 'konduktor' was first introduced, or why, but it seems likely that for quite some time after AP began his work in Budapest he managed without such a word (and whatever it nowadays implies).

For some of this time anyway (I guess that I am speaking mainly about the fifties but I would love to have starting and finishing dates) he employed 'kezelonok', from the Hungarian words 'kez', meaning hand, and 'nok', meaning women.

Translate this as 'handling women' or, of you think that this better reflects AP's personal style: 'handmaidens'.

I do not know whether 'conductors' came in only later, when Maria Hari created the formal, recognised training.

I strongly suspect that during the years up until the internationalisation of Conductive Education the role of he conductor experience no little development in Hungary. Whatever the conductor's role in that country, however, and there are many roles there too an increasingly diversifying and desperate economy, what has happened to conductors' roles around the world is altogether more role-stretching and fragmentalising.

I challenge anyone to specify what 'the conductor's role' now is, either theoretically or empirically.

This matters not, since 'conductors' as most of us have seen them are a secondary phenomenon. The primary phenomenon is 'conduction', a process that surely can change little over time or space, in whatever context it is implemented.

Conductors are players in this process but not necesarily the only ones. Their role towards conduction can vary, for good or for ill, acording to circumstances.

A few days ago, on Conductive World, I wondered whether the ghost in your computer might be that of one one of the late greats of Conductive Education. It was AP particularly whom I had in mind.

However little we know about him, published memoires of those who did experience his company all those years ago do suggest that he could take some delight in human predicaments.

Maybe he is laughing as some of the japes and scrapes of his handamaidens.