Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Search of Sukhomlinsky: What did I Find?

It is already two weeks since I returned from Ukraine. It has taken me a little while to catch up with my work and family, but I am now ready to look back and reflect on my trip and what it achieved. When I left for Ukraine I was hoping to get some idea of the content of archives in Pavlysh and Kyiv, without having a clear idea of the nature of those archives. I now have a much clearer picture. I was hoping to meet with people who remembered Sukhomlinsky, and to get first hand impressions from them. I spent several hours with Sukhomlinsky’s daughter, including a five hour car trip to Pavlysh, and also met with two former students and a former colleague (all working at the school) while in Pavlysh. Finally I was hoping to get some idea of how much interest in Sukhomlinsky’s work endures nearly forty years after his death. I found several valuable sources of information on this topic. The following notes may serve as something of a road map for others interested in researching Sukhomlinsky’s legacy.

The archive in Pavlysh occupies part of the original school building, built in 1910, including that part which was the living quarters for Sukhomlinsky and his family. Its official name is the Sukhomlinsky State Memorial Education Museum, and its director is Zoya Yurievna Tkachenko. She runs it as a “living museum”, and teachers access the materials readily in an attempt to better understand Sukhomlinsky’s legacy. They are able to borrow books from Sukhomlinsky’s personal library and to refer to discussions recorded in the minutes of staff meetings. The museum’s collection currently includes 6690 books in Sukhomlinsky’s family library, 3154 photographs, 46 notebooks containing lesson analyses, 22 notebooks containing staff meeting minutes, 4 notebooks on psychological seminars, 12 notebooks containing the principal’s planning notes, 23 notebooks of school planning, 325 pages of weekly planning notes for extracurricular activities, 11 handwritten journals on pedagogical thought, 4 books of a manuscript anthology on ethics, 2 volumes of creative writing exemplars written by Sukhomlinsky, 207 volumes of books written by Sukhomlinsky, 38 volumes of students’ creative writing, 4 volumes of lesson plans, 222 miscellaneous objects and a growing collection of materials on Sukhomlinsky in the contemporary world (including some video material). Most of the school records are in the Ukrainian language, and most of the published books are in Russian.

The State Archives in Kyiv also hold a very substantial collection of Sukhomlinsky materials (Collection No. 5097, materials dating from 1944-1981). I studied the list of materials held in the collection, a 187 page document, with each page typically listing about ten groups of items (eg a folder containing letters from overseas, or from parents during certain years). The Sukhomlinsky collection at the State Archives includes his own published works, including journal and newspaper articles and unpublished articles, documents from his working life, personal correspondence, overseas editions of Sukhomlinsky’s works, and books written about Sukhomlinsky. I was able to inspect only a very small sample of these materials, as only ten items can be normally ordered on any one day. I also had to pay (about $3 per page) for the privilege of photographing material of special interest (such as a single letter from Australia). The State Archives are compelled to charge these fees in order to raise adequate funds for their daily operation.

A third archive is held in the Sukhomlinsky Collection at the Sukhomlinsky State Education Library, run by the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. This library has a website at, and a huge amount of information on Sukhomlinsky is accessible via this website to readers of Ukrainian. This information includes comprehensive bibliographies of published material on Sukhomlinsky. The collection itself contains lots of archival material (3393 documents, photographs and video items) donated by Sukhomlinsky’s family. I concentrated on scanning photographs at this site, as I was looking for material to enliven my website and future publications. Materials at the Sukhomlinsky collection are on view in a reading room, and more easily accessed than materials at the State Archives. There was no charge for photographing these materials.

Apart from very valuable conversations with Sukhomlinsky’s daughter, Olga Vasilievna Sukhomlins’ka, in Pavlysh I met with two former students of Sukhomlinsky and one former colleague. Lyudmila Stepanovna Evtushenko was as student at the school during the 1960s. She showed me around the school grounds and told me about the creation of the various facilities there. Lidiya Nikolaevna Suprunyuk was a student at the school. She was studying in year 9 when Sukhomlinsky died, and delivered an oration at his funeral on behalf of the students. She took me to Sukhomlinsky’s grave to lay some flowers, and told me of her recollections of him. She said she never heard him raise his voice, that he new all 500 students in the school by name, and stood at the entrance greeting them as they arrived each morning. She said he never let pass the opportunity to give some words of encouragement. He was often to be seen in the school grounds amongst a group of students, kindling enthusiasm for some activity or other. Her strongest memory from her school days was of being chosen to attend an agricultural expo in Moscow.

The other person I met who was able to share her first hand impressions of Sukhomlinsky was Raisa Nikitichna Grishina, who is still teaching Ukrainian language at the school. She arrived as a beginning teacher in 1968, and worked under Sukhomlinsky’s direction for the last two years of his life. Because Ukrainian language was Sukhomlinksky’s own subject, and because Raisa Nikitichna was also involved in extramural activities which Sukhomlinsky directed, she had quite a lot of contact with him. She also said she never heard him raise his voice with a student or teacher. She often chatted with him at his home of an evening, and assisted after school with activities he organised, including evening activities for senior students. Such activities might take the form of a musical evening devoted to a particular composer, followed by games, dancing, or a quiz session. She said he continued to work with a preschool group of 6 year old children once a week till he died. She also said he had a fondness for the writer Zabolotsky, and liked to quote his words: “Don’t let the soul be lazy” (“Ne pozvolyai dushe lenit’sya”). It was clear from my contacts that a tremendous respect for Sukhomlinsky lives on in the community that surrounds the school.

