Volume:3, Issue: 1

Mar. 1, 2011

The Moscow Center for Curative Pedagogics: Primary Aspects of the Concept and Activities
Anna L. Bitova [about] , Roman P. Dimenshtein [about] , Olga A. Gerasimenko [about]

DESCRIPTORS: Healing pedagogy, special education, psychological services, children with disabilities, Russian child psychology studies, The Moscow Center for Curative Pedagogics, child psychology treatment models, L. S. Vygotsky, integration of children with disabilities into society, teamwork as a core belief.
SYNOPSIS: The Moscow Center for Curative Pedagogics opened its doors during the perestroika era in Russia and has increased its services and influence to the present time. The “New Russia” allowed the teams of specialists and parents of The Center to create something unique in the nation for children with disabilities. With clearly defined principles and well thought out methods of operation, The Center has had a broad impact on special education services in Russia.


The History of healing pedagogy in Russia

In recent years in Russia, interest has grown towards the concept of “healing pedagogy,” and even more so, the organizations that focus on healing-pedagogical approaches. Where did this idea come from and what do these words mean?

Healing pedagogy in Russia has a long and dramatic history. It appeared, as in European countries, during the second half of the 19th century. Ivan Vasilyevich Malyarevsky (1844-1915), a doctor, well known writer of children’s books, and one of the leading organizers of children’s psychiatric services, made a big contribution to the formation of the theory when he founded the first Russian medical-pedagogical institution in 1882 along with Alexander Fedorovich Lazursky (1874-1917) who worked there with mentally ill children. At that establishment, measures directed at guaranteeing worthy lives for children having mental disorders gradually began to be systematized. They included the employment of contemporary medicines and newly formed pedagogical knowledge combined with a humane attitude toward the child. Stormy, scientific progress and the historic cataclysms that Russia suffered eventually divided the medical-pedagogy community and diverse disciplines sprang up. New fields like defectology, child psychiatry, clinical psychology, and the psychology of growth, among others, began to develop successfully. However, an integrated approach to the child was lost as disagreements divided the various fields of science. Each studied only its own part and, in the process, hopelessly, healing pedagogy was torn from its own theoretical foundations.

The huge potential of the ideas accumulated in the scientific schools of L.S. Vygotsky (1) in the field of psychology and defectology; by A.R. Luria (2) in neuro-psychology; and I.A. Arshavsky (3) in the physiology of growth, for many reasons was never implemented in subsequent and essential educational reforms. Eventually the necessity was sharply felt to turn to the initial characteristics of healing pedagogy’s complex approach. This would enable the imposition of contemporary knowledge on a system of integrated and practical assistance for children with developmental disorders.

Radical changes in Russia at the end of the 1980s made possible the creation of an organization which would unite accumulated scientific knowledge with the necessary and practical help for children.

In 1989 in Moscow, a non-state organization called “Center for Curative Pedagogics” was formed. From the beginning, it possessed all the traits of a professional organization which was receptive to both the accomplishments of the past and to those very contemporary ones. This new organization went ahead and created a benevolent atmosphere, possessed of therapeutic properties, for the lives and relationships of children.

What is The Moscow Center for Curative Pedagogics?

The Moscow Center for Curative Pedagogics is a unique and significant phenomenon in Russian education because of its mission, structure, and methods. The idea for the organization belongs to a small group of specialists working at the end of the 1980s at Children’s Psycho-neurological Hospital No. 6 in Moscow. They were joined by the parents of children with whom the specialists were working at the time.

Historically, when children were discharged from an institution, their situation turned catastrophic. Such children were not employed nor were they attending a school or medical institution any longer. The lucky ones, with great difficulty, were able to discover skills on their own, but the majority of them were completely lost. For their former teachers, this was no less of a tragedy than for their parents. Immense amounts of painstaking labor completely evaporated into nothing. From the depths of this kind of repeated situation, there arose the idea to create a “center,” where children could live and work with specialists for as long as they needed.


