Let us be careful about aphorisms, principles and proverbs
As many of my readers know I am a great carrier of assorted papers and books in my rather large handbag. I carry them with me for perusal whenever I have a moment to spare, on a train, on a tram or even sometimes while walking along the street.
Last weekend I took the wad of most recent papers out of my bag and out on to the balcony that I spring-cleaned a couple of weeks previously in anticipation of spring.
Spring arrived and it brought sunshine and temperatures of twenty-six degrees centigrade with it. There was bird song to be heard and the voices of neighbours who meet to drink coffee in the courtyards below me, and the sound of music from the music school across the road drifting in the breeze. There was also the sound of a shuttlecock being hit. It almost felt like summer.
And there I sat with my pile of papers
Before me I had a list of statements that read rather like “Many hands make light work” and “Too many cooks spoil the broth”! I had a list of so-called “proverbs” attributed to András Petö and written down by Ester Cotton.
To me they look like notes made hurriedly while listening to a lecture or in a discussion with someone. I have little black books full of such notes. On the top of this list there is the title “Petö’s Proverbs”
A similar list is referred to in Anita Tatlow’s book on Conductive Education as “Petö’s Aphorisms”. Here Anita Tatlow tells us that András Petö answered Ester Cotton’s questions with aphorisms - phrases that are, according to the dictionary, generally understood as concise statement containing subjective truth - and that these statements changed Cotton’s way of thinking.
In the English and German languages you can find a proverb to suit most situations you find yourself in and in many cases there is one that will contradict the other. Many hands will make light work if you are in a hurry, but too many cooks will spoil the broth if you want to do something alone and with care.
There must be hundreds of these wise sayings in use around the world. There are also snippets that we all use that were coined by our parents or grandparents that have become over the years “family” proverbs containing subjective truths.
What is said has a context
This list that I have before me says it is a list of Petö’s proverbs. I expect that someone who knew Mária Hári well could compile a list of Hári proverbs. But, as far as I can remember, when she told us something she made sure we did not take it as gospel. She made it clear that we understood the importance of trying out new ideas, of experimenting and of being open to new opportunities for change. She gave us good ideas but also made it quite clear that she believed that because all children are different there would be as many different solutions and these would change daily, if not sometimes by the minute. From my experience I think she tried not to speak to us with aphorisms containing subjective truths - she wanted conduction to be transforming in the same way as it transforms.
What do others who knew Mária Hári think about this?
What about Dr Petö, did he speak like Dr Hári or did he make statements that seemed like they were gospel? I do not know, but some people out there should still remember.
What were your experiences? Did he speak, as Anita Tatlow tells us in her book was the norm in Petö’s Vienna days, using many aphorisms that if they applied to the situation, seemed relevant to the moment and could have held a subjective truth for listeners?
Truth is in the eye of the beholder
I have read this paper of so-called Petö Proverbs before, several times, this time I just glanced at it while searching for something else and it is this sentence that jumped out at me and made me put pen to paper: “If he can grasp a stick he can talk louder and better. If he holds a stick he can walk better”.
Now I can quite believe that AP did say this to a visitor watching a group of children working together, about a particular child at a specific moment. Maybe he also said “And if you give the same stick to the child next to him he will not be able to say a word, or take a single step. We teach that child to clasp his hands or hold his trousers and maybe next week he will walk and talk while carrying the shopping, or with nothing in his hands at all”. This second piece did not however get recorded as part of this subjective truth!
I think this has always been the danger when visitors watch children or adults participating in conductive groups, what they “learn” depends on what they wish to see.
When parents, physiotherapists, teachers or carers are invited to watch conduction in action it is important that they know what it is that they are observing and that they are made aware that there is no recipe that applies to each client at every moment of the day.
Being a conductor can often be like being a scientist experimenting all the time but not looking for one single solution or result. Conductors are always on the look-out for when something suits the moment and we then we use it.
This is especially true when a client is new to a group, but we are for ever observing to discover the best for the next moment. The best seating for eating, for reading, for writing, for painting or for doing something with the feet or with the hands. We are observing to discover the best place for the hands when walking, talking, sitting etc. We know that there is no subjective truth, no proverb to help, only constant observation and adaption is needed and this is what often gets missed when visitors observe a moment in a day, in a life of a client taking part in a conductive group.
The important thing that we need to communicate when we are teaching parents and other visitors is that it is a pedagogic method that we are using, just as teachers have one in their work in their classrooms, and the facilitation that we use to implement it is in constant change just as it is in any classroom or family situation.
If clients can now crawl or stand without the need of a plinth to grasp or a wall-bar to hold on to then they are offered the opportunity to crawl on a carpet and then on a slippery mat where it is harder, or to stand up by leaning on the wall, with a stool or by pressing on their own knees.
There is no proverb or recipe that will solve those problems - just observation and adaption and constant change is required. Finding out what suits the moment.
I will go into this next “proverb” that jumped out of the list at me too deeply but I do have to mention it:
“Psychological problems are not the result of pathological problems but always stem from the parents and the home situation”.
But I will ask: Is it not through the inability to experience growing up in the way that other children without disability do, that psychological problems develop? Is it not because of not being able to experience falling from a slide, screeching for joy while being chased, enjoying the breeze in the hair while swinging, knowing the exhilaration of using ones legs to run, hop or skip or even earlier in life to crawl behind the sofa and discover with joy a lost toy, that a knock-on effect causes development to be disrupted in all other emotional, sensory and physical areas?
Do not all these dis-abilities to enjoy the physical and the emotional and the social combined not cause psychological development problems (related of course to having a physical disability). This is where conductive upbringing can intervene and assist the parents to learn how their children can experience as much as they can in order to prevent such knock-on effects and to bring about the development of a personality that can function in the society despite physical disability.
