Remembering Mikhail Krasovitskij: Vasilij Sukhomlinskij: The Ukrainian Teacher, part 1.

Mikhail Krasovitskij was the former Director of  the Institute for Advanced Teacher Training in the Ukraine.  He was also a member of the Advisory Board of Medford Education International, and a participant in the Educational Reform Symposium.  A man of considerable learning, and a vibrant personality, he was a supporter of Ukrainian educator, Anton Makarenko, who worked with troubled children that were displaced by the Russian Civil War of 1917, and World War I.  Makarenko’s  Pedagogical Poem(with a nod to Dante), delineates his struggles with local authorities and his would-be delinquents, and how his adolescents become responsible human beings.  He does not shy away from depicting life as he sees it, not refraining from coarse terms, corporal punishment,  class warfare, and the like.  The book makes for compelling if disturbing reading today.  But Mikhail was also intrigued by the personality and teaching approach of Vasilij Sukhomlinskij, perhaps the greatest poet of all the famous educators.  Sukhomlinskij recognizes the enormous impact nature has on a child’s developing mind.  In the following article, Mikhail gives a moving and informative tribute to this outstanding teacher.  Parenthetical comments are mine.

He died in 1970 at the peak of his creative powers.(He died from shrapnel he received while fighting in the war.  The doctors were amazed he had lived as long as he had, so great was the internal damage surrounding his heart.)  He was a teacher and school director(principal) in the village of Pavlysh located in the Ukrainian steppes.

He wrote more than 600 books and articles(more than 30 books, and the rest were articles) in which he described his pedagogical experience, and illustrated all the difficulties and fine points of a teacher’s work.  His best books include:  The Birth of the Citizen(This is debatable.  It reflects Krasovitskij’s attachment to some of the Communist ideals.), I Give My Heart to Children(A fine book that is also marred by numerous references to evil imperialists, and an idealizing of Communist principles.), 100 Suggestions for a TeacherConversations with a Young Director, and How to Educate a Real Person.(The use of the word “real” is unfortunate.  Back issues of Soviet Life make extensive use of it to portray the ideal Communist future.  Socialist realism, the accepted literary style under the Communist regime, uses it as a sine qua non.)

Sukhomlinskij tried to discover the unique personality of each child, to understand his/her internal world, and on that basis alone establish relations with him.  He wrote: “…  There is not a single pedagogical norm, there is not one truth, which can be applied in one way to all children.(This statement shows him to be at odds with many educators of his time, who treated children like machines that required the same mechanisms to make them run.)…  To educate a person–one must first know the person’s soul, see and feel his/her individual world.”

He believed in the beautiful world of childhood.  To one teacher who was beginning to be exasperated by children, Sukhomlinskij responded in this way:  “There is nothing in a child that requires a teacher to be brutal(At that time corporal punishment in school was common as it was in the U.S. and elsewhere.  Children were not considered as fully developed human beings, a major principle of Polish educator, Janusz Korczak.), and if vices or flaws arise in a child’s soul, then those evils will be overcome best of all by kindness…  I abominate nagging suspiciousness of children.   I abominate the formalistic regimentation of demands and prohibitions.

Sukhomlinskij thought the most important element of a humanistic education was the ability of a teacher to expereience the world of childhood, to see the world with the eyes of a child.  He wrote:  “The child’s world is a special one.  Children live by their notions of good and evil.  They have their criteria of beauty.  They even have their own way of measuring time:  in a child’s world a day is like a year and a year–eternity.(For more on this topic, see Jean Piaget’s, The Child’s Conception of Time, and Kornei Chukovskij’s, From Two to Five.)  In order to enter into this fairy tale palace whose name is childhood, you must be reincarnated, become to a certain extent a child.  Only under such circumstances will you be able to exert a benevolent authority over the child.

The area of the Pavlysh school is located in a unique site.  Here Vasilij Sukhomlinskij created “a school under the blue sky, which became the most important factor in the educational development of his students.

The pride of the school was its garden:  pear and apple trees looked in the “green classes” from all sides.  In one of the corners of the schoolyard the children planted grape vines;  in other places there were green glades, flower beds with roses, chrysanthemums, tulips.  There was also a little corner for dreams(a gully behind the school), an island of wonder where under the green tree tops children made up and told fairy tales.  There were even little groves of trees in the schoolyard.  The parents had built the children a greenhouse, so that the school cafeteria would always serve vegetables.  All this was a marvelous aid in helping the children study, dream, create fairy tales, listen to the music of nature.

In the Pavlysh school there was a tradition:  the little ones planted trees in the spring, apples and grapes for their mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers.  Then they brought their relatives the fruit grown by their own hands.

Vasilij Sukhomlinskij taught little children to feel and understand another person’s spiritual state, to empathize with him/her.  Not far from the school there were women working on a sugar beet plantation.   Sukhomlinskij taught the children to look into their faces, and try to feel and understand what each was feeling–untrammeled peace or the dark cloud of grief.

In order to teach children compassion, sensitivity, and sincerity, Sukhomlinskij wrote the text Thoughts About a Person.  These are short stories, which were intended to arouse feelings of charity and compassion in his students.  Here are some themes in the conversational tales:  Why are there tears in the grandmother’s and grandfather’s eyes/  Think about how your actions might affect another person’s feelings.

In real life situations Sukhomlinskij taught his students sensitivity, charity, genuine humanity.  On the outskirts of the village lived a girl Natalka.  From early childhood she had been very ill, and could no longer walk.  Natalka’s whole world consisted of a green courtyard, an apple tree, two beehives, a well, storks on the shed, the dog Palma, and rabbits.  Doctors took care of her, but did not promise to cure her.  The children and the teachers came to her assistance.  They planted many flowers in the courtyard.  The teachers came to her house, and taught Natalka to read and draw.  They brought her to school for the holidays.  In two years she was back on her feet.  The doctors said it was not only medicine, but joy that cured her.value education,

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About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

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