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)

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