Some Notes For The Future And A Photo Of Tribute

Many of you must realize that I changed the domain of this blog to discovery and wonder.com.  The primary reason was to include audio files and extended video files.  However, I also decided to split the About page into two parts:  one dealing with the purpose of the site itself(a work in progress) and the other dealing with me and my family.  I thought this would be a far more effective way of presenting the site.  I am also introducing two new categories:  Something to Think About, and  Just for the Feel of it.  The former category will offer selected quotes or sayings, which I hope will be of interest.  The latter category will offer brief excerpts from heretofore untranslated Russian children’s stories and novels.  I must say, however, that I have suspended The Writer’s Friend, and the corresponding blog.  I am working on The Fence and The Field:  A Writer’s Gateway to Self, which includes some of the exercises from that blog.

In concluding, I would like to thank my 86 followers for looking at my posts and offering thoughtful comments.  May this be a year of peace and discovery for all.  And thanks, Mom, for the memories.

Mom and I celebrating Mother's Day 1954.

Mom and I celebrating Mother’s Day 1954.

A Special Holiday Card Gives Tribute To Black Oaks And Donald L. Donegan

Have you ever heard of Black Oaks?  No.  Then, I’ll tell you.  Black Oaks is a beautiful estate consisting of a main house, whose deck spreads out to embrace the swift waters of the Rogue River, and a series of smaller dwellings, each with their own features.  There are black oaks on the property, but it got its name from Captain Black, who lived there in the 1930s.  Since then, the estate has witnessed several owners, including Harris Allen, director of the Rogue Valley Ranch School, a private academy for troubled youths.  But that was many years ago.  Now the Donegan family are the watchful owners of the estate and the llamas have replaced the cries of wayward boys. I remember driving out to Black Oaks along Pine Gate Way, being sure to keep to the branch which led to the river.  Don, a bluff man with light hair, of Irish vintage, would lead me to the deck which his wife, “Pammy”  had already furnished with glasses of cold lemonade and an inviting platter of chocolate chip cookies.  Lively conversation would follow, with Don taking on an authoritarian air, exuding the confidence of a CEO used to being in charge.  I listened carefully, not always agreeing, but imbibing the wisdom of this successful businessman.  And so  we talked, while we gazed out at the rushing river so resplendent in its blue dress, not noticing the time which was also rushing by.  One visit followed another until one day the table was vacant, and Don’s voice had disappeared among the pine…

“As usual the Rogue River flows past our doorstep and presents a wonderful autumn aquacade, which rivals the best of Hollywood’s Esther Williams productions for our viewing pleasure.  Lithe silver bodies cut and turn through the water, acrobatically jumping, churning and thrashing as scores of the huge salmon jockey for the best spawning spots in the clear, gravelly shallows.  After years of traversing the oceans, they return from hundreds and perhaps even thousands of miles to deposit their own offspring from the same spot they originated.  Quite a sight to see, and a vivid, turbulent reminder of the Cycle of Life! Generally, autumn announces its arrival at Black Oaks with a magnificent splash of vibrant orange, yellow and red leaves fluttering in the breezes.  But this year has been a little different.  One of our showiest past performers just off the corner of Don’s home office had to be removed this past spring because of damage the roots were causing to the walkways and septic system.  And somehow the other surrounding trees and shrubs seem to have taken note of the loss and are presenting a more subdued mien in their attitude of mourning. Perhaps this is fitting as this particular autumn lacks its usual sparkle for me because Don is not here to share it…  Don passed away on September 16 after several years struggling against the erosion of time, physical failure and the odds against living forever.  For someone who was not expected by the doctors of the time to live beyond his twenties, he took great pleasure in trying to make the most of each day of his life and he experienced a certain glee.. after he reached 80… One close friend… reminded me of our younger days in California when Don and three other inseparable comrades loved to play gin rummy, hunt and swap stories over cocktails.  Because Don had chronic health problems…  the other fellows thought Don was sure to expire first, but like the good card player he was, he turned the table one last time and was the last to fall…”(Holiday Card from Pam Donegan)

A Sad And Brief Note

I learned that Mom is in critical condition and that it’s only a matter of days.  I have much to reflect on in the coming week, but I try to stay positive.  She has been ailing for some time, so the news is not unexpected.  However, it’s difficult to lose a family member.  I wish my family the best.

Remembering Mikhail Krasovitsky: Vasilii Sukhomlinsky: The Ukrainian Teacher, Part 2.

Only now is it becoming clear what courage Sukhomlinsky showed in actually coming out against the one-side conception of the dynamics of children’s collectives, a conception, sanctioned in theory and practice:  the stringent demands, the linking of responsibility and dependence, the subordination of personal interests to the interests of the collective.  In his opinion, the main thing was to create a healthy community of children in which an atmosphere of respect for the individual and for the interests of each child within the community fostered the good.

