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KONSTANTIN DMITRIEVITCH USHINSKY

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Post by klara on Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:53 pm

Key educational concepts
If we were to express extremely briefly the essence of Ushinsky’s education, we could do so by
using the following four words: nationality, language, work, science. We could develop these as
follows: nationality in the world context; language as a tool of knowledge; science as a basis of art;
work as a source of happiness.
The principle of nationality permeates the whole of Ushinsky’s educational work, but it is
dealt with particularly in the article ‘On Nationality in Public Education’ which appeared for the first
time in 1857 in Žournal dlia vospitaniya [Education Journal]. As an educationist Ushinsky became
involved in the problem brought about by the dispute between Occidentalists and Slavophiles. Both
these movements were critical of the Czar’s absolutism, but their supporters had internal differences
as well, chiefly concerning the appropriate social remedy. As the terms themselves suggest, the
Occidentalists were longing for reform based on the European pattern, whereas the Slavophiles
wished to preserve the old traditions. Ushinsky was deeply and emotionally devoted to everything
that was Russian but, at the same time, he had an excellent knowledge of Western European culture
and education and was seeking a synthesis of both these trends. In his treatise, he presents first of all
a knowledgeable survey of the general historical foundations of European education and, in the ninth
chapter, eventually finds the answer to the question of the significance of nationality in education:
There is only one inborn inclination, common to all, on which education can always depend: the intuition of
national origins. Just as every individual possesses self-esteem, so does every individual love his homeland and
this love gives education a reliable key to the human heart and a powerful support for the struggle against man’s
evil innate, personal and ancestral traits. When education appeals to nationality, it always evokes a response of
co-operation in the lively and strong human sentiment that acts far more effectively than the views accepted by
reason alone or as habits formed from fear of punishment.
At the end of his article Ushinsky formulates the relationships between national education and other
nations’ education in the following way:
There is no education system that would be common to all nations. Every nation has its own specific education
system. Experiences of other nations in the sphere of education are a valuable legacy to all, but not even the best
examples can be accepted without being first tried by every nation with the exertion of its own efforts in this
sphere.
He also warns that education should not be confused with science and that by itself it cannot solve
the questions of life, but can only help to put into effect the history that is, in its turn, formed by the
nation. The efficacy of education depends on the degree to which it becomes the subject of public
interest. This standpoint is essentially true to this day and, at the time when he wrote these words,
was a valuable contribution to overcoming the controversy between Occidentalists and Slavophiles.
The second major subject of Ushinsky’s education that makes the previous topic more
pertinent is language¾the mother-tongue. There exist few reflections on this problem as pertinent as
Ushinsky’s ‘Introduction’ to the Manual of Teaching According to the Mother-Tongue. In the
introductory commentary in the reading-book Children’s World and in the textbook Mother-
Tongue, he expressed his theoretical credo that gave a characteristic orientation to teaching in
Russian schools.
Ushinsky started from the fact that when children learn a subject they always become
acquainted with it through language:
The child who has not acquired the habit of trying to grasp the sense of a word, who understands its real
meaning either vaguely or not at all and who has not learnt to handle both the spoken and the written word with
ease, will always suffer from this basic deficiency in the study of every other subject.
He did not deny the importance of objective teaching and active work by the child. He was,
however, aware of the major role of language in the development of thinking and learning and, for
this reason, he saw in language teaching an important tool for learning facts. His method is generally
referred to as obiyasnitelnoye cteniye (reading with explanation) and was one of the main methods
not only of language teaching but also of teaching facts in Soviet primary schools. Reading with
explanation is naturally a method of teaching the mother-tongue because Ushinsky realized that
children do not yet know their mother-tongue well. Even if they know many words, they often do
not fully understand their meaning or, on the other hand, they may be unable to name a number of
familiar objects correctly. The success of this method depends on the proper selection of suitable
texts and that is why Ushinsky gave painstaking care to their choice as well as to their preparation.
Thus, Children’s World was prepared for the higher grades of the elementary school, containing a
collection of texts from the sphere of facts, as well as poems and extracts from literature and
historical prose. He then produced Mother-Tongue as an elementary textbook on the Russian
language containing basic grammar for the lower grades.
The third principal characteristic of Ushinsky’s education was the stress laid on science as a
basis for its method. Education, in the narrower sense of the word, was regarded by Ushinsky not
as a science but as an art that cannot, however, depend solely on educational techniques or
experience alone, but must be based on the actual research findings of psychology, physiology and
