Posts tagged Johnson’s Russia List

Soviet Punitive Pedagogy (Part II)

 I had learned while in Ukraine about “Initiative is Punitive,” I’ve found that according to Soviet pedagogy, it is true in Kazakhstan as well.  I learned from what Vladimir Sirotin wrote about Anton Makarenko and his Soviet punitive pedagogy.  It’s paraphrased from Johnson’s Russia List JRL 2009-219, posted on November 30, 2009

The following is a quote from someone who knew firsthand what life was like in Ukraine in the 1960s as a young boy growing up in an orphanage. Vladimir Sirotin called Makarenko, the bard of punitive pedagogy:   “Our official Soviet pedagogy is permeated through and through by the spirit of unfreedom and compulsion, It is a great tragedy that authoritarianism, punitive methods, and the belittling of human dignity should have become the norm in most of our schools, children’s institutions and indeed families…there existed the destroyer of children’s souls who sought to crush all that is human out of growing generations.”   

One of Makarenko’s many theories that were practiced by teachers was not to berate another teacher in front of the students, even if the other adult in the dispute was wrong. It was necessary to lie to cover it up when in front of the children.  While at the same time the children were expected to tell the truth.  Another practice was: “The united front system is thoroughly totalitarian, imbued with the spirit of the Domostroi, and highly convenient for a dictatorial regime like ours, based on the oppression of millions of people.”

The general rule of “unconditional obedience” has been set, the answer suggests itself compel obedience by any means…Although Makarenko appears to demonstrate that demands must be reasonable, comprehensible, and feasible, he still emphasized the necessity of obeying them without reservation or argument; there is no doubt about this. He envisions no right to refuse to carry out any instruction or demand, even one that is excessively onerous, humiliating, cruel, or whimsical.

One of the rules laid down in the Soviet armed forces is as follows:  “An order must be carried out precisely, unquestioningly, and promptly.” Makarenko himself often called his pedagogy “a pedagogy of command.”  He did all he could to stigmatize and pour dirt on the theory of free upbringing, which was displaced in our country at the end of 1920s and beginning of the 1930s.

The ideologue of Soviet pedagogy was essentially an ideologue of slavery! Makarenko wrote the sinister words: “The foundation of discipline is demands without theory.”  “I am an advocate of the demand without corrections and without mitigation.”

 Free upbringing, school democracy and real rights for students were crushed very quickly in our country by victorious Stalinism.  What about ‘pedagogical innovation” – the collective must bait and badger individual children, on instructions from the higher ups, the majority must persecute the minority.  And if you refuse to take part, then you will become a victim yourself!  I am convinced that in large degree this was the origin of the campaigns of persecution against ‘enemies of the people’.

For nothing arises in an empty place, and the habits learned in childhood persist into adult life.

 Fighting for their rights, for the complete abolition of the command pedagogy that suppresses the personality and belittles human dignity, for the free upbringing (above all, self-upbringing and self-management) of free people.

 Soviet system of ‘upbringing’ with all its despotism, coercion, encouragement of informing, crushing of dissidence, and instilling of the “heroism” of obedience!

 Suppression of the personality of students in the schools and educational institutions and the principle that “the young must obey their elders.”

We think that it is not so difficult to understand that no transition to democracy will succeed until there are changes in human psychology.  And human psychology cannot change for so long as the family and the school largely bring children up to be practically slaves, or at least to be citizens who provide fertile soil for dictatorship, for a repressive regime in society as a whole.

The official structures of our country, the leaders of the pedagogical profession and sometime the mass media do not regard children and adolescents as people.

All punishment suppresses the personality, oppresses the individual, and trains him to be a slave. It generates the fetishism of so-called parental power, the right of the strong over the weak.  It strengthens inequality of rights.

Punitive pedagogy

Authoritarian conservatism, the view that obedience and submission are the most important things and that disobedience must be crushed remained the basic principle of Soviet pedagogy.