It is known that in former socialist society an atmosphere of hostility developed in relations among people, including rudeness, malevolence and disrespect for individual identity.  That atmosphere left its mark on the schools, as well as in teachers’ attitudes towards students.  Even now, lack of culture often predominates, trampling on a child’s self-respect.  In these circumstances, one hears Sukhomlinsky’s voice:  “Benevolence, reasoned goodness, that’s what should be basic to the life of a children’s collective.  How beautiful this world is, and, at the same time, how profound, how complex and many-sided, the goodness of human relations.

Sukhomlinsky came out against our practice of group discussion of a student’s misdeeds.  The so-called “personal matters” method of imposing a form of conduct defined for adults was introduced in its distorted form in the schools.  In extreme cases, such group pressure(literally, torture) led to suicide.  And Sukhomlinsky insisted that it is inadmissible to take as an example for discussion in a collective the misdeeds of a child related to abnormal family circumstances, parental arbitrariness, the mistakes of the teacher, or perhaps a child’s response to some intimate experience.  “It might occur to the teacher to ask,” writes Sukhomlinsky, “What is it that is useful for the collective to look over in the child’s behavior?  Nothing.

It is difficult for the American reader to understand how courageous one had to be to resist in thought or deed the authoritarian pedagogy in those years.  Sukhomlinsky paid for it with his health. He was constantly persecuted by zealous guardians of Leninist-Marxist dogma, or by those who were just spiteful, such as Boris Likhachev.

Yet he was awarded the Medal of Socialist Labor.  He became a corresponding member of the Academy of Science of the USSR.  He was awarded every kind of honor.  His books were published, although some of his publications were warehoused for twenty years.

We have to allow that Sukhomlinsky, like many others, had to praise the Communist party in his works.  He had to write about teaching schoolchildren devotion to the ideas of communism, though it was obvious that many of these ideas contradicted his humanistic view.  If he had not, his work would not have seen the light of day.

But very frequently, using communist phraseology, he came out against lies in educating children.  For example, he asserted that it was inadmissible to create an atmosphere of “ideological sterility” around children and young people, to close one’s eyes to what is evil, unjust, vicious, or inconsiderate in life.  He insisted that above all the teacher must display honesty.

It is still incomprehensible how the following incident, drawn from one of Sukhomlinsky’s works, was published in those years.  During a political information meeting required in all classes, a 10th grade Komsomolka(member of the Young Communist League) was speaking about life in the USSR and abroad.  Of course, here everything was great, and there everything was terrible.  And then a boy asked this question:  “My mother sat for a month on the ground cleaning off beets…  She got sick, and is now in the hospital.  Why do women have to do such strenuous work?”  “Do you realize what you are saying?”, the teacher got angry.  What sort of Pioneer are you?”  “What kind of teacher are you?” asked the boy.  “Why should a person sit for months on the damp ground?  And you teach us to defend the truth!”(Personal note:  In 1973 I was in Leningrad with a group of fellow American students.  As part of our daily routine, we were required to attend lectures emphasizing the superiority of Leninist-Marxist doctrine.  When it came to a meeting of philosophers, my patience reached an end, and I blurted out:  “Isn’t the business of philosophy to encourage questioning?   What if someone entered your philosophy group with a different point of view?”  There was a shocked silence and threatening looks from my fellow Americans.  At last the answer came from the group:  “We wouldn’t need him!)

The posthumous fate of Sukhomlinsky’s works recapitulates the fate of many progressive ideas in our country.  Sukhomlinsky’s books were published, his birthday celebrated.  The Pavlysh school bears his name, and his daughter, Olga, is the head of a department in a Ukrainian teacher research institute.  Conferences take place celebrating his work, but only a small percentage of teachers have read his works in the original.  So, unfortunately, many of Sukhomlinsky’s ideas are entirely excluded from the schools.

One of Sukhomlinsky’s books is entitled, I Give My Heart to Children.  And I believe that says it all.

Vasilij Sukhomlinskij and his children after a harvest

Vasilii Sukhomlinsky and his children after a harvest

Remembering Mikhail Krasovitsky: Vasilii Sukhomlinsky: The Ukrainian Teacher, Part 1.

Mikhail Krasovitsky 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 teenagers 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 Vasilii Sukhomlinsky, perhaps the greatest poet of all the famous educators.  Sukhomlinsky 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 Krasovitsky’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.)

Sukhomlinsky 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, Sukhomlinsky 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.

Sukhomlinsky 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 own notions of good and evil.  They have their own 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 Vasili Sukhomlinsky 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.

Vasili Sukhomlinsky 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.   Sukhomlinsky 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, Sukhomlinsky 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 Sukhomlinsky 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.

Vasilij Sukhomlinskij accepts flowers at graduation.

Vasilii Sukhomlinsky accepts flowers at graduation.