The Center made its appearance at the dawn of Perestroika in a stormy period that witnessed the blossoming of large numbers of small enterprises. The epoch of “New Russian” capitalism could be characterized by one particular quality. At this time, it was possible to start something new, a business or other venture that formerly would not have received permission from the authorities. Distinct from cooperatives, small businesses, and commercial-industrial ventures, The Center for Curative Pedagogics was created as a non-commercial non-profit organization. It would provide free assistance for all its clients. Among these clients came families having children with severe, psychologically-connected speech lags. Formerly, the usual scenario for such children involved time spent in boarding institutions. There they would have been promised skilled help which everyone in the institution knew would be paid for but not received. (Parents were often totally unaware of this.) Beyond the daily trials of institutional life, there was also the break with the family which brought about a loss of daily attention and care from those close to them. Among the most important values of the creators of The Center was the concept that the best formation of a child takes place in the family and that only in the family can a little one count on normal or relatively normal development. The Center for Curative Pedagogics was created for those parents who didn’t want to turn over the care of their child to a boarding institution.

In the development of our ideas, we were supported not only by friends and those parents interested in the project but also by representatives of serious science. (4) We did not take much notice of our finances in the beginning. At that time the new tax system still hadn’t been formed.  The specialists came to The Center with enthusiastic ideas of social devotion and agreed to work for only a symbolic compensation. All around us there were numerous signs of people being employed in new businesses. Everyone seemed to need to ask one another for a little money to start a good new business. It was then that our financial situation became more severe. The number of children attending the Center abruptly increased and our expenses grew accordingly. As a result, the Center had to quickly master the intricacies of the grant process, and that is the way things stand up to the present.

What’s in a Name?

For a long time we were dissuaded from calling our establishment, “Center for Curative Pedagogics.” Healing pedagogy or curative pedagogics was a term belonging to Russia’s “old” world.  “Defectology” would not work well either since it stressed the root word, “defect.” We did not wish to call our institution, “The Defective Children’s Center.” The term, “Correction,” was broader, more complex, and is widely used today, but it did not fully cover the content of the concepts of our future organization which even at this early stage were very aggressively transforming our activities. “Correction” did not indicate in a straightforward enough way that we would be dealing with real defects. It only softly reminded: there are some problems which need to be “fixed,” “corrected,” or “rectified.” The word “pedagogics” suggests a certain degree of space or scope in which real children live. This space is created in order to satisfy fundamental needs in the cognitive world. Of course, this space is sometimes organized incorrectly. But, none the less, the initial word, “pedagogics” carries with it a certain positive nuance. The term, “Curative Pedagogics,” indicates that it helps people with complex medical problems to learn. Therefore, we settled on this somewhat old fashioned but conceptually complete and well thought-out name: “The Moscow Center for Curative Pedagogics.”

Our Foundational Ideas

From the beginning, all of us involved in this venture agreed on the following, very fundamental, ideas. First, at The Center, all the specialists needed to make decisions regarding a special child’s problems must be intensely involved in the case. We were determined that we would not rush through any case in a “helter-skelter, Big City” manner! Second, every one of the specialists ought to be the finest, the very finest available. Third, a child in need will breathe our medical professionalism in the very air of this institution. This atmosphere will unfold to meet the child and will not require him to change his own internal state in accordance with any rigid requirements of ours. We are the ones who will take him, just as he is, at any given moment. Any change in his internal state will be the result of his growth; the result of interaction between him and the world. The atmosphere of our institution, none the less, will be organized so that there will be time to rouse the child into activity, to suggest to him the many possibilities available to him in life. What is more, even if the world noticeably “caves in under him,” we will constantly propose that he take steps to meet it.

Among other things, very mundane and pragmatic problems lay before the colleagues of The Center like making decisions about the child’s school instruction; the important stages of socialization; and his inclusion in the normal life of society. This meant that the child ought to be surrounded not simply by good and kind people but also by specialists. Getting hold of such specialists turned out to be not so easy.

The principle, “walk along the path with the child,” is a basic axiom of education. In practice, implementing it is incredibly difficult because grownups need to use intense tact, pay extremely close attention, and possess the skill “to submerge themselves” in the world of the child so as to sense his psychological state, his unconscious wishes, and his hidden potential. Such skills are rare, even in the midst of the highest professionalism, because they spring from natural talent.

