My visitors today

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Reading, at last!

The most perfect place to work, the garden, by K. L. Mallett

Part II

In one of the piles of papers lying around my flat, given to me over the past few years to peruse at my leisure, I found one called "Breakthrough in Budapest". It fell into my hands just before I closed the lid of my suitcase so resisting an immediate read I let it fall out of my hand into the suitcase, and shut the lid!

It was the title that had caught my eye and made me throw it in before I sat on the case to close it. I had no idea what I would be reading when I at last found the time!

Today I was glad to discover "Breakthrough in Budapest" in my bag.

The digging is done for a day or two and I am enjoying the sun. I am sitting on the bench that overlooks the work that I am so proud of. I have no idea how big the patch of garden I have dug is, but it is probably bigger than most people’s lawns. It is perhaps one fifth of my father’s vegetable patch, there is a lot more yet to be tackled!

But not today.

It is only ten o’clock and the temperature has already reached over twenty degrees for the fifth day in a row. My plan for today is one month of tax and half an hour of writing. I ought to be very strict with myself to return to the tax, but an hour has already passed and the tax is forgotten!

Breakthrough in Budapest
An interview with Professor James House

I know the name and had heard about his visit to the Petö Institute way back in 1968 (when I was about to start grammar school).

I have no idea when and why and how I know the name but I do know that I was told about him because of this article and his unusual reactions to what he saw, unusual both then and now
I suspect that it was in one of our intimate English-language lectures with Dr Hári so many years ago that I heard about this American Professor of communications at the Wisconsin State University. I think that how he describes what he saw would have delighted her. I imagine that she would have read it with a glint in her sparkly eyes, and asked herself whether here perhaps was someone who understood.

Even as early as 1968, there had been other visitors to Petö's Institute but I think that they had mostly seen what they looked at through the eyes of a physiotherapist, I suspect that those eyes had already decided what they would be seeing before there saw it.

Here in James House was someone seeing something else.

I think that it is fair to say he saw the conductive soul.

Not everything that he says in this interview is as I would describe what I experienced, but as I was at the Petö Institute for four whole years I could reach deeper into the conductive soul. James House made only a short visit, probably just for a few days or possibly a week or two but he did quite a good job of seeing what he was looking at all the same.

Conductive pedagogy is about relationships

Professor House took away with him an impression very different from that described by the other professional visitors. I wonder whether this was because of his background as director of a speech and hearing clinic, which influenced his approach and conclusions.

I am not sure why I wonder this, except that Andrew Sutton regularly refers in his blog postings to the difference between the treatment of children with hearing disorders and those with physical disabilities.

Andrew Sutton was referring to how it has long been common place in the education and upbringing of the deaf that the whole of the child’s developing personality is affected by the underlying disability. This refers to everything.

Andrew was also emphasising how development is not something that happens within the child but arise out of the child’s relationships with other people. This is what he means when he writes that developmental disorders are systemic.

Andrew has often made the point that when it comes to the deaf everybody seems to know this, nobody seems to think of it when dealing with motor disorders.

James House, the deaf and hearing specialist, was almost definitely thinking about it when he was observing at the Petö Institute and being interviewed for Ideas of Today magazine in 1968. He was seeing that the relationships within the groups provided the pedagogic core of what was happening before his eyes. This was so contrary to those going home all full of excitement about the wooden plinths that they had seen, and the counting and singing that they had heard.

If he discussed with Dr Mária Hári what he believed he was looking at, then I can imagine that she would have considered Prof. James House one of the Institute's special visitors This could be why Dr Hári told us about him.

James House hardly mentions the furniture or the singing, although oddly enoughhe does mention chanting.

Professor House was there looking at the work of the children from a different perspective. From this interview in front of me I get the impression that Professor House was feeling more than seeing what was going on, in the same way that I was in my early days at the Petö Institute.

