The Circles Of Sukhomlinsky By Nata Krylova, Part 1.

Nata Krylova was the Chief Researcher for the Institute of Pedagogical Innovations in Moscow.  The late Oleg Gazman was its Director and inspiration.  I became acquainted with Profs. Gazman and Krylova when we participated in  The International Educational Reform Symposium, sponsored and hosted by Medford Education International.  The IPI had plans to publish a series of volumes highlighting specific problems in education.  The series was called New Educational Values.  MEI worked jointly with IPI on New Educational Values 2, and my article on obstacles to learning was translated into Russian.  At that time(1995-1997), Russian educators were coming to terms with a new focus on the individual in education as opposed to the collective approach of the Soviet Union.  Vasilii Sukhomlinsky was one of those educators that managed to encourage the development of the individual within a collective setting in the Ukraine.  He still had many detractors and his life was not an easy one.  He wrote over thirty books, but only a few have been translated into English.  This is, in part, due to a lingering suspicion of educators that lived under a repressive regime.  It was one of the goals of the Symposium to equate educators from around the U.S.  with this famous, and highly innovative Ukrainian  educator.  Papers on Sukhomlinskij were presented and photographs and other archival materials were displayed.  Nata contributed the following article, The Circles of Sukhomlinsky, to the MEI newsletter in 1997.  What follows is Nata’s article with my commentary in parentheses.

It was not my lot to make the acquaintance of Vasilii Sukhomlinsky; he died in 1970 when I was a post-graduate student.  I did not know very much about the controversy surrounding his name and “abstract humanism.”(the word “abstract” was taboo in the USSR since it ran counter to the belief that all ideas should be concrete and grasped easily by the masses.  The formal term was socialist realism.)  I read his I Give my Heart to Children(one of Sukhomlinsky’s last books, which details his experiences as a Director of the School of Joy, a kind of pre-school.)  when my son was little and my daughter had just been born.  While reading the book, I couldn’t find any reason for the charges that had been made against Sukhomlinsky.(In particular, Boris Likhachev wrote scathing essays, denouncing Sukhomlinsky as a betrayer of socialist principles.)  However, criticism of his work continued right up to the Congress of 1988 by which time it had become an anachronism.

Now I have read the book again in a new sociocultural context, and asked myself why the critics were indignant.

The First Circle:   Concrete Life.  Is an educator that acts outside of accepted policy or is governed by social relationships at fault?  No.  Otherwise, Korczak should not have gone to Treblinka to perish with his pupils.  Otherwise, Sukhomlinsky shouldn’t have worked as a principal at Pavlysh.  But those social contexts are not so simple.

The Second Circle:  Spirit/Inner World.  An educator acts through a network of social relationships, therefore s/he not only introduces the child to concrete society, but the World of Mankind.  And the child is a Child for Humanity and a Citizen, not only of a country, but the World.  This point of view was not accessible to critics “from pedagogics”, who stopped on the first level, and who couldn’t or didn’t want want to enter the Second Circle.

Sukhomlinsky and Korczak took this step.  It seems to me that a certain measure of talent, and a certain moral mission emanating from the heart, are only revealed to the educator in the Second Circle, in which there is no place for the formal roles of the teacher and pupil, but where an adult and a child enter into eternal relationships to create a new space of their co-existence.

Vasilij Sukhomlinskij examines a tree.

Vasilii Sukhomlinsky examines a tree.

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.

3 Responses to The Circles Of Sukhomlinsky By Nata Krylova, Part 1.

  1. Thank you for the fascinating introduction to Sukhomlinskij and his connection to Korczak, one of my heroes. I was looking for references to Oleg Gazman, and was intrigued to see how he came up here. I’ll look for Nata Krylova’s work too — and will continue to enjoy your gorgeously eclectic blog! I’m just starting a new path of inquiry into democratic education in Russia, which I will incorporate into my blog (http://millmuse.wordpress.com/). I appreciate the leads you offer here — especially the connections you suggest between the imagination and the dignity of the child. Onward!

  2. I appreciate your comments, Shanti. It appears we are kindred spirits! I translated an article by Oleg Gazman for the MEI newsletter. I’d be glad to offer part of it in a future post. Unfortunately, Oleg Gazman died just a few months after attending our symposium in 1996. I welcome any further comments, and congratulate you on your informative and fascinating blog.

  3. Thanks, Robert! Let’s keep in touch.

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