In trying to assess the extent to which Sukhomlinsky’s ideas live on in the 21st century, I discovered some interesting facts. Local interest in Ukraine is supported by the activities of the Ukrainian Sukhomlinsky Association, headed by Aleksandra Yakovlevna Savchenko, a senior member of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, and former deputy minister for education. The Association works on several levels, organising annual conferences, which attract more interest each year. Members of the Association also prepare materials for trainee teachers, run experimental schools, kindergartens, colleges and tertiary centres. They contribute materials to textbooks, and carry on publishing work, including the preparation of bibliographies. They liaise with other Sukhomlinsky associations in Russia and China.

In Russia there is particularly strong interest in the Urals, centred round the city of Erenburg, where a former student of Sukhomlinsky’s, Valentina Grigorievna Ryndak, is carrying out a lot of research and promotional work. There is also great interest in China. I have collected a lot of material about Ryndak’s work, and the interest in China, but have not had time to read it all. I will be studying this material over the coming months, and preparing an article entitled “Sukhomlinsky in the 21st Century”, where I will discuss my findings in detail.

All in all, the ten days spent in Ukraine has provided a great stimulus to my interest in Sukhomlinsky, and enough material to work on for several years. As well as my article, I plan to edit video footage I have collected, and add subtitles, so that I can make presentations to English speaking audiences. I also have first editions of “My Heart I Give to Children” and “Pavlysh Secondary School”, which I will continue to translate as time is available.

This will probably be my final posting to this blog. I invite anyone interested to follow developments at my website on Sukhomlinsky at , where I will be posting more material over the coming months. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to follow my journey.

Best wishes,

Alan Cockerill

Friday, October 16, 2009

On the way home - Vienna Airport

I am at the Vienna Airport and have just uploaded three photographs from Wednesday and Thursday. Although I have many photographs of children from the Ukrainian College and Pavlysh Secondary School, I have refrained from putting them on the internet, in line with Australian schools policy not to display children's photos on the internet without parental permission. I will share these with students and friends when I get back to Australia, in less public settings. At the Ukrainian College they have a competition for the girl with the longest hair, and I have a picture of the girl who won this year.

It was very rainy today, and I did not get to make a tour of city sights in Kiev. For most of the way to Vienna I was flying above a thick layer of cloud, but this was also very beautiful. It was around sunset, and as we were chasing the sun at a fairly high latitude the sunset continued for nearly the whole trip (2 hours). When we flew over the Carpathian Mountains the cloud cleared a little, and I could see lots of snow on the ground.

Now I have a five hour stopover in Vienna, and then a flight of ten hours or so to Bangkok. A five hour stopover in Bangkok will be followed by another flight of close to ten hours, and I should arrive in Sydney around 8 am on Sunday morning. This will probably be my last post until after I arrive back in Australia. In a few days I may make another post including some reflections on the trip.

State Archives, Sukhomlinsky Library and Sukhomlinsky College

During the past two days I have been very busy at the State Archives, the Sukhomlinsky Library and the Sukhomlinsky College. At the State Archives I photographed some very interesting documents from Sukhomlinsky's personal correspondence and notebooks. I found one letter from Australia (about 1960) and several letters from Akio Sugiyama, a Japanese scholar translating Sukhomlinsky's books (in English). I was surprised to find that Sukhomlinsky received many letters from prisoners, and visited a centre for juvenile criminals.

At the Sukhomlinsky Library, attached to the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, there is a special Sukhomlinsky collection, contain many photographs and documents donated by Sukhomlinsky's wife and daughter. There I scanned many photographs.

Yesterday I also visited the Sukhomlinsky Ukrainian College, an experimental government school with about 900 students, who come from all over Kyiv. I was very impressed with the school, and took lots of photographs there as well.

Today I am returning to Australia. It will be a long flight (about 33 hours with stopovers) and I will not arrive till Sunday morning. I am looking forward to sharing my impressions with students, colleagues, family and friends when I return. Today I will also be seeing some of the sights of Kyiv, and should get some interesting photographs of the city.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Visiting the State Archives in Kiev

Today I went to the Central State Archives to see what was there. I was able to read through a list of their materials on Sukhomlinsky, and I have ordered some of them to look at tomorrow. The archives contain thousands of manuscripts, letters and published works, so I will only be able to look at a small proportion of it. I have ordered a selection of Sukhomlinsky's correspondence and notebooks. The list of correspondence is huge, including many thousands of letters from teachers, students, parents and even prisoners. I have chosen samples of these from his final years, and also family correspondence, and some correspondence with people overseas. I have also ordered some notes made for a trip to Cuba and East Germany. I will only have time for the briefest sampling of the huge collection.

Tomorrow I will also be visiting the Sukhomlinsky Collection at a library attached to the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. This collection includes photographs, and access will be easier than at the state archives, which are very strictly controlled. I will be able to photograph materials free of charge, whereas at the state archives there is a charge for each resource photographed.