It turned out that some specialists coming to The Center, judging from their formal credentials, should have been satisfactory, but things did not go well, possibly, because they didn’t relate enough to the authentic values of the children. The causes can be very diverse, but we could not get along with even the finest “professional” who did not value the ideas and human dignity of each child just as we did from the very beginning.

Teamwork is the Key

From the start of The Center, we gathered a remarkable team. There were defectologists, speech therapists, psychologists, neuro-psychologists, and art therapists, physical culture teachers, regular classroom teachers, and master teachers. Each of these specialists was always able to form a certain, internal, scale where on one end could be found the subject/child and on the other end, the so-called, “therapist.” It is always possible to catch the attention of children with music and thereby teach them a subject. In the framework of musical study, a teacher may then employ musical therapy. This is only a matter of shifting problems and methods.

Of course, at The Center there are also physicians but The Center has never been “doctor-centered.” Our doctors have diverse backgrounds as all found out when one of our doctors took up a violin during a musical performance and played for us much to the pleasure of the rest of the orchestra and audience. Each of our doctors is an important part of our work with our children and occupies a unique place in the partnership that forms our team of specialists. Each doctor, specialist, and therapist at The Center, uniquely, has command of the language of pedagogy and is able to speak about any child with our educators and is also, when necessary, empowered to prescribe medications and procedures.

Depending on a child’s problem and his current condition, the team of specialists lay out a plan of action. On a given day, the child may work with the speech therapist and receive medication or see the psycho-neurologist. The next day he may spend occupied with painting or building models.

The coordination of all activities by the team of specialists is one of the basic principles of The Center, and we always want to see the parents of the child included in each team. Without collaboration and mutual understanding from the parents, any real help for the child is impossible to achieve. This core belief was one of the main messages for education at The Center.

When a child first comes to The Center, his/her parents keep a close eye on what is going on. They usually don’t get too involved. It is very important not to miss the moment when these parents begin to demonstrate a readiness for dialogue because that is when they open themselves up to collaboration. There are no easy prescriptions here. The educators of The Center in most cases rely on their own intuition. Once true dialogue begins, it is then possible to form a partnership with us. It is true that our educators and medical specialists have vast experience in dealing with a wide variety of children and their problems.  Our parents are also specialists with a no less deep knowledge of the problems of their very own child. With both parties understanding their roles, they may reach a collaboration and coordination of activity which will make a positive effect on the child possible. It is impossible to forget that whatever the child’s successes in his/her pre-school activity; during instruction in elementary school; or in the teenage years, some new complication sprang up which now must be faced. To this end everything needs to be carefully prepared.

The Center’s Relationships

There is yet one aspect of the activities of The Center which needs clarification and that is our relationship with other educational agencies, especially schools.

Today’s schools in Russia exist in a system of levels. There are the ordinary, general-education schools (with internal special education classes.)  Above them are schools for gifted and talented children with various levels of training.  Subsidiary or “special education” schools of varying levels and specialties are located below general-education schools. Unfortunately in Russia at this time these are actually only policy statements and not real levels. It would seem that the system of levels should be worked on in order to allow for and even assist a child to rise upward from step to step. But instead, everything is arranged in another way entirely. If a child is ousted from a higher level downwards, he cannot climb back. The distance between the levels is too great; the educational standards are too different for each of these strictly defined levels.

The Goal of Modern Curative Pedagogics

The goal of curative pedagogics is to make the most progress possible in discovering and maximizing the educational and social potential of each child while constantly raising his/her level of expectations. It is considered entirely possible that we will be able to help the child reach even higher still. The end result that the teachers of The Center most desire is that each child might eventually enter a general education school.  The actual percentage of such children is quite high. However, there are always children with very complex problems for who even the “subsidiary” schools of the past would remain an unrealized dream. Children like these were considered uneducable. Parents were ordered by the state agency for social protection to hand over their child to an institution where he/she would be confined and alienated from the family. The Center for Curative Pedagogics is now in a position to improve this situation by working with “subsidiary” schools and taking on their “graduates” with severe problems.

