The Journey Begins…

“Grandma, when you die, will they bury you?”


“Very deep.”


“Then I’ll just dig you up again!”  —–Kornei Chukovskij From Two To Five

The journey, which would eventually lead to The Magicians Of Form, started in childhood.  For the book represents a synthesis of the many conversations I had with my Dad and Grandma  Lillian about forms that I encountered throughout my life.  In retrospect, I believe there was an unseen path that was guiding me to complete that book.  Little did I know it, but these apparently innocuous discussions held the seeds of a definite future purpose.

To understand the determination and courage needed to finish the volume, I have to look back to a now distant world:  a world before abstract reasoning had taken firm hold, and banished me from an all-inclusive world.  A world in which sensations, colors, sounds, and forms enticed with a vividness, excitement, and spontaneous directness that become dulled in adulthood.

To go to that special place, I need to summon memory as my guide.  Fragments of thoughts and images fly into my mind:  pine cones scattered along a path, a night sky covered with sparkling stars, the rough red of jasper, sand painting, sticker albums, wooden puzzles of a bus, and Old King Cole, a record player on the ground spinning music, farm lotto, water-colored flowers, The Golden Book of Children’s Verse, and, one verse in particular:  “When I grow up, I will carry a stick, and be very dignified.  I will have a watch that will really tick.  I will have a tall house that is built of brick.  And no one will guess that it’s just a trick, and I’m really myself inside.”, The Big Ball Of StringThe Big Jump And Other Stories, and Gillespie And The Guards( in which a child outwits adults in power), The Five Chinese Brothers(in which every brother has a special skill to keep him from harm), arithmetic problems with shiny colored dots, glasses of lemonade, scoops of chocolate ice cream, dragging a watering can to create my own river in the sandy beach,  Grandma’s Archie the Chipmunk bednight stories, making a miniature golf course out of my parents’ lawn, climbing walnut trees, listening to Walt Disney’s The Grasshopper and the Ants, dancing to Tchaikovsky’s Overture Miniature from the Nutcracker Suite and watching the falls of Lone Pine Creek…

“How high is high?”

Grandma said I asked this question when I was four-years-old.  It was the start of many questions I had about the surrounding world.  My special path was unraveling before me.  The hour glass of time was running.  The journey begins…

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.