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 or , 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


  1. I might be traveling to Kyiv some time in the next year. I came across your site via a google image search for cathedrals in Kyiv. I was wondering where the cathedral in your pictures is located? Do you happen to know the name of it?
    It has unique, very shapely domes, and I'd like to know more about it.
    Thank you for your time.

  2. I have been fascinated by Sukhomlinsky's ideas for years. I have his four books that have been translated into Finnish, and I read them again and again. It is great to find that he has not been forgotten!

  3. I have been fascinated by Sukhomlinsky's ideas for years. I have his four books that have been translated into Finnish, and I read them again and again. It is great to find that he has not been forgotten!

  4. Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

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  6. Wonderful Conversation Hour on ABC. Brilliant approach to education. This is Steiner education wholly and soul-ly. Check this Steiner school website for example

  7. I have just listened to your interview with Richard Fidler, one of the most wonderful I have ever heard. Thank you. I have a (almost) three year old granddaughter and will try to apply the principles. From my understanding the Steiner Schools would be the closest in philosophy to his teachings?
    Christina McDonald