Remembering Svetlana Smelyanskaya: The Art Of The Puppet Theater

Svetlana Smolenskaya was a noted puppeteer, who came under the influence of Sergei Obraztsov, Russia’s greatest puppet master.  Svetlana worked in the Monterey and San Francisco areas.  About puppeteers, columnist, Elena Bilyak, writes:  “They play with puppets their whole life.  And from their play, the world becomes bright.  They have their own guild and their own traditions, theaters and studios, leading lights and novices.  American puppeteers produce their own festivals.”  Svetlana participated in the famous Monterey Festival.  Who else participated in the festival?  Svetlana states:  “Theater groups and individuals, professionals and amateurs, guests from Canada and Spain.   Theaters representing the most different approaches.  Age was not a factor, so young and old participated…  I liked the native circus puppets from Canada.”  That is not surprising, because Svetlana goes on to say:  “I made my debut in a circus performance.  Yes.  Don’t be surprised!  The Canadians needed a bear trainer, who didn’t speak any English.  That is why they selected me.  We had a wonderful performance.”  Elena asks Svetlana about what she did in Monterey.  “”We spoke about the Russian puppet theater.  It was not an easy task to speak about the history, traditions and perspectives of the Russian puppet theater.  But all the puppets came to our aid.  They spoke about themselves and Petrushka even declared ‘I am Petrushka’ in English.”  Svetlana was helped by her interpreter, Jennifer Kagly, who also performed as a clown.  “Then this sympathetic clown(Jennifer Kagly) was transformed into a charming skomorokh(a kind of jester-minstrel) with a barrel-organ, and we discussed the rise of Russian puppet traditions and the actors that went to fair booths, displaying pictures of the holy family….  We spoke a great deal about the the theater of Sergei Vladimirovich Obraztsov, which was of great interest…  Later the act changed to the opposite side of the stage where there was a stand with puppets from the production,  ‘The Tale of Dr. Korczak’.  Jennifer removed her clown costume and became deadly serious.  Our puppets are not only capable of laughter and amusement, but also sorrow, and even tears.  ‘Look here at the puppet show of the Nativity.  Here are the figures of Christ, Joseph, and Mary.  But sewn to their clothes are yellow stars.  The puppets took the audience to a ghetto in occupied Poland, speaking of the lofty and tragic fate of Janusz Korczak.  And the hall became immersed in the mood.  The remaining silence had more meaning for us than the greatest applause.  At the end, Jennifer put on her clown cap, and I my top hat and we shouted:  “And all the same, fairy tales continue to happen.  Long live miracles!”

Remembering Sarah Seff Rolfe

“It is so easy to forget that the essential you… might be lost, and that the you might forget to remember from whom or what it came.” –Ronald Rolfe, geneticist.

These lines were written during aphasia when Ronald was dying from a brain tumor

 

It was my pleasure to have met Mrs. Rolfe at a time when my ideas were just beginning to develop.  When I was a child of six, I used to come over to her home to play piano and spoke of my conceptions of music.  She then moved away and I never thought I would see her.  However, during a troubled period in my life in my late teens, she returned to the very same house she had lived in earlier!  I met her at a march of candles for Soviet Jews and discussed some of the novels I had been reading.  I was most gratified to have found an informed literary companion.

Sarah Seff Rolfe or Rose Rolfe(her preferred name) became my poetry mentor and good friend.  She had come from Minnesota, where she had studied with Robert Penwarren.  She had a long correspondence with Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, and adapted his Hasidic Sayings in her collection, Songs of Legacy.  In North Hollywood, California, she took active part in poetry readings and took classes in Everywoman’s Village.  However, she did not publish a book of poetry(Terebinth Press) until one year before her death in 1984.  She titled her book, Heart And Mouth Are One.  The book was encouraged by her teacher, Carol Lem.

Mrs. Rolfe inspired me with a sense of the mystical and profound elements in nature.  She was a master at revealing human nature in its contemplative, reflective, troubled moods.  Her poems are quite musical.  In fact, some of her longer pieces resemble musical compositions;  starting with a melody, developing it through skillful rhythmic and word changes, transitioning into new harmonies, but still staying with the one original pattern.

I can still hear her musical voice, absorbing every nuance of every syllable.  Her voice was very similar to Barbara Luddy’s “Lady” in the Disney film Lady and the Tramp.  

She often invited fellow poets over for an evening of poetry and and analysis.  She was patient and kind with my early endeavors and always supportive and encouraging.  To remember her, I am including Blue Pawn, one of the best poems that she wrote.

 Blue Pawn

1

Very old, the dealer said, Navajo.

Small white prayer-beads near the clasp…

Touching the unpolished, turquoise stones,

I find underground springs,

Ghosts of my Hebrew ancestors

in fringed prayer-shawls

sway at my shoulders–quiver.

But something else here… evokes

the craftsman who shaped the necklace.

Crouched under canvas eaves, he plies

his art, sun-baked hands holy with care.

His axe rings.. where thick blue veins

of turquoise… tear from the matrix.

And what has the blue necklace to say

of such distant visions?

Pawned and redeemed at trading posts…

caught in a chain of sorrows and celebrations

and coming here to my alien hand,

my Native questions?

2

Beginnings…

My pulse holds tembrilsJewish theology, Native Americans

where the Hebrew God of Place and the

Indian Gods of many Weathers–touch.

Though sea and sky belie their blue,

I say what I see–say sapphire, cerulean,

lapis lazuli–circle of faiths.

Their laughter carves the iron wind

where turquoise winks in the rock

and earth’s blue bead, quarried in space,

trembles in the rite of stars… plays.