other sciences, which reveal the process of the child’s development. He compared the art of
education with the work of a doctor of medicine, which must be based on anatomy and other
knowledge about the human body if it is not to become mere quackery.
In the introduction to his principal - though unfortunately unfinished - theoretical work,
Man as the Object of Education, Ushinsky explains his concept of the scientific nature of
education:
We do not say to teachers, ‘Do this’ or ‘Do that’; we say ‘Study the laws of the mental phenomena you wish to
control, and proceed in accordance with those laws and the circumstances in which you wish to apply them’.
There is an infinite variety of such circumstances, and, what is more, no two pupils are alike. Given this diversity
of educational circumstances and pupils, is it possible to issue any general educational prescriptions? It would
be difficult to find even one educational measure that did not produce beneficial results in one case, harmful
results in another and none at all in a third. This is why we advise teachers to examine as carefully as possible the
general physical and spiritual nature of man, to study their own pupils and their environment, to scrutinize the
history of various educational measures that may not always spring to mind, to set themselves a clear, positive
educational goal and to pursue it steadfastly, using the knowledge they have acquired and their own good
sense.
The work itself is a remarkable attempt to implement his approach and to give teachers general
scientific support in their educational practice. In this work, Ushinsky discussed the then known
findings from psychology and other life sciences and demonstrated the possibilities for education
resulting from this knowledge. Quotations can often be found to illustrate his thoughts on the training
of habits, perception, memory, etc.
It should also be emphasized here that Ushinsky was not only a great expert in teaching, but
also paid considerable attention to questions of education. His remarkable papers ‘On the Moral
Element in Russian Education’ and ‘On the Mental and Educational Importance of Work’, both
from 1860, illustrate this interest. They are written in the spirit of the ideas already expressed in the
essay ‘On Nationality in Public Education’, but they go even further, each in its respective field. The
former discusses morality at the general level, points to its dependence on freedom and to its roots,
sunk deep in Russian national traditions. The latter selects from the whole complex of questions of
moral education the problem that might be taken as the fourth main pillar of Ushinsky’s education
system¾the problem of work.
The paper devoted to this subject is a unique essay from which it is difficult to select a
characteristic quotation because we might well quote the whole text from beginning to end. But
perhaps the most typical part of the paper is contained in the following passage:
Genuine and necessarily free work¾because there neither is nor could be any other kind¾means so much for
the life of an individual that without it life would lose all value and dignity. It is necessary not only for a person’s
development but also for maintaining the level of dignity already achieved. If he does not work, the individual
can neither progress nor remain at the same level but will inevitably regress. The body, heart and mind of man
need work and so imperative is that need that if, for whatever reason, a person has no personal work in his life he
loses the true path and is faced with two others, both equally ruinous: the path of incurable discontent with life,
of gloomy apathy and utter boredom, and the path of wilful, imperceptible self-destruction down which a person
rapidly descends to the level of childish whims or animal gratifications. People on both these paths lead a living
death, because work¾personal, free work¾is life.
Ushinsky’s life is a wonderful example of work conceived in this fashion, fully devoted to the
education of the younger generation and to a better preparation of those entrusted with this task.
Such education is serious. It allows humour, but never superficiality. Ushinsky has noble educational
goals, intended to elevate the people. He is trying to find a solid, scientific method, while respecting
fully the child’s soul and also the nation’s spirit. He is aware of the fact that if education is to give
man happiness, it must prepare him for a life filled with work. That is the legacy of the educational
wisdom for which Ushinsky is not merely a dead classical author, but in many respects a living
teacher.
Ushinsky’s memory was highly esteemed in the former USSR. In 1946, on the occasion of
the seventy-fifth anniversary of his death, a Ushinsky silver medal was created as an award of the
highest educational honour to the most deserving teachers and educationists.
It would be appropriate to close this review with the words of Ushinsky’s devoted disciple
E.N. Vodovozovova which she addressed in the spirit of his educational bequest to Russian women
teachers prior to the October Revolution:
In the words of Ushinsky, ‘all have a duty to contribute their work, knowledge and talents to the people, and the
period of liberation that is beginning imposes on Russian women the special duty of emancipating themselves
from the prejudices that bear especially on them. Bringing up the young is a great and noble task, but one that is
also extremely difficult and complex. A woman can properly accomplish it only if she has armed herself with
sound knowledge. Consequently, women, as well as men, should receive higher education’.
Ushinsky’s works are an inspiration for the ideas that even now, towards the end of the twentieth
century, are in many respects for a number of regions of the world still more of a programme than a
reality.

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