Michael Parciak Speaks About Janusz Korczak And Children’s Rights, Part 1.

In 1997, we at MEI had planned a Janusz Korczak Symposium, which did not take place due to problems with my health.  The previous year, we had acquainted educators with the work of Vasilii Sukhomlinsky in an effort to bring teachers and theorists from Russia, Ukraine and the U.S. closer together.  We chose Sukhomlinsky, and later, Korczak, because their pioneering work coincided with our motto:  Nothing is more important than the education of a child–heart, mind, and spirit.  Although plans for the Korczak Symposium had to be canceled, I was fortunate enough to contact many proponents of Korczak’s seminal work for children.  One of the people I contacted was Michael Parciak from Germany, the Chief Architect of Korczak City on the Internet.  What happened to this project, I was unable to discover.  Also, I could not find Michael Parciak.  However, I did locate an article he had written for MEI in May-June 1997 and I felt I should share some of it with you, because it contains interesting information concerning Janusz Korczak.

…The children’s court and the children’s newspaper… were important parts of Korczak’s philosophy of education in integrating  the children into all the important decisions, and demonstrating the relation between the granted rights and the required responsibilities.  The newspaper was used also for spelling practice and an exercise in developing one’s own opinions.  The children’s court was a steady exercise toward developing one’s own feelings for justice and social responsibility.  The judges were equipped with easy texts on common law to enable them to reach a just decision.  It was similar to the Napoleonic Code, which is still the basis of Polish laws, but it had one addition:  the right to forgive and to prefer forgiving more than punishment.

From the preamble of the text:

In case somebody has done wrong, it is better to forgive than to punish.  In case the incident happened as a result of inexperience, the subject will now know better.  In case the incident happened with knowledge, the subject will be more careful in the future… but the court must protect the shy from the aggressive, and the careful from the apathetic and lazy.

The court is not justice itself, but its goal is to achieve justice.  It is not truth, but its goal is the truth.  Judges might make mistakes.  Sometimes they might punish an action that they have committed themselves.  But it is a disgrace if a judge forces an unjust decision.

The court had to be dissolved for four weeks, because several aggressive kids did sabotage it.  When the court was reactivated there were new requirements.  The Premium Court would consist of two children and one adult for a three month term.  And children now had the right to accuse adults.(More in another post.)

Pine Hollow: A Magic Space For Education

Bonnie Bryant, author of the Saddle Club books, has created a magic space for education:  Pine Hollow.  Surrounded by horses and vast fields, this space is truly what Ukrainian educator, Vasilii Sukhomlinsky called the school”under the blue sky.”  It is interesting to note that Russians have two words for education:  “vospitanie”(upbringing, but a better translation would be moral and social education, and “obrazovanie”(formal education.)  It is clearly the former that has the most significance at Pine Hollow.  However, a few situations concerning formal education do occur:  Lisa Atwood’s problems with geography and her mother’s threat to expel her from her riding classes at Pine Hollow Stables if her grades don’t approve, and Lisa Atwood’s advice to Rafael the gypsy to complete his school work so he can compete better in the “real world.”  But there is no joy in formal education here.  It is simply a requirement one must reconcile oneself to.  On the other hand, the unforced learning that comes from experiences at Pine Hollow is often a source of joy and wonder.  The teachers not only include the people that supervise Pine Hollow, but nature itself:  the expansive fields, the creeks, the mines, and surrounding wildlife.  The girls learn the importance of chores by mucking out stables and taking care of horses.  The girls learn to be more sensitive to other people’s feelings as well, which includes the often commanding, condescending Veronica di Angelo.  In essence, all the adolescents of Pine Hollow are taking steps towards learning”how to care, and be cared for”, a tenet from Stanford educator, Nel Noddings, so they can be wise and understanding parents in the years to come.  The girls are also learning how to express and recognize the different aspects of their personalities.  According to Rod Newton, Director of Hidden Springs Wellness Center in Ashland, Oregon, a healthy human being needs to come to grips with the different characteristics that make up his/her personality.  In the episode, Scooter encourages Veronica to do just that.  Veronica tries to behave like an adult and refers with derision to the “juvenile nature of The Saddle Club.”  She struts around with an impatient air of importance giving orders(like an adult.)  But her attitude causes her to be isolated and inwardly unhappy.  Scooter challenges Veronica to look into herself, and not suppress the carefree, playful child, which is also a part of her.  Throughout the series we witness Veronica’s struggles, climaxing in an intense inner dialogue.  Scooter’s probing question, “What is it you really want, Veronica?” reminds all of us to focus on what is truly meaningful in our lives.