In memory of Anton Semyonovich Makarenko who championed democratic education

 Anton Semyonovich Makarenko

135 years ago, on March 13th 1888, world famous Soviet teacher and writer, Anton Semyonovich Makarenko (1888 – 1939) was born in the family of a painter, who studied at the Poltava Teachers’ Institute and received a pedagogical education. During the First World War, he did not recruit into the army due to poor eyesight. But his brother Vitaly rose to the rank of lieutenant, and then joined the whites, was forced to emigrate and spend his whole life in France.

“A human being, and just one of those that Russia’ needs,” Gorky called Anton Makarenko. What legacy did the great Soviet teacher leave?

Makarenko was a Ukranian and Soviet, social worker and writer, who made path breaking innovations or experiments as an educational theorist in the Soviet Union. He championed democratic ideas and principles in educational theory and practice. As one of the founders of Soviet pedagogy he devised the theory and methodology of upbringing in self –governing child collectives and pioneered the concept of productive labour into the educational system. Makarenko is often classified among the world’s great educators, and his books have appeared in many countries.

From 1920-27 he directed the Gorky Labour Colony, and then in 1927 was appointed head of Dzerhinsky Labour Commune, an institute for homeless children and teens. At both places he guided the staff to apply a combination of physical labour and classroom instruction to imbibe work skills, character-building and aesthetics.

As a theoretician, he rejected both anarchistic “free education” and biological determinist theories, instead constructing a system of “pedagogical logic”, rooted in dialectical materialism. Educational goals should transform with society, be humanistic, and manifest the power and creativity of the collective, according to Makarenko. He also had powerful conviction about the importance of the home learning environment. Makarneko’s teachings and work were a manifestation of the ideology of Marxism-Lennism.

Makarenko’s theories could be divided into five spectrums-Value, nature, human knowledge Consensus, Opportunity, Society, transmission and learning.

In the aftermath of the Revolution of 1917, he established self-supporting orphanages for street children — including juvenile delinquents — left orphaned by the Russian Civil War of 1917-1923. These establishments included the Gorky colony and later the Dzerzhinsky labour commune in Kharkiv,Ukraine. Makarenko wrote several books, of which The pedagaogical Poem  (Педагогическая поэма; published in English as The Road to Life), a fictionalized story of the Gorky Colony, became especially popular in the USSR.A 1955 Soviet movie with English title Road To Life was based on this book. Makarenko died under unclear circumstances in 1939.

Makarenko’s ideas were influenced by the works of the leading Soviet educators of his time such as N.K.Kruspkaya and .Lunacarsky and by the works of Marx, Engels Lenin and Gorky during the period of the first Russian revolution

In 1988 UNESCO ranked Makarenko as one of four educators who determined the world’s pedagogical thinking of the 20th century.

The civil war made several million children orphans. With the turn of peace, homeless children were sent to communal schools. One of them was the school. Dostoevsky in Leningrad, known for the story by Grigory Belykh and Alexei Yeremeev and the popular Soviet film The Republic of ShKID (1966) based on it. Another such school was the Gorky colony under the leadership of Makarenko (1920-1928) near Kharkov. Makarenko’s most famous work, The Pedagogical Poem, is an artistic and documentary description of work in this colony.

The technique of education and training of the teacher was based on several basic principles. To facilitate the homeless to learn to live in society, Makarenko depended on the team. To build comfortable conditions in the team, he encouraged self-management. The life and leisure of the group were determined by the vote of the children themselves. The lack of democracy at the school stage of life could marginalise a person, the teacher believed.

An important part of life in the Gorky colony was work (4 hours a day). Finally, Makarenko called discipline not a form of education, but its result. Most of all, his path breaking “anti-Soviet” methods of work were criticized by Lunacharsky and Krupskaya. On the other hand, the theoretician of education was defended by his spiritual idol Gorky, after whom the new model school was named.

Methods dealing with Children

Makarenko fearlessly dealt with the most difficult children. “The first pupils, as a rule, were qualified criminals and not only criminals of the domestic plan, but also members of criminal and political gangs,” recalled his student Semyon Kalabalin. “A wonderful person of a wonderful future is obviously a powerful person, very smart, undoubtedly, comprehensively developed, with a wide flight of thought, with great daring and projects of new and new discoveries and achievements for the benefit of mankind. Such a person was the creature of  Makarenko’s pedagogical system. By the way, the teacher personally went to prisons “for replenishment.”

