Friday, 18 September 2015


Not the versions usually asked for!

From time to time I receive enquiries about where one might find a copy of Standing up for Joe, the 1986 television programme from the BBC that more than any other single event kick-started the movement to internationalise Conductive Education as we know it round the world today.

The BBC spends a lot of money on its programmes and guards its intellectual property closely. This film is not available on line. You will not find a pirated video of either this highly influential documentary, or of its 1987 follow-up To Hungary with Love, on Youtube etc.

I have therefore been surprised this week to stumble upon copies of the three Transformers documentaries on Youtube.

Something else

The Transformers was a follow-up series of three television documentaries made by the BBC in 1990 to broaden the message from the hugely successful Standing up for Joe and From Hungary with Love.

Building upon the enormous public success, and aware of the powerful social consequences of the two earlier documentaries, the intention was to show that transformations of the kind achieved by Conductive Education in the case of children with motor disorders were not restricted to this particular method, or to this particular field of disability – indeed not restricted to disability at all.

I served as technical advisor on making these films.

The TV series took its named from the popular children's pocket toy of the time (only later did this become a film franchise). The series' full title was The Transformers: the art of inspired teaching.

I had already begun using the term 'transformative pedagogy' (sometimes 'transformational') to describe educational processes that resulted not just in progress but also created qualitative change in the lives of those who experienced them. Nowadays the word 'transformative' is found quite often in UK education (maybe elsewhere in the English-speaking word as well), though I am not always sure what precisely it implies in these contexts. Possibly not always metamorphosis as I had intended. In 1990, though, this usage was quite fresh.

The series aimed high, and the BBC invested heavily, with filming in the Soviet Union, Israel and the United States. The BBC also published a  booklet (copies of this are now as rare as hens' teeth) to fill in some of the details, to link it all to Conductive Education, and to make some of the generalisable message more explicit.

A variety of transformative approaches had considered to feature in this series, but logistics, even with a big budget, limited the series to three one-hour programmes. In the end, the producer Ann Paul wanted an episode outside disability, easily generalisable to all children, and I reluctantly let go of Higashi for autism. I think that she was probably right (though I still regret losing this topic).

The three programmes were:
  • The Butterfies of Zagorsk. Soviet deaf-blind education
  • Out of the wilderness. Reuven Feuerstein
  • for six-year-olds. Matthew Lipman

In terms of viewing figures the series did not experience the success of Standing up for Joe and To Hungary with Love, Two of the programmes, however, Out of the wilderness and Socrates for six-year-olds were a little influential in encouraging the movements for mediated learning and cognitive education, at least in the United Kingdom.

Why did this series not take off like the previous two programmes? I could not understand this at the time, though perhaps I see now..

Videos online

Videos of two of the three programmes are currently on line, at least till the BBC's legal department spots them and sends a letter.
  • The Butterfies of Zagorsk. To me the most important programme of the three was the first one. It concerns children at the home for the deaf-blind in Zagorsk (now Sergiev Posad). It is both very moving and intellectually most challenging. Due acknowledgement is given to Alexandr Meshcheryakov but the whole account is framed in the terms of Lev Vygotskii. The correspondence between the work there and Conductive Education is very apparent. Unfortunately (unless you are Portuguese or Brazilian), the copy on line is an export version, overdubbed with a Portuguese commentary and called Borboletas de Zagorsk. Enough of the magic perhaps shines through to suggest what you are missing. 
  • Out of the wilderness. Reuven was a TV natural. On line there is a very grainy pirated copy, running from title to credits. (I do not know how this has not been taken down for copyright reasons).
The second two of these have been each broken up into seven consecutive segments.

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