Joy, and sadness

In the interview in front of me James House said that "the children are alert and happy, they are like children at a birthday party, when it is everyone’s birthday". It added that, although the importance of love as a potent healing factor has not been acknowledged in orthodox medicine, at the Institute in Budapest it is clear to see the importance that love plays in the success of the work there.

Generally I agree with him, but that it was like a huge birthday party is not really true. Just as with all children living together and working together there were ups and down, the general atmosphere was of fun and happiness. It is the conductor's job to create such an atmosphere, we are trained to do this, but in a group of twenty children there were still some sad and unhappy souls. Just as there would be anywhere.

What is love?

James House described the love that he saw and felt as an intelligent love, shown by the conductors to the children, with much affection. That is a common trait, he said, of the loving Hungarian race, I see this love as something different.

James House described the Hungarian people as "affectionate to each other rather than cordial", as "glowing with love", and as "naturally warm, outgoing and friendly". Many of them are like this, and some are not.

House thought that this affectionate Hungarian trait is what he was seeing between the conductors and the children. It is this explanation of why he believed that the work done at the Petö Institute is successful that makes me think he was learning about the "conductive soul".

He said that he thought the explanation "lies in the quality and spirit of the love that is given to the children, calling forth in them in their turn a wonderful spirit".

He was right that the children are motivated in the atmosphere created in the group to achieve high goals. I disagree however when he suggested that this love is a result of a loving affectionate Hungarian nature, intelligently directed on the children to create the birthday-party atmosphere that he experienced.

Love to teach, love to learn

The work of a conductor does have something to do with love but not love in the sense of offering affection to another person, towards a child.

Conductive pedagogy as I understand it is about teaching the love of learning to the group and the individual. The best way to do this is through the love of teaching. I believe that the joy that radiated from the work that James House and that I observed and still observe in groups, stems from the love that a conductor has in learning and in teaching a child to learn.

Our work is about teaching children to love and to nurture themselves and their environment, which does of course include other people. At the Institute children learnt to look closely at the plants that they tended, to be gentle with them and to take note of the results of their caring for them.

They learnt to get enjoyment from cleaning their boots. To enjoy them shining like horse chestnuts, so that on the eve of St Nicholas they could hope with joyous anticipation that in the night they would be noticed and be filled with chocolate. They learnt to care for the little ones and to care for themselves.

James House did indeed see love at work. He did indeed see the children being treated as a whole. He saw the relationships developing with in the groups. But what he saw was more than the loving personality of a Hungarian conductor directed to a child. What he saw and what can still be seen in a conductive group with a conductive soul is a love for learning.

PS. A Susie anecdote

I recently met a physiotherapist at a fest in the town. I was taking photographs of the bands and the crowd and she asked to take a look at them in my camera. Scrolling through she came across some photos from some work I had done recently and recognised a child. She looked in disbelief at a tall seven-year-old, who has just started normal school. Her words I will never forget:

"I never believed that this child would walk".

She had "done therapy" with him until when he was two year old his mum discovered Conductive Education, which she describes as the only way forward for her, her child and her family. We conductors have worked with this child for five years.

What did we conductors believe?

Not necessarily that he would learn to walk, but we did believe we could teach this child a love for learning, help him discover the joy in leaning which has in time motivated him to get up and go!

Perhaps love goes hand in hand with many other things, including belief, patience, time and fun.
It all adds up to a happy conductive soul.


Susie Mallett -


Rony Schenker said...

Dear Susie,
I love reading your posts, mainly because I can find the essence of CE, the spiritual angle which is beyond research and academics. I believe that the fact that you are an artist yourself, makes it easier for you to convey what you call 'the soul' of CE and I call it the 'art of CE'.
Thank you for that

Laszlo said...

Hi Susie,

Thank you for this very valuable post. This is what actually happens in CE (at least I strongly believe it and do it that way) but for some reason the official recognition world wide (a positivist point of view) always sweeps away that most imprtant content of it.
CE never was and I hope never will be physiotherapy and/or positivist.
If only we did not taken like a physio-stranger most of the time!
Anyway, thanks again.