The assessments of other pupils are similar: “Makarenko shared everything with us. What struck me and my friends in Kuria most of all was that Anton Semyonovich, when necessary, worked with us, rolling up his sleeves. It was necessary to prepare the forest – Makarenko took the axe in his hands and walked with us. This simplicity of Makarenko did wonders with human souls.”

Makarenko often organised “competitions of ingenuity” among his students, with the aid of games he taught them to work, and innovate. Creativity was a predominant feature in the entire study of children. Students of the commune. Dzerzhinsky was even allowed to work at the machines of the FED camera factory. In the “March of 30”, the school principal noted that “children did anything, from anything and for anything.”

Characteristics of theory of Makarenko

According to Makarenko, knowledge is the creature of experience and practice. Belief is an opinion that is formed on a subjective level. and often biased. Knowledge is obtained through observation of others and the world. It is a combination of several opinions held by different people who reach a consensus. This is why Makarenko always encouraged students to share their opinions. He had no problem with students committing g mistakes, because through recognising them they gained true knowledge. The problem took place when they refused to obtain that knowledge and defended their erroneous or actions as truth. In such cases, Makarenko exposed kids instances of real life so that they could detect flaws in their opinions, rectify the mistakes, and imbibe true knowledge.

Makarenko’s method was, in a Marxist sense, a humanistic method. He thought that every child was potentially good and can achieve a lot if potential properly tapped. He perceived instinctive drives in people like in other animals, but he also knew that people are capable of realising their drives and mistakes and learning lessons from them. He gave each transgressing child an opportunity to admit and compensate for their missteps, because for him being human meant having flaws and learning to cope with or rectify them. He maintained that each individual had great budding potential; but external factors prevented it from blossoming.

A key aspect of teaching that Makarenko practiced was the ability to give importance to emotions. The children that Makarenko worked with were orphans and he recognized that before knowledge could be imparted they had to feel cared for and their emotional state had to be stabilized. Moreover, these kids did not recognize any authority because they had been given too much freedom when they were let out on the streets. With respect to methods, Makarenko relied heavily in intrinsic motivation. Although he did get the government to provide proper housing, clothing, and candy for the kids, he did not place emphasis on material goods, but on the kids’ impact on their country, long-term gratification, and potential for spiritual happiness. He made them feel proud of what they did and made them feel important.

Makarenko did not believe in blindly toe the line the higher authorities that controlled that society. Even though he believed that collectivism is the trump card or root of a healthy society, he also perceived self-governance as an essential part of a collectivism and felt  everyone should have a say. These deviations from the official party line eventually cost him his job.

Possibly Makarnenko did not raise his voice against trends of indoctrination of Marxist-Leninist ideology and lack of individual freedom or relegating spiritual aspect.

Conclusion

Even Western analysts of Makarenko’s pedagogic system, hold him in high esteem as preserving a healthy  balance between the individual personality and the collective, seen as a link in integrating the individual into the wider society. The Makarenko system has been modelled, among others, by Scandinavian care workers dealing with young drug abusers who couldn’t be helped effectively by using other approaches. There are also similarities between Makarenko’s pedagogy and the work of authors currently writing on the concept of group work.Makarenko’s holistic view makes him a pioneer in this regard, holding the enlightened, but often ignored position that the individual is a mechanism, with a vast range of potentials and needs.

According to official version published by Soviet authorities, Anton Semenovich Makarenko died of o heart attack in a suburban train at the Golitsyno railway station of the Moscow Railway’s Smolenskline, aged 51. He was buried in Moscow, at the Novodevichy cemetery.This was shortly after he was rejected by the government as a teacher upon the basis of his alleged anti-Soviet practices.

In my view even today Makarnenko’s methods are relevant when globalisation and artificial intelligence is virtually denigrating productive labour, and the machine replacing man. Selfishness is elevated in educational institutions because of cut throat competition, social integration or collective spirit is hardly encouraged and manual labour looked down upon n the educational systems. .

I suggest every progressive educationist refer to Makarnenko’s writings on ’Learning to live’  ‘The Road to Life,’ ‘Lectures to Parents’, and ‘Problems of Soviet Social education’. They are path breaking essays.

Harsh Thakor is a Freelance Journalist who has extensively studied Marxist and Liberation ideology .Thanks information from Stalin Society and analyst Maria Breyman .

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