I was taken to the state archives by one of Olga Vasilievna’s post-graduate students (Tanya), who is writing a doctoral dissertation. She was very helpful, and even ordered resources for me to look at under her name, as there is a limit of 10 resources which can be ordered at a time by one person. On the way to the archives I took some photographs from a corner of Sevastopol Square, including the imposing grey building of the police academy, and some beautiful autumn leaves in a park on the square. Tanya didn’t want me to photograph her, so I cannot show a picture of her.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Unpublished Material

I have had two interesting conversations with Sukhomlinsky’s daughter, Olga Vasilievna, about the extent of unpublished material held in the archives. It turns out that much of the material I believed to be unpublished has in fact been published. Some of it was simply published under a different name than that which appears in letters he wrote before his death. For example he refers to Parts 2 and 3 of “My Heart I Give to Children”. Part 2 was published under the title “The Birth of a Citizen”, and Part 3 was published under the title “Letters to My Son”. Other material has been published quite recently. I was very interested in a book dedicated to children with learning difficulties, and Olga Vasilievna has given me a recent publication containing material dedicated to that theme. Olga Vasilievna herself has been very active in seeing that her father’s work is published in Ukraine.

This means that I need spend less time examining unpublished material, and can spend more time learning about efforts to put Sukhomlinsky’s ideas into practice in the 21st Century. I plan to write an article dedicated to this theme during the coming months. Currently the main regions where Sukhomlinsky’s ideas are very much alive appear to be in Ukraine, Russia and the former Soviet republics, and in China, where there is great interest.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pavlysh to Kyiv

On Sunday I completed my work at the Sukhomlinsky Memorial Museum, scanning about another 700 pages of material. I also said goodbye to the director of the museum, Zoya Yurievna Tkachenko, and to the local director of education, Aleksandr Vladimirovich.

I got up about 5.30 this morning (Monday) and was driven by Pavel Ivanovich (who has driven me to the museum each day) to Kremenchuk, to catch the train to Kyiv. We were accompanied by the principal of Pavlysh Secondary School, Valentina Fedorovna Derkach, who saw me off and gave me some sandwiches for the journey. Valentina Fedorovna has been giving me breakfast and lunch each day in her office.

Everyone at Pavlysh has been very helpful, and it has been an unforgettable five days.

I was met at Kyiv Railway Station by Professor Pustovit, and I had lunch with him and with Sukhomlinsky’s daughter. I am having a rest this afternoon, and found that I can connect to the internet by WiFi at the Academy’s guest quarters, so I am managing to post quite a bit of material today. I am also putting up more photographs. You may need to scroll to the bottom of the page to see them. Thank you Paul for integrating some of the photographs with the text.

The next few days will be spent at archives in Kyiv, visiting a school here based on Sukhomlinky’s educational philosophy, and meeting others who are promoting his ideas. Best wishes to everyone who has been following this blog. In another week I will be back at work in Australia, where I will show my students many more pictures from my trip.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Work in Pavlysh

I have been extremely busy over the past two days, collecting material to help me with my research into the life and work of Vasily Sukhomlinsky. I have also met with students from the school here, attending a year 9 geography class, where I answered lots of questions about myself and about Australia, meeting with members of the student club attached to the Sukhomlinsky museum, and attending a concert given by children in the primary school. I have a mass of photographs, and even hours of filmed material, some of it dating from when Sukhomlinsky was alive.

I have learnt that there are still many teachers and researchers in Ukraine and Russia who are interested in Sukhomlinsky’s work, and try to learn from his experience. I have also learnt that there is huge interest in Sukhomlinsky’s work in China, and many Chinese scholars have come to the school here to learn about him. There are many schools in China trying to implement Sukhomlinsky’s ideas.

I was overjoyed today to be able to copy hours of video footage to my laptop. It includes footage of Sukhomlinsky himself working with children and discussing his ideas, and also later footage of many former students talking about their memories of the school. When I get back to Australia I will try to organise an evening when I can show some of this footage to people who are interested. Everything I have seen has reinforced my opinion that Sukhomlinsky was a remarkable educator who deserves to be much better known in English speaking countries.

Friday, October 9, 2009

In Kyiv and Pavlysh

Tuesday 6 October, 6.30 pm

I have arrived in Kyiv, where I have experienced the legendary Ukrainian hospitality. I was met at the airport by Professor Hryhoriy Pustovit from the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences and his colleague Vadim, who drove me to the guest accommodation at the Academy. I had a rest and a shower, and was treated to a beautiful dinner of borshch, fish, fried potato patties and a delicious salad made from eggs, mushrooms, chicken, mayonnaise and herbs.

After dinner I wandered around the academy and took some photographs. My room has a beautiful view of some trees and a classic old building which houses a clinic. Near the Academy is a new apartment building, and in the opposite direction, a cathedral which is being restored. The guest accommodation itself is set among trees, which include birches and poplars. Have a look at the new photos.

I am going to get an early night and catch up on some sleep, before heading off for Pavlysh first thing in the morning. Pavlysh is about five hours drive from Kyiv.

