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: http://www.ejr.com.au/workshop.htm . 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.

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