We should be very careful
We should take great care that we do not, one day in the future when we are old and experienced conductors, find that there are visitors who have watched our work, discussed what is happening in our centre, in groups and with individuals, but have still not been given enough information to prevent them writing and publishing something for further distribution that makes us cry out “OH DEAR!”
We should always make it clear that what is seen is not “gospel” for all clients, that what is observed at the moment in time is the solution for that situation at that time and will change many times throughout the client’s life.
We have always to make it very clear that in our work there is no cookbook, no recipe, no single statement that can be written down like those that are in this list before me and presented as proverbs or aphorisms. We must take care that we do not add to this list of proverbs containing subjective truths, gradually to become known as the-whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth after they have bandied about on Google or You Tube long enough.
We must make sure that we always make it clear that there is no set of rules. Observers must know that we are pedagogues following a method that we adapt to suit the needs of all our clients in all situations in their lives, in a conductive group, in school, at home, at work, or at play.
It is our responsibility as conductors to ensure that we do not spread untruths, and that we do not contribute to lists of proverbs like the one before me, and lists of principles that include furniture, that do not have much to do with conductive pedagogy and upbringing. How can furniture be a pedagogic principle?
We must prevent statements such as this, from the list of Petö’s proverbs, from being believed a gospel truth:
“All directions are given from the body-image of a child”.
I am not saying that it is not so in some contextst, but this statement does not say enough to be written down as something essential to conductive pedagogy.
We as pedagogues have to help our clients to learn about their body so that eventually they can sense direction from the body image. There is a lot of work that goes into achieving this, and other points of reference need to be used on the path to developing a good body-image. Learning how to relate the self to the position of objects, to smells, to breezes, to people, to ceilings, to floors, etc., contributes to the goal of being able to say “The cup that I wish to drink from is beside my right hand”.
I do not want in fifty years time for there to be another list that is headed “Mallett’s Proverbs”. I would quite like it to be known that there is no recipe for a conductive upbringing but there is pedagogy.
I went to school last week
I had been invited to work for two hours in school with the classroom assistant of our afternoon-group children.
We do this regularly and now it was time to check out a few things about using a computer, the rolator that is too small, walking in the bathroom, and climbing the stairs that sweep in a huge curve up to the craft-room.
We worked so hard and it was fun for us all, working out new ways of solving problems. This team of conductor, pupil and her assistant is continuously working on ways to adapt the facilitations needed for different situations, in the classroom, at home, or in our group room for different situations. And of course we find new solutions for new problems, like the new computer. We are experimenting with what to sit on, when to place the joystick and the printer and which method to use to hit the keys.
The assistant told me that she enjoys this time in the classroom with a conductor very much. She is an expert on what is to be learnt in the class, adapting the quantity and the size of the worksheets to suit the child’s knowledge and physical ability, sometimes writing for her, sometimes allowing the time for her to practice writing herself.
When I or another conductor visits the school there is a long list of things for us to look at and discuss. Questions to find solutions for, that I hope will make the work of child and her assistant easier.
The answers are for the now, not for ever.
The answers that we find are not: “You must position your hands or feet just so because your athetoid movements are like this”.
No, we try to find several alternatives to work on. There are many solutions that we know work for the child in different situations in our work in the group and at home. We set to work on discovering which ones could work in the classroom, remembering that time is an important factor to consider here.
We worked out sitting positions at the computer that gave stability to the trunk but leave the arms free to reach all the necessary equipment. We moved the equipment so that the arms could stay as near to the trunk as the child needs them to be at the moment to prevent over-movements clearing everything from the desk.
We decided that for the moment the keys would be hit by the left hand, with the right hand fixed against it, before later learning to you both hands independently of each other. For the moment the fixing method is faster but leaves the hands free to move quickly apart if need be.
With the arms fixed in this way the trunk is very stable. The child does not have to regain her balance every two seconds as she would if the arms were apart and flying about. But her arms are not so fixed that she cannot use them quickly. In a forty-five minute mathematics lesson every second is precious.
We work step-by-step; we experiment and find several ways for each of the aims. There is no recipe book here either. On each visit I can show the next step forwards, we can look at how the child has developed and how we can adapt this into the school day. For example: as the child grows she can reach different places to grasp as she walks to the toilet, she can use a different method to walk to the front of the class, maybe holding on to other children’s desks or walking along the wall.
This child has the athetoid form of cerebral palsy. While we are working in the classroom solving problems and answering questions it must never be forgotten that this child will be finding her own methods of going about her daily life. We must also remember that what we are discovering in this classroom with this child with athetoid cerebral palsy will not suit the child in the next class with athetoid cerebral palsy. I have to make sure that I make it quite clear that we are always in a state of change and that facilitations can change by the minute! In fact this is the best as it means that developments are taking place.
Another of those Petö proverbs:
“The bigger the group the better”
Not necessarily and perhaps not at first. And better for whom?
We really do need to be very careful not to make sweeping statements about the work that we do. As I was doing in the school, we should talk about the needs for the moment and the aims for the future, and how we can change facilitations as we move along the path of development. At school I can show the child and assistant the next steps ahead so that they can reach them without me.
A large group may be our aim but they may also be several steps along the way that are better for the client now.
Yet another PS
Since I wrote the notes for this posting out on the balcony last Sunday there has been a conversation developing on Andrew Sutton’s Facebook, now transferred to his blog. This dialogue brings to the fore once again the need to be so very careful about what we say about the work that we do as pedagogues. We need to be more discerning about what other people, conductors or not, say about conduction
Conductive Education for Children and Adolescents with Cerebral Palsy – Anita Tatlow, The Spastics Association of Hong Kong, Ashfield Press, Dublin Ireland, ISBN 1901658619, 2005
Andrew Sutton on neuro-tosh and neuro-trash –