Crippled by the manipulators

4th October 1996 at 01:00
George Currie says that the aims of conductive education have been subverted.

I was told the other day that it was nearly 10 years since I gave the introductory lecture on conductive education to the influential West of Scotland National Council for Special Education. I remember it well. It was the heady days of Stand up for Joey. I had been to Budapest to study and report on the principles and practice of conductive education. My talk was at Hampden School, Toryglen. It was the biggest meeting of its day, with more than 120 people, many standing. All heady stuff. Fellow professionals, with a whole range of disciplines, travelling far and wide, even from the north of Scotland, for that evening lecture. It was a pioneering meeting in the best sense of the word.

It would be good to get back to the non-political involvement of people, to the days when children were not used for career purposes and when important philosophies did not become the flavour of the month to be used to get into the honours lists. Now the 10-year cycle of conductive education has just about run its course the mandarins and master puppeteers, the educational godfathers and the exclusive cartels of the leadership corps can possibly breathe a sigh of relief. The system has been made politically correct with its own administratively sanitised version of events. Those who acted on behalf of the system have been suitably recognised and those who did not suitably isolated and airbrushed away.

Professional conductive education does not exist, it has gone to the great classroom in the sky. The forests of trees cut down to research the subject are all binned, trashed and reduced to the educational equivalent of Le Pen's "footnote in history". The sanitised versions have been put into the public placed aided by the recognised trappings of state approval: finance, promotion, career learning curves and the like.

The greatest wealth, the greatest power and the most potent force in society is knowledge. To have knowledge is to have great power. It has value beyond money, gold and diamonds. To control knowledge is to control society, to distribute knowledge through such things as 5-14 policies and qualification is to distribute power, control, authority and responsibility. Our society has been a distribution mechanism which displays the principles of state-controlled knowledge. It is a rigidly controlled system, as shown in the 5-14 policies.

We have a form of Government-sponsored state knowledge. One particular school's practice is weakly developed into a school of thought in generalised terms. A school's philosophy is transformed into a school of philosophy and, when closely examined, this transition is forced, stretched and weakened by a lack of evidential logic, leading to thinly supported judgmental conclusions.

Even the presence of Dewey, Piaget, Froebel, Steiner, Montessori and other heavyweights to authenticate a particular approach is rather thin. Selections from other cultures and belief systems lead to a patchwork quilt, a cocktail, a composite which may be acceptable in creating new movements, but only if these snapshots are not open-ended to the point of being so diffuse that they lack power and authority and thus fail. The titbits may help to create a school's philosophy but not a school of philosophy, even when sanctioned by the state.

I have found my work to have become highly politicised with many climbing on to the bandwagon. It has been administered away and replaced by the approved version which strongly replicates the already existing practices. Since I introduced it on a formal national basis at a conference of the Scottish Educational Research Association in the eighties, supported by a wonderful and brave Dundee family, I have seen it twisted and warped out of existence.

Existing national bodies and approved personnel acted in a disgraceful manner. It was quite shameful and despicable. The "system" panicked and diverted money, resources, rewards to protect itself and not what it was designed to protect - the children.

My views on this matter have not changed, indeed the years have reinforced them. We have today a sanitised and systems-sanctioned policy which, at even its best. is pseudo-conductive education created under someone else's name, recycled and reconditioned to comply with existing system policies. The traditions of bureaucratic feudalism and systems fundamentalism still characterise the profession. Policy has been made a parody by being controlled by the powers of patronage and privilege and produces reports of blatant superficiality and arrogant simplicity which are the usual hallmarks of the political professionals.

On the whole the educational establishment lacks people of presence and persons of consequence and substance. What is required, of course, are those of intellectual competence and integrity to compensate for those in the bureaucratic tendency. The "system" ridiculed conductive education in the beginning. It was laughed away. It was only the power of the determined parent and the media that brought it back, much to the great anger of the establishment. Now it is controlled on a network system through a series of formal qualifications to ensure that only the party line is practised. Course have been approved of and therefore given the appearance of respectability and legitimacy.

But those who approved the courses know nothing of conductive education: they merely possess knowledge of how to approve courses - the packaging and not the contents. This state system of national course approval allows for the sanitised version to be given public respectability and allows the social manifestation that it must be conductive education. This mechanism of approval has to be changed in Scotland. We lack an independent and informative watchdog to monitor the situation. We need an organisation to replace the situation where one arm of the system approves the working of another arm. Above all, it demonstrates that conductive education has become institutionalised.

Courses on conductive education reflect more the policies of the Scottish Office. In essence they are politicised versions of formal official approval. Second-generation staff have no access to the primary principles of conductive education, but only the edited versions issued through the Scottish Office, which, in turn, is strongly influenced by the static traditional practices which, in turn, rejected conductive education in the first place.

Further efforts are being made to practise the sanitised version in modules of six months to two years for a child. What is left of conductive education is further weakened by it being considered to be, literally, a pre-school experience, a preparation for school, whereas in reality it is a lifelong commitment.

A lot of people have been very naughty indeed in the 10-year cycle.

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