The Center’s Core Beliefs

While still at the very beginning of our venture, we formulated a vision for contemporary curative pedagogics that became the foundation for The Center’s activities and which has changed very little since:

  • A child ought to live with his family. Only education in the family will give the child the ability to maximize the development of all of his potential. Education outside the family, in a boarding school institution, restricts the child’s development and worsens his condition, frequently catastrophically.
  • A child with developmental disturbances needs parents and specialists who are working in harmony. The greatest results in the development and adaptation of a child with special needs are achieved with a combination of family formational activities and the help of specialists.
  • Understanding his problems and respecting his human dignity will guarantee success in providing help to the child. Without the proper attitude, even highly qualified specialists can cause harm to a child’s personality growth. Manipulative methods are never to be tolerated.
  • Team work is significantly more effective than that of even the best specialists working alone. The formation of a common language and fruitful collaboration between educators, parents, doctors, psychologists, and other specialists promote the development of new levels of assistance for the child.
  • Support the child’s personal interests. Indirect methods help to awaken the child’s self-confidence and interest in learning.
  • All children can learn. There is no such thing as an “uneducable” child. Education is the most appropriate form of socialization for a child. The more severe the child’s condition, the more (Not less!) training he needs. A carefully organized educational environment has a powerful, therapeutic effect on a child. The most important property of such an environment is its ability to promote incentives towards making an effort; excessive comfort stands in the way of development.
  • Integration is the guiding principle for organizing the entire educational environment. We want to see children with diverse abilities, with and without disrupted development, live and cooperate in a common society.  Such an approach allows each child to move as far as possible towards the far boundaries of a world  in which he is able to realize is own intellectual and social potential. Progression and modification are vital components of an integrated approach to education.

The Results of Our Work

At this point in time, The Center for Curative Pedagogics occupies an important position in the educational and rehabilitational fields in the city of Moscow and in all of Russia. It is consistently extending the parameters of a vital life and raising the educational and social trajectory of special children, special teenagers and special young adults.

What do we have to show for these years of work? Well, The Center has become an effective provider of professional assistance to children with severe psychological and speech disabilities who are continuing to live with their families. As a result of the intensive work of our multidisciplinary teams of specialists, we manage to achieve critical improvements in the condition of children who turn to The Center for help. We habitually have helped young people reach levels of accomplishment that would have seemed impossible in the not so distant past.

Since it’s founding, The Center has provided complex and effective assistance to more than ten thousand children suffering from severe psychological and speech development disabilities, essentially expanding, within the education and medical fields, the pool of successful special education concepts and methods that might be employed in order to provide help for children with severe psychological and speech pathologies.

A system for the active transmission of our accumulated experience has been created. Methodical and organized support for colleagues can be found in many regions of Russia. Organizations from the regions have created a unified and common information system for improving teacher qualifications and a wider deployment of assistance to children with severe developmental disabilities. In this way, the inter-regional system that was created to prepare cadre for similar services on a non-governmental and municipal basis have worked out effective methods for transmitting accumulated experiences thereby allowing comparable views on assistance to develop in other regions of Russia.

In addition, more than ten years back, The Center began to publish literature, (5) specially aimed at parents, teachers, and those working with children who have severe developmental disabilities. At the present time, we have published more than 70 books and guides (written, reprinted, or translated) for specialists and parents.

Even special needs children grow up. Graduates of The Center find themselves a place in normal life. For many of them, however, serious difficulties dog their socialization and integration efforts. Some children will need support for years. Others aren’t able to manage anything without help. One of the important requirements for a person growing up is the need to work at jobs that will help other people. No less important is the need of a person to maximize his independence or autonomy in life by living separated from his parents and family. These needs are not connected to the person’s disabilities, but a person with distinct developmental disabilities needs guidance in his attempts at an independent life and work.

From the mid-1990s, side by side with programs for early childhood, pre-school, and elementary school, The Center for Curative Pedagogics has developed opportunities for: pre-vocational training; training for independence; broadening the social skills of teenagers with developmental disabilities.  The exhaustive efforts of The Center to create forms of vocational training for its young people with severe developmental disabilities served as a basis for its collaboration with such state educational institutions as the Secondary Vocational Education Technological College No. 21 and the Moscow Department of Education’s new body, “The Center for the Social Adaptation and Vocational Training of Young People with Severe Intellectual and Psychological Disabilities.”