Wednesday 7 October

Today I met Sukhomlinsky’s daughter, Olga Vasilievna Sukhomlins’ka, and together we drove with Vadim to Pavlysh, a trip of about 350 km. We were met at the school in Pavlysh by the District Director of Education and his assistant, the principal of the school and the director of the Sukhomlinsky museum. We had lunch together, and afterwards I viewed films of the school taken while Sukhomlinsky was still alive, including footage of Sukhomlinsky himself. Olga Vasilievna went with her cousin to visit Sukhomlinksy’s grave.

Olga Sukhomlins'ka

Late in the afternoon we drove to a neighbouring village, Onufrievka, where I am staying in a motel. I am getting a lift each day to Pavlysh to work in the archives at the museum, and will be here for the next four days, returning to Kyiv by train on Monday morning. Everyone has been very friendly and helpful, and the food has been excellent. Once again I have been treated to wonderful Ukrainian hospitality.

Thursday, 8 October

I drive along this street each day on the way to the school in Pavlysh

Today I spent most of the day working in the Sukhomlinsky Museum at Pavlysh Secondary School. Yesterday Sukhomlinsky’s daughter explained to me that the first edition of her father’s most famous book, “My Heart I Give to Children”, published in 1969, contains some passages that were removed from later editions by censorship. These include reference to the children’s sub-conscious, and even to Freud, whose theories were not approved of by Soviet authorities. I have read only later versions, so I was very interested to get a copy of the first edition.

Sukhomlinsky's Office

Today I have photographed over 600 pages of the first editions of “My Heart I Give to Children”, and “Pavlysh Secondary School”, which I plan to translate into English. I have also scanned 16 photographs from the archives of Sukhomlinsky with his students, family and visitors. I have started to look at minutes from staff meetings, but these are more difficult for me to follow, as they are written in Ukrainian, not Russian.

After lunch I met with four students in years six and seven, who are members of a club attached to the Sukhomlinsky museum. They help to collect material for the museum and greet guests who come to visit. They presented me with cards they had made and read poems they had written. They are led by the director of the museum Zoya Yurievna Tkachenko, who has helped me a great deal with my research, and given me a copy of the very first German edition of “My Heart I Give to Children”. (It appeared in German even before it was published in Russian or Ukrainian.)

At the end of the afternoon, I visited Sukhomlinsky’s grave, where I laid some flowers presented to me yesterday by students at the school. I have taken a few pictures of the school, and can recognise certain areas described in his books. I hope that tomorrow I may be able to connect my laptop to the internet and upload some new material to this blog, including some photographs. Even though I may have only occasional access to the internet while in the Ukraine, I will return to Australia with lots of material to add to my website on Sukhomlinsky.

Monday, October 5, 2009

En Route

I am posting this from Vienna International Airport. It is about 7.45 am local time, and about 4.45 pm Sydney time, on 6 October. My flight for Kiev boards in about 2 hours. I have had a smooth journey so far, though of course I am tired after two very long flights. I am posting three new photographs at the foot of this blog. They show the aeroplane I flew on from Sydney to Bangkok, and foyers at Bangkok and Vienna airports. I will send another post from Kyiv if I have internet access.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Departure Day

I will be heading to Sydney international airport in a couple of hours on my way to Kyiv (Kiev in the old spelling). My journey will have three stages: Sydney to Bangkok (9 hours 25 minutes), Bangkok to Vienna (10 hours 40 minutes), and Vienna to Kyiv (2 hours). I will arrive in Kyiv about 1.30 pm tomorrow (local time). I will spend the remainder of the day resting, and then head off for Pavlysh the following day. I am not sure how much internet access I will have, but will try to post new information as the trip progresses.

If you notice some changes to the appearance of this blog, it will be thanks to some help from my friend Paul Howson, who is a designer. He helped prepare my book "Each One Must Shine" for publication, and has considerable experience in web site development. He kindly offered to tweak the settings on my blog, so that it would be a little easier to read and would fit on the screen better. It was Paul who encouraged me to start this blog, as a way of introducing more people to Sukhomlinsky's work.

If any students from Beauty Point Public School (where I teach) are following this blog, they might like to use Google Maps or Google Earth to look up Bangkok, Vienna, Kyiv and Pavlysh. A Google image search will bring up pictures taken in these places. I am adding a new photo of Sukhomlinsky's school at the foot of this blog. I found it using a Google image search.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pavlysh Secondary School

The school that Sukhomlinsky headed in Pavlysh was a combined primary and secondary school, with 4 years of primary and 6 years of secondary education offered to the students. The enrolment was about 500 students. Sukhomlinsky was appointed to the school in 1947, when the German occupation was still fresh in children’s memories. Many children had suffered great trauma during the war. Some had lost parents, some had been injured, some did not even know who their parents were.

Sukhomlinsky felt that in many cases the school’s first priority was to help children regain their childhood. Without a genuinely humane approach meaningful education would be impossible. Sukhomlinsky had to overcome great trauma himself. He had nearly died on the battlefield, with his arm nearly severed, and fragments of shrapnel left in his chest. Then, when his native village was freed from occupation, he learnt of the violent death of his wife and child. For years he found it difficult to sleep at night, and woke early to lose himself in his work. His love for children was what kept him sane. Each morning he looked forward to the sound of their chatter as they arrived at school.

