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.