Thus, for several years now, The Center for Curative Pedagogics has successfully implemented joint projects with Technological College No. 21 and Moscow Department of Education’s “Model Social Living Adaptations (supportive residences) for Young People with Severe Psychological Disabilities in Training Apartments” and a project called “Social Villages for People with Special Needs” (The village of Danilkovo in the Volokolamsk Region of the Moscow Oblast/Region)  which is supported by independent funds and philanthropies. (6)

The results of the work of The Center have become widely known in professional circles. It is recognized as an organizer of international and inter-regional conferences and seminars on the problems of special needs children. The Center’s specialists present papers and lectures at regional, national, and international seminars and conferences. The Center for Curative Pedagogics has also been active in solving its financial problems by developing a unique, economic foundation which serves as a model for the transformation of other efforts in the system of rehabilitational and educational assistance for disabled children throughout Russia.


  1. Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (1896-1934) - prominent academic, thinker, and classic scholar of Soviet psychology. His legacy includes more than 270 works full of his inexhaustible ideas which were original and applicable even today. He exerted a huge influence on the development of Russian and world psychology. The famous British philosopher, Stephen Toulmin, called him “the Mozart of psychology.” Under complex conditions, and for only a very brief time, he succeeded in introducing important contributions to: the psychology of art; general psychology; child psychology; educational psychology; pathological and neurological psychology; psychological methodology; defectology; and pedagogy. His works are the best chapters of the Russian science of psychology. The ideas of Vygotskii and his school of thought serve as a basic scientific philosophy of life for the new generation of psychologists throughout all of Russia. He occupied himself with problems of defectology in his “laboratory for the psychological anomalies of childhood (1925-1926),” formulating the new “theory of the development of anomalies in a child.” “Children with defective eyesight and hearing and so on can and need to be educated so as to be fully participating members of society.” This was the most prominent idea in all of L.S. Vygotskii’s work.
  2. Alexander Romanovich Luria (1902- 1977) -famous Soviet psychologist, founder of the Soviet school of neuro-psychology, and colleague of L. S. Vygotskii. The development of Vygotskii’s psychological system became the life’s work of this prominent psychologist, as he, himself, declared in his autobiography entitled, Stages of a Life’s Work. His research became an important component of the school of thought which is now called the “School of Vygotskii, Luria, and Leonteva.”
  3.  Ilya Arkadyevich Arshavsky (1903- 1996) -Russian physiologist, student of A. A. Ykhtomskovo. He advanced the “thermodynamic theory of negative entropy in the individual development of organisms.” He revealed that the motor activity of an organism leads to an abundance of anabolic processes thereby providing for its growth and development. He made major contributions to the field of pediatrics (the benefits of early breast feeding; criteria for the evaluation of the physiological maturity of newborns; and other original systems).
  4. Antonina Andreyevna Tsyganok (1948-2007) -Student of A. R. Luria, Doctor of Psychology, neuro-psychologist, Senior Research Assistant of the Lomonosov Faculty of Psychology of Moscow State University. From the first year of the existence of The Center for Healing pedagogy to the last day of her life, she was directed all the scientific activity of The Center.
  5. The Center for Curative Pedagogics created a subdivision in 1994 which would be responsible for the publication of all literature written about its methods, scientific practices, and activities. Eventually in 2000, The Center founded the independent, non-profit publishing house, “Terevinf.”
  6. The aim of the project, “The Social Village of Danilkovo,” was the creation of a center for socialization and integration which would be a place where people with developmental disabilities could live and work for the long term or even for a short period of time. Here through the process of integration, people with special needs would have the opportunity to learn the extent of their own potential by living in a society that was created with all the conditions for living, working, playing, creating, and relating.

1 Bitova, Anna Lvovna, [In Russian:Анна Львовна Битова], speech therapist, President, Expert of The Regional Philanthropic Non-governmental Organization (RPNO) The Center for Curative Pedagogics, Moscow, Russia; Dimenshtein, Roman Pavlovich, [In Russian:Роман Павлович Дименштейн ], senior lecturer, Chairman of the Board, Expert of RPNO, The Center for Curative Pedagogics, Moscow, Russia; Geracimenko, Olga Anatolyevna, [In Russian:Ольга Анатольевна Герасименко], member of the Board, RPNO, The Center for Curative Pedagogics, Moscow, Russia.


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