Wednesday, 18 November 2015


Meeting a great
Making a connection

Forty-odd years ago I was taking my first astounded look at Soviet pedagogy, with Anton Makarenko featuring very large in my consciousness, and I became aware of the name A. A. Frolov amongst the huge Russian-language literature on upbringing (vospitanie, воспитание).

It was therefore  a pleasant surprise to find that I should meet Anatolii Arkadevich in person on my visit to the Minin State Pedagogic University in Nizhnii Novgorod, where he is still actively at work at the A. S. Makarenko Social Pedagogy Research Centre, in an emeritus capacity.

I met a lively, energetic man of 88, dressed in a formal suit bearing the ribbon of a veteran of the Great Patriotic War on his breast. Greeting me warmly, before anything else he wanted to indicate the medal and his service, and to tell me that he had marched in the Victory Parade in Red Square in 1945. And then to tell me that his daughter is a medical scientist in Leeds.

Then came the acid test. As opener he asked me what I thought of Makarenko. As best as I could remember I quoted a few words that I had written (actually, with respect to Conductive Education) back in the mid-eighties –
Perhaps the art of education is conveyed only by a work of imagination. *
He stood up, leant across the table and shook me heartily by the hand. I seemed to have passed muster.

I wish that I could recall more of our conversation, including something else that I said that prompted a standing handshake, but I was too excited to remember. He sent me off with the task of finding something more of minde to send him. I hope that I can.


Meanwhile this meeting, with a major figure from the glory days of Soviet education, presented me with a paradox that epitomises a vital contradiction within the present development of present-day Russian pedagogy – and is important for the potential relationship of Russian education and education in the West.

I was given a lot of written material while I was in Nizhnii Novgorod, one item being the fourth edition of a little book called 'The pedagogy of A. S. Makarenko: fundamentals of the methodology (in comparison with other concepts of pedagogy)', written by A. A. Frolov and E. Yu. Italtdinova (of whom likely more anon).

This brief text concludes as follows –
Not long ago, in September 2012, at the International Investors' Forum in the city of Sochi, Ichak Adizes, an American management specialist of global standing, speaking of Russia's cultural contribution to the world's heritage, said –

...a book that I read at the age of ten was Gaidar's Timur and his Squad. And a book that I still know almost by heart today is Makarenko's Pedagogic Poem. It is these two books that made me who I am.
Surely time will soon come when our leadership, people in education and pedagogy, political scientists and sociologists, will be able to come closer to the necessary level of understanding and appreciation of the heritage of A. S. Makarenko.
(Frolov and Italtdinova, 2013)

A. A. Frolov epiomises a powerful tradition in Russian education. Management theory is a powerful international twentieth-century meme. The two are not irreconcileable. Indeed, connections can be made at the highest level. The Russians are on to this. Education in the West, for a large part I suspect, is not.


Frolov, A. A., Ilantdinova, E. Yu. (2013) Pegagokika A. S. Makarenko: osnovy metodologii (v sravnenii s drugimi kontsepsiyami pedagogiki), fourth edition, Nizhnii Novgorod

Sutton, A. (1986) The practice, in Ph. Cottam and A. Sutton (eds) Conductive Education: a system for overcoming motor disorder, London, Crom Helm, pp 27-86

*   In full, what I had written was –
Educational practice is hard to describe. An observer inevitably selects, directing attention to this feature or that according to what seems personally significant or interesting or expected. Moreover, the process has a temporal dimension. What is observed at one moment of a process moves towards the attainment of long-term goals. Statistics can confirm the spoken or written word, still photographs can capture an image and documentary film or video provide a powerful impression. Combine all the available media, however, and one may still fail to capture the essence of an educational process. Perhaps the art of education is conveyed only by a work of imagination.
Unfortunately, Conductive Education still awaits its Makarenko….
(Sutton, 1986, p. 27)

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