In 1969 Sukhomlinsky published a book summarizing his experience and that of his staff at the school in Pavlysh. In it he attempts to show the interconnectedness of all the activities at his school, and paints a picture of a holistic approach to education, which included physical, moral, intellectual, aesthetic and vocational elements. He considered that no one element of education was the most important, but that all were important, just as each petal of a flower contributes to its beauty.

In my book “Each One Must Shine”, many of the quotations in chapters three and four are taken from Sukhomlinsky’s account in “Pavlyshskaya sredyaya shkola” [Pavlysh Secondary School]. Here are some of them:

‘The child is a living creature, his brain is a most delicate and tender organ, which must be treated with care and concern. It is possible to give primary education in three years, but only on the condition that there is a constant concern for the children’s health, and for the normal development of the child’s organism. The basis for effective intellectual work is not to be found in its tempo and intensity, but in due attention being given to its organisation, in carrying out multifaceted physical, intellectual and aesthetic education.” (p. 54)

“The repeated experience of joy accompanying good deeds in childhood is transformed over time into that voice of conscience which bears witness to a high level of moral consciousness.” (p. 59)

“In our system of intellectual education there are work assignments whose principal aim is the formation of a philosophy of life. For example when working on an experimental plot a pupil may demonstrate that soil is a particular medium for the activity of microorganisms. The demonstration of this truth is only the first step towards autonomous activity leading to the formation of a philosophy of life. The next step is the creation of a soil which will yield a rich harvest.” (p. 72)

“At our school children of seven and eight years already carry out interesting and engaging work of considerable social significance. ... For instance, two months before they commence grade one, the little ones collect seeds from trees. In the spring they perform their first work of major social significance: sowing the seeds of trees on the slopes of ravines and gullies. They look after the trees, this creating defensive wooded belts preventing soil erosion in the fields. The work of the smallest pupils in the fields of the local collective farm has created several major defensive forest belts which, over a period of ten years, have stopped soil erosion on an area of 160 hectares.” (p. 87)

“The first thing that catches the eye of a child who enters our school in grade one is the array of interesting thing that all, without exception, are busy with. Each pupil has a favourite workplace, a favourite hobby, and an older friend whose work serves as a model. The overwhelming majority of pupils are not only learning something, mastering something, but passing on their acquired skills and knowledge to their friends. .... This is how a vocation is born, and how self-education occurs.” (p. 92)

“In the places of beauty which each class creates in the school grounds are roses, lilacs, grapes, pears. A concern for beauty is experiences as a concern for a tender, delicate, defenceless being, who would perish if people did not care for it.” (p. 95)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why I am Travelling to Ukraine

I have explained in earlier posts why I think Sukhomlinsky is worth studying, but why do I need to travel to Ukraine to do this? I have thousands of pages of published material at home, which I can reread and relate to my own experience. I could spend many years just translating the material I have already collected.

One of the reasons I am travelling to Ukraine is that on my previous trip to the Soviet Union, in 1987/88, I was unable to travel to Pavlysh, where Sukhomlinsky's school is situated. I would like to see with my own eyes the facilities and landscape he describes in his books. I would also like to take photographs to illustrate future books and a web site devoted to Sukhomlinsky's legacy.

The other reason is that at the school in Pavlysh and in Kyiv there are archives that house old photographs and manuscripts, many of which are not published. Access to this material will give me a more complete picture of Sukhomlinsky's work than is able to be accessed through published material.

It is my hope, then, that I will return with photographs that I have taken or scanned from archives, and also with material scanned from unpublished manuscripts, letters and notes. Not long before he died, Sukhomlinsky wrote to publishers about many unpublished works that he had completed. He knew that he did not have long to live, and was making a final effort to see his ideas and experience preserved for posterity. While many of the unpublished works listed in his letters have since been published, an equal number have not. These works are of particular interest to me, and I will be fascinated to see how much unpublished material is held in the archives.

I will be leaving in a week and am making final preparations for my departure. My sense of anticipation is growing, and I am starting to get feedback from people interested in my blog. I will try to keep posting material over the coming weeks.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sukhomlinsky the Writer

Sukhomlinsky wrote about 30 books and about 500 articles while serving as principal at Pavlysh School. How did he find the time to do this? Sukhomlinsky used to wake around 4.00 am and work in his office till about 8.00 am, when the children started to arrive at school. It was during this time that he did much of his writing. He also wrote on holidays and even in his hospital bed. During the last three years of his life he tried to record as much of his experience and thought as he could, for posterity.

Some works, like "100 Pieces of Advice for Teachers" were written in response to the thousands of letters he received from teachers all over the Soviet Union. They knew of him from his articles in educational periodicals and newspapers, and from his books. Thousands of teachers travelled to see his school and meet him personally. Until the attacks on him in 1967, Sukhomlinsky managed to promote his humanistic approach within the framework of Communist ideology, interpreting that ideology in his own unique way. One commentator explained his rise to fame as follows:

"... a new name, a fresh approach, a clear voice. A village teacher, from the peasantry, a company political instructor, seriously wounded, a veteran, he understands the Party's policies and the role of the school correctly, he writes compellingly, intelligibly, based on his experience of work education in a country school...
In the measured rhythms of his narrative about the daily life and festivals of Pavlysh Secondary School, which had sent its roots deep into the peasant way of life, in his Ukrainian turn of phrase and intonation, there was a special charm, an authenticity."

