Michael Parciak And Janusz Korczak: Ideas And Suggestions

Michael Parciak, who was the Chief Architect of Korczak City on the Internet in the late 90s, had many ideas and suggestions for disseminating the legacy of Janusz Korczak.    One of his main concerns was how Korczak’s ideas could be applied to the present and future of education.  He felt strongly that Korczak was absolutely necessary in a world that deals with the issues of children’s rights.  Michael wanted to spread Korczak’s philosophy to countries where children were at particular risk due to the lack of supportive legislation.

We know that Korczak viewed the child as a complete human being, which was entitled to definite rights.  His view was quite the opposite of that of the Middle Ages, in which a child was considered a dwarfish version of an adult and the paintings of that time reflect it.  A child needed instruction to become complete and it is no wonder that some of the earliest children’s verses in England deal with manners and behavior.  Korczak was a visionary, who even now is not understood fully.  Michael Parciak was a visionary in realizing the immense possibilities of the internet when it was just gaining prominence.  He felt that the internet could spread Korczak’s conceptions throughout the globe and offer children from all countries the opportunity to participate in an educational forum.  And so, Korczak City came into being.

Michael saw Korczak City as an innovative model in establishing multicultural, multilingual and multi-social contacts between children of all countries.  Korczak City would be a means of promoting partnership contacts between schools and children in which educational projects could be shared through the internet.   Michael foresaw what is commonplace today:  internet libraries, school books, teachers, lessons and interactive lessons.  What Michael Parciak planned, however, is by no means finished; it is an ongoing project.  As long as children’s rights are violated, Janusz Korczak’s and Michael Parciak’s ideas remain ideals to be achieved.

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!”

“But What Do Australians Look Like?”: An Excerpt From Janusz Korczak’s How To Love A Child, Part 2.

This post concludes the conversation between the boy “troublemaker” and his girl guardian.

G:  You did the correct thing by writing to me.  We’ll talk and I’ll offer you advice.  But don’t get upset if I speak frankly.

S:  I have improved…, and I try very hard, but why can’t I go out more often?  All the others go out once a week, but I can only go once every two weeks.  I’m just like everyone else, so why should they get a better deal?  My grandma asked me to come over every week, and I’m ashamed to tell her I can’t.

G:  You know very well why you can’t go out . I’ll ask for you, but I doubt it will do any good.

S:  I know I was trouble before and was thrown out of school.  But now I want to go to school. I know thirty-five countries and I have a travel book.  A real book!  I really want a box!  Please give me an answer.

G:  I’ll try to find a box and give it to you.  Could you tell me what you want the box for ?

S:  I really need the box, because I’ve got a lot of things:  letters, and books, my notebook, and other stuff.  I’ll put everything down in my notebook:  my worries, anything I do that’s bad, what I’m thinking.  I’ve got plenty of interesting things to write.

The boy was nine, and his girl guardian, twelve!

King Machush The First And The U.S., Part 2.

In the first part, I tried to convey a sense of Janusz Korczak’s children’s novel.  In this part, I will attempt to show why this novel has not gained acceptance in the U.S.

Polish history is a major factor in this lack of acceptance.  Towards the late eighteenth century, Poland was seized and divided into three parts by Russia, Prussia, and Austria.  It remained occupied until 1918.  Whatever Polish government there was, was regulated by the desires of the three countries.  It is not a coincidence that Korczak mentions three foreign kings in the Machush novel.  Furthermore, Korczak himself stated he would never marry, because he didn’t want his family to be prisoners.  This notion of an intruder taking over is deep in the Polish conscience, but has no parallel in American culture.  There is almost a kind of paranoia in Polish culture that any individual at any time can take over and bring the country to chaos.  In the U.S,. the individual is a sign of hope.  There is a feeling that one person can change the world for the better.  This was especially true in the 1970s.  American and Polish cultures could not be more different.  The news reporter destroys King Machush’s attempts to create a better world, but when John Merrick enters his nieces’ life, in L.Frank Baum’s series, Aunt Jane’s Nieces, he brings support and love.  Chaos in government is also a major theme in Polish thinking.  A government out of control occurs in many of Korczak’s works.  In one of Korczak’s later works, Kaitush the Wizard, Kaitush is attacked by his own government after attempting to do good.  But in the U.S., government has been relied on and it’s strength has always been emphasized.  Polish government has been seen as chaotic and weak, while American government has been seen as possessing order and stability.  The contrast is evident.  Korczak also believed in introducing children to the harsh realities of life: poverty, cruelty, injustice.  King Machush disguises himself as a peasant, so he can learn about the reality of war in his kingdom.  Machush, although a child, is never spared taunting, hunger, pain, abandonment, betrayal.  American culture has tried to protect children from such indignities.  Indeed, in the 1950s, one couldn’t mention child abuse in many schools.  Even today, certain topics are considered taboo and reasons for a teacher’s dismissal if they are brought up by the teacher.  There could not be a greater difference in outlook towards childhood.  Finally, Korczak was a firm believer in children’s rights.  He believed children should have their own parliament, their own form of government.  However, he never idealized children and emphasized that order comes from discipline and hard work.  In the 1950s and later, America was one of the few major countries to refuse to sign the United Nations Charter on Children’s Rights.  Public schools in America have been largely totalitarian in nature with strong centralization.  Corporal punishment was a given through the 1950s.  Student government was limited to one token representative who had absolutely no power.  Matters are improving, but Korczak’s manifesto of children’s rights would still strike a dagger in many a parent’s heart.  I would argue that for an American to fully appreciate Korczak, s/he would need to be aware of the many inherent differences that exist between Polish and American culture and have the desire and the openness to look beyond them.