A system that lacks feedback is doomed.  A pedagogy that is designed to suppress the personality, to destroy the human and cultivate the slave in a person, to treat the young generation as robots or inanimate objects…Active resistance of its victims, by their demonstrative rejection and disobedience…Domostroi ideology, by punitive pedagogy, by the power of elders over youngsters, in essence, strong over the weak

I’d welcome any feedback about this blog and what Vladimir Sirotin observed.  I think some of these pedagogical practices are still going on today throughout many of the newly independent countries of the former Soviet Union.  As an American teacher, trained to be student-centered, I am saddened for those young Kazakh students who still suffer under punitive pedagogy.

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More Work Party Photos and Soviet Pedagogy

My first exposure to Soviet pedagogy was in a somewhat unlikely place when I taught English for two years in Harbin, China from 1986-1988.  As teachers and foreign experts, we all lived in a foreign guest compound far removed from the Chinese masses with about five or six other Soviet experts. Add to the mix a few Japanese guys learning how to be chefs, a woman from Ireland, a British man and some other Americans and we had a mini-United Nations. We all had more in common than not, living in the strange but mysterious land of China.

I forget a few of the Soviet peoples’ names but I DO remember there was Nick from Latvia, Isa from Azerbaijan, Larissa from Minsk, Belarus, a quiet guy (because he didn’t know much English) from Georgia, another physicist who didn’t believe in dreams, maybe one or two others.  Every day for noon lunch, my American teammates and I would sit together in the big dining room as foreign experts and talk about different things related to China, teaching and life outside of China.  That was the first time I realized there was an undercurrent of nationalism going on with each country represented from the U.S.S.R. Each Russian speaker was very proud of his own nation before the U.S.S.R. took over only sharing in Russian and the same educational background. Of course they were all Soviet citizens and even though we were still in the middle of the Cold War, we all got along.  Joking and eating together, going to banquets, dances and fashion shows when our university dictated when and where we were supposed to go.  I have fond memories of our foreign guest quarters with the mix of cultures.

Two events alerted me to the difference in teaching methodology of the Soviets compared to what I was trained in as an American teacher.  First, some friends of mine in the compound wanted to learn ballroom dancing from Nick, the physicist from Latvia. Nick was an excellent dancer and swept us all off our feet.  However, it was reported back to me that he was an absolute tyrant and drill master when the girls took lessons from him.  Sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they would say, “What’s with Nick?”  I put that together with Larissa, the Russian teacher who also got very uppity about the peculiarities of her language.  Not sure if Belarussian was her first language, if that even exists. I’m guessing it does but that never came up.  They were Soviet citizens, their lingua franca was Russian.  In any case, Larrisa would take on this same persona of joyless, drill master when we asked her about some Russian phrases.

This made me realize almost twenty-five years ago that our western system of teaching was vastly different from that of the Soviets.  Teaching in China I was reacquainted with what I already knew from working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines about teacher-centered vs. student-centered. That’s a huge given that the Chinese approach to teaching is teacher-centered but I witnessed the Soviet system was the same, teacher-centered driven. 

What have I learned these past two years since teaching in Kazakhstan about the Soviet pedagogy? The following is what I picked up off of Johnson’s Russia List, a highly subscribed blog.  The following are paraphrased observations made by a Ukrainian, Vladimir Sirotin from the Johnson’s Russia List JRL 2009 – 219. from November 30, 2009.

The founding father of Soviet pedagogy in the Stalin and post-Stalin era was Anton Makarenko (1888-1939) a Ukrainian.  He had tried to eradicate a problem that had started in Ukraine a decade before with forced collectivization that separated families.  Many Ukrainian children lost their parents due to their refusal to comply with the dictates coming from Moscow. As a result, the parents often were either killed or sent off to Siberia.  Thus, children ran in packs like wild dogs without adult supervision and were known for crimes of theft and other misdemeanors in order to survive. Once caught, there was heavy handed discipline in orphanages and schools were a result to tame these wild urchins found in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. 

Before Makarenko’s seven volumes on how to discipline, there existed Domostroi, (means “Domestic Order) an old Russian book, dating back over 500 years, which served as a handbook on how to run a patriarchal household.  It emphasized strict hierarchy and laying down punishments for disobedience, including corporal punishment. 

(To be continued tomorrow)

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