I personally find each page of his writing to be permeated with his love for children, and with the conviction that comes from hard-earned experience and reflection. He is not merely intellectualizing, but strenuously seeking a way to educate children for a brighter future. He did not want any children to be left behind, and gave particular attention to those that struggled at school. He wrote of the need for concrete experience to preceed abstract thinking:

"I advised teachers: if a child does not understand something, if his thought beats helplessly like a bird in a cage, look carefully at your work. Has the consciousness of your child become a little dried up pond, cut off from the eternal and life-giving source of thought - the world of objects, of natural phenomena? Connect this pond with the ocean of nature, of objects, of the surrounding world, and you will see how a spring of living thought will begin to flow."

Only a small proportion of Sukhomlinsky's writing has been translated into English. I have commenced a translation of one of his major works, entitled "Pavlysh Secondary School". As the school included both a primary and a secondary school, I am considering making the title simply "Pavlysh School", so as not to give the impression that it was only a secondary school. You can see the early stages of my translation at the following site: . I expect to take some years to complete this translation, but hope to translate much more of Sukhomlinsky's work once I retire from teaching.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The School of Joy

Sukhomlinsky's most famous book is "My Heart I Give to Children", which was first published in 1969. In it Sukhomlinsky describes his work with a group of children he led through their primary schooling. The book gives us insight into Sukhomlinsky the school teacher, and the way in which he interacted with children. Sukhomlinsky became principal of the school in Pavlysh in 1947, but he missed the closeness of the relationship that class teachers had with their pupils. Then, several years after he became principal, he decided to take on a class himself, and combine the roles of principal and class teacher.

In the Autumn of 1951 Sukhomlinsky began working with a class of 6-year-old children, at a time when the age for enrolling in school was seven. He had managed to persuade the parents of these children to send them to school a year early. He did not plan to commence formal lessons with them during this year, but wanted to get to know them as well as possible through an informal program of outdoor activities. The parents of his 31 students called this introductory year the "school of joy". Sukhomlinsky told the children stories, many of which he improvised in response to their natural surroundings. The children responded and made up stories of their own. Once the children's awareness of language and interest in it had been raised to a sufficient level, Sukhomlinsky taught the children to read, again through means of outdoor excursions. The following is a description of a lesson, taken from the book "My Heart I Give to Children".

"We went on 'journeys' to the sources of words with albums and pencils. Here is one of our first 'journeys'. My aim was to show the children the beauty and the subtle nuances of the word meadow. [In Ukrainian this is a three-letter word which may be transliterated as 'LUH' or 'LUG'.] We seated ourselves under a weeping willow which leant over a pond. In the distance a meadow, lit up by the sun, showed green. I said to the children: "Look at the beauty in front of us. Above the grass butterflies are flying, bees are buzzing. In the distance is a herd of cattle that look like toys. It seems as if the meadow is a light green river and the trees are its dark green banks. The herd is bathing in the river. Look how many beautiful flowers early autumn has sprinkled around. And as we listen to the music of the meadow can you hear the soft buzzing of the flies and the song of a grasshopper?" I draw the meadow in my album. I draw the cows, and the geese, scattered about like white fluff, and a barely perceptible puff of smoke, and a white cloud on the horizon. The children are spellbound by the beauty of the quiet morning and they are also drawing. I write underneath the drawing 'LUH'.

For the majority of children, letters are drawings. And each drawing reminds them of something. Of what? Of a blade of grass. Bend the blade over and you have an 'L'. Put two blades together and you have a new drawing, an 'U'. The children write the word 'LUH' below their drawings. Then we read the word. Sensitivity to the music of nature helps the children to sense the meaning of the word. The outline of each letter is memorised. The children impart to each letter a living sound, and each letter is easily memorised. The drawing of the word is perceived as a whole. The word is read, and this reading is not the result of lengthy exercises in phonic analysis and synthesis, but a conscious reproduction of a phonic, musical image, which corresponds to the visual image of the word which has just been drawn by the children. When there is such a unity of visual and auditory perception, infused with a wealth of emotional nuances, which have been imparted to the word, the letter and the small word are memorised simultaneously. Dear reader, this is not a discovery of some new method for teaching literacy. It is the practical realisation of that which has been proven by science: that it is easier to memorise that which one is not obliged to memorise and that the emotional colouring of perceived images plays a crucial role in memorisation."

As his work with this class progressed, he taught them much more than was contained in the official syllabus. He taught them lessons in empathy - how to read the feelings of others in their eyes. He took measures to make sure the children's health provided the strongest possile foundation for their all round development. He helped them to develop interests and hobbies, and gave them practical opportunities to apply their developing knowledge in dozens of clubs and interest groups. The school environment was transformed through the planting of fruit trees, grape vines, flowers and vegetables. The children's feelings of compassion were refined through the establishment of an animal hospital, where injured wildlife was cared for. And always Sukhomlinsky's creativity and intuition is supplemented by deep reflection on the process of education, as he tries to generalize from his experience and stimulate similar reflection by his readers. Here is one such reflection:

"I firmly believe that there are qualities without which a person cannot become a genuine educator, and foremost among them is the ability to penetrate into the spiritual world of the child. Only the person who never forgets that he or she was once a child can become a real teacher. The misfortune of many teachers (children, especially adolescents, call them old fogeys) is that they forget that the student is first of all a living human being in the act of entering the world of knowledge, creativity, and human relations."

An English translation of "My Heart I Give to Children" was carried out by Holly Smith, and published by Progress Publishers, Moscow, in 1981. It can be found in many university libraries. Rough digitised versions of this translation (they have numerous typographical errors) can be downloaded in pdf format from the following websites:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sukhomlinsky's Heroism

As I make preparations for my trip to Ukraine, I have been reading a book sent to me by Sukhomslinsky's daughter, Olga Sukhomlins'ka, who is a professor at the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences in Kyiv. Her book, entitled "Studies on V.A. Sukhomlinsky: Pedagogical Apocrypha", documents a debate that sprang up around her fathers work during the last three years of his life, and which continued for decades. The book reminded me of how difficult Sukhomlinsky's life was, from beginning to end.

Sukhomlinsky was born in 1918, during the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution of 1917. He lived through social unrest, famine, serious illness, and war. He was seriously wounded in battle, with his arm nearly severed and schrapnel in his lungs. While he was at war his home was occupied, and his wife and baby were tortured and killed. Somehow he rose above all this, and returned to help the children in his region to recover from the terrible suffering and loss of the Nazi occupation. He built a system of education founded on humanity, kindness and the appreciation of beauty. The famous musical educator Dmitry Kabalevsky thought that Sukhomlinksy incorporated ethical and aesthetic education thoughout a child's education, in a way that was unprecedented.

Then, in 1967, when Sukhomlinsky was apparently at the height of his fame and influence, he was suddenly subjected to ideological attacks in the press, which appear to have been directed from the highest levels of the communist regime. It would appear that his emphasis on universal humanistic values was not to the taste of more narrow-minded ideologues who held positions of greater power and influence. He was accused of "abstract humanism", and of putting the interests of the individual ahead of the collective.

Sukhomlinsky's health was already failing. Fragments of schrapnel from his old war wounds had remained in his chest and travelled to his heart. He was operated on, and one fragment was removed, but another remained. The attacks on him in the press greeted him as he returned from hospital, and affected him deeply. Sukhomlinsky's daughter is quite certain that they had a detrimental effect on his health and hastened his death three years later. In spite of his failing health, Sukhomlinsky set about writing the books which have secured his reputation for posterity. Sukhomlinsky continued in his post as principal of the school at Pavlysh until his death in September 1970, and during this time produced several remarkable books describing his experience at the school, and his educational theories. I will discuss these in more detail in later posts, starting with the most famous: "My Heart I Give to Children".

Moscow 1987/1988

I started studying Sukhomlinsky's work after purchasing a 5 volume set of his selected works in a bookshop in Melbourne. I soon realised that in order to take my studies further, I would need to travel to the Soviet Union. I explored various options, and eventually accepted a scholarship to study for ten months at the Pushkin Institute of Russian Language in Moscow, where I arrived in late August, 1987.

In 1987 the Soviet Union was going through a period of great change under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. Freedom of speech was at a level unprecedented in Soviet times, and Moscow was seeking much more friendly relations with the Western world. Gorbachev had stunned Reagan by offering major unilateral concessions at a summit in Iceland, and preparations were being made for a summit in Washington in December. A further summit was held in Moscow the following year. It was a fascinating time to be in Russia.

It was a condition of my scholarship that I should attend Russian language classes at the Institute from 9 am to 2 pm, 4 days a week, and that I should conduct Russian language classes for the Australia-USSR Society in Brisbane on completion of the course. In return, all my tuition and accommodation was paid for, and I was given a living allowance of 140 roubles a month - enough to cover food, transport and other essential expenses. After classes each day I had a meal and then headed off for the Lenin Library in the centre of Moscow, where I read and collected material for my study of Sukhomlinsky.

The Pushkin Institute allocated a supervisor, Vera Sergeevna Deviataikina, to help me with my research. She provided valuable assistance, organising a meeting with Sukhomlinsky's daughter, with the publicist Simon Soloveichik, and with another researcher, Mikhail Boguslavsky, who had recently completed a dissertation on Sukhomlinsky. She also arranged for me to attend a progressive Moscow school headed by Evgeny Yamburg, where for several months I assisted with English language classes. I subsequently exchanged numerous letters with Sukhomlinsky's daughter, who supplied me with much useful material. She still continues to support my efforts to make her father's work better known in English speaking countries.

In May and June of 1988, shortly before I returned to Australia, President Reagan came to Moscow for a summit with President Gorbachev. The word got around that CBS was looking for interpreters, and about thirty English-speaking students from the Institute found employment for the duration of the summit. I was allocated to Charles Kuralt, who was supporting Dan Rathers' news coverage with background stories. Charles Kuralt was a legendary figure on American television, known for his Sunday morning program "On the Road", in which he travelled the back roads of America interviewing local people.

One of the most interesting experiences of my life happened while I was working for CBS. The largest hotel in Moscow, the Hotel Rossiya on Red Square, had been turned into a huge media centre for the summit. Most of its 3200 rooms were occupied by journalists and television crews, and some sections had been converted to television studios. All press staff and interpreters had passes to enter, but security was high, and most Soviet citizens were excluded. As the summit was concluding, an old Russian war veteran came to the hotel, insisting that he meet with someone from American television. The following day Charles Kuralt took an interview with him, at which I interpreted.

It was a moving experience, which has been described in Charles Kuralt's book A Life On the Road, in a chapter entitled "The Dentist". The veteran described how he and many other Russian prisoners of war owed their lives to American POWs who were held in the same German camp. The Germans were allowing Red Cross food parcels into the American compound, but not into the Russian compound. The Russian prisoners were starving. Under cover of darkness the American soldiers started hurling thousands of food parcels over the fences that separated the two compounds, saving the lives of many Russians. The veteran was in tears as he remembered those who had helped him, and he vowed that Russians would never go to war against America. The interview was broadcast as the closing item on the CBS evening news on June 3, 1988. I felt as if I had been in the right place at the right time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sukhomlinsky or Sukhomlyns'kyi?

I have received a grant from the Ukrainian Studies Foundation in Australia, to travel to the Ukraine to conduct research into the educational legacy of Vasily Sukhomlinsky/Vasil' Sukhomlyns'kyi. You may wonder why I give two spellings for his name. (If you are not interested is such linguistic niceties, please skip this posting and move on the next one.) I "discovered" Sukhomlinsky through my study of the Russian language, and the form "Sukhomlinsky" is a transliteration from Russian. Sukhomlinsky was famous throughout the Soviet Union in his own lifetime, and many of his books and articles were published in Russian. His most famous work "My Heart I Give to Children", was translated into English by Holly Smith and published by Progress Press, the major foreign language publisher in the Soviet Union, in 1981. An earlier compilation was published in English in 1977 under the title "Sukhomlinsky on Education". In my thesis and my book, I adopted the spelling of Sukhomlinsky's name which had been used in these publications: "Vasily Aleksandrovich Sukhomlinsky".

However, Sukhomlinsky was not Russian, but Ukrainian, and although both Russian and Ukrainian use the cyrillic alphabet, they are two distinct languages. In Ukrainian Sukhomlinsky's name looks different, and the transliteration is also different: "Vasyl' Oleksandrovych Sukhomlyns'kyi". Because of the precedent that has been set, I have continued to write "Sukhomlinsky" in my web resources, but out of respect for his Ukrainian origins I have felt compelled to mention the alternative spelling as well. I ask forgiveness of any Ukrainians who feel I should change my usage to Sukhomlyns'kyi, but point out that there are many possible other variants as well, as there is no single standard system of transliteration into English for either Russian or Ukrainian. In the interests of continuity (and also because it seems to me easier to read and write) I will continue to use Sukhomlinsky for the time being, though I may discuss this issue with Sukhomlinsky's daughter while I am in Ukraine this October.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who was Sukhomlinsky and why is he worth studying?

Vasily Sukhomlinsky (1918-1970) was a school teacher and principal who became an inspirational figure for millions of educators in the Soviet Union and beyond. Through my study of the Russian language I came in contact with Sukhomlinsky's writings, and could not help admiring his idealism, intellect, and amazing commitment to the children he taught. I spent several years studying his work (1987-1994), writing a Ph.D. thesis about him, which was published in book form in 1999 by Peter Lang (New York), under the title "Each One Must Shine". I am convinced that Sukhomlinsky's educational ideas and practice have a significance that transcends the time and place in which he worked.

What is special about Sukhomlinsky is the way he worked to facilitate the development of every aspect of each student, placing great importance on their health and their emotional, aesthetic and moral development, as well as on intellectual and vocational development. His school was visited by thousands of teachers, who left inspired by what they had seen. His books were read by millions. Because of linguistic, cultural and political barriers, Sukhomlinsky's work is almost unknown in the West. In a small way I am trying to remedy this situation, by making available information about Sukhomlinsky over the internet. If you find this blog of interest, you may also like to visit my website at

Now, more than 20 years since I first encountered his writing, I am planning a visit to the Ukraine, where Sukhomlinsky worked, to visit his former school in Pavlysh. I will also be visiting two archives dedicated to the preservation of his education legacy, one in Pavlysh, and one in Kiev. My visit is being facilitated by Sukhomlinksy's daughter, Olga Sukhomlins'ka, who is a professor at the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences in the Ukraine.

During my visit I hope to scan photographs taken during Sukhomlinsky's lifetime, and to take fresh photos of the environment in which he worked. I also hope to come away with a picture of the range of resources (including unpublished manuscripts) which are stored in the archives. I may have the opportunity to meet with former students of Sukhomlinsky's school, and hope to talk with educators in the region, to gauge Sukhomlinsky's continuing influence there.

In this blog I will share my reflections on Sukhomlinsky's educational approach, and also report on my trip to the Ukraine. I hope to post a photographic record of my visit as well. If you have an interest in holistic approaches to education, I hope you will come along for the ride.