Thursday, 10 December 2015


One small step toward his reintroduction?

Last month in Nizhnii Novgorod I was reminded very clearly of the contrast between the power of the ideas of A. S. Makarenko on the one hand, and their almost total neglect in the West on the other.

Since returning I have become aware of an article published last year – in English – by Terje Halvorsen of the University of Nordland in Norway, offering a broad and welcome overview of Anton Makarenko's life and historical background, and his pedagogical ideas and how they relate to some Western ones likely more familiar to Western educationalists –
Abstract. This article gives an introduction to the life and work of the Ukrainian social pedagogue and educational theorist Anton Makarenko. In the early part of the 1920s, he formulated a theory that he further developed while helping orphans under the most difficult and dramatic conditions. When he died, aged only 51 years old, Makarenko left behind a multifaceted theory, or a system of theories, that deals with many aspects of social pedagogy. Unfortunately, this source is ignored by most professionals in the Western countries. Those embarking on this substantial body of work will experience exciting reading. Most likely they will also acquire new insights and perspectives, which may be useful when trying to help young people.
Makarenko’s theory is directly inspired by his background and life experiences. In order to fully understand and thereby be able to assess his texts one needs thorough insight into the difficult political and social conditions under which he lived. The initial part of this article describes some of the key events in his life and also provides an overview of his most important texts. The subsequent part describes the essence of the theory and links its different elements to contemporary professional discourse. In the concluding part the holism and dialectics in Makarenko’s reasoning and his intellectual kinship with John Dewey are highlighted.
The account is a little 'academic' and Makareno's humanity and passion are there to be seen only if you already know of them. A paragraph on pedology seems rather muddled, possibly relating to confusion over the old meaning of the English word 'genetic' (being not the adjective of genetics in its modern sense but relating to origins). Some of the connections made with Western educational theories seem a bit tenuous, and unnecessary. This article does not trace the trajectory of Makarenko's infuence in his own country, over the Soviet period and in the Soviet Union's successor states. Notwithstanding, it offers a useful contemporary portal into a world of childhood that has been wholly forgotten in the West with the fall from grace of Soviet Communism.

I know no quick way to 'understanding Makarenko'. At an intellectual level this article is a way in. At a level that is not just intellectual but also human, spiritual, then read the book – at the very least volume 1 of Road to Life.

Conductive Education

Knowing about Makarenko and Soviet upbringing (vospitanie) was one of the first thing that drew me to Conductive Education. Here was a package of psycho-educational process that seemed a portmanteau of understandings and approaches already well articulated in Soviet pedagogy and psychology – including a leading role for the group in structuring much of conductive pedagogy. It was therefore quite a surprise when I first went to Hungary in 1984 to find that Mária Hári vigorously denied any historical link with Soviet traditions, during or after the life of András Pető. (This did not of course prevent her speaking in such terms herself when facing East!)

And I recall a conversation with a conductor, whose practice I most certainly respected, that led to my enquiring whether what she had heard of Anton Makarenko during her training.
'Oh yes, of course, he was a terrible man.'
'Because he hit a child. A pedagogue should never hit a child.'
As far as she could recall, that was it: Anton Makarenko as an example of bad pedagogic practice, a child-beater.

Quite possibly, of course, her memory did not do justice to her teachers all those years ago.
A pity, nonetheless. There is little enough group or collective education to show in either the UK or other Western countries - and educational dysfunction enough that might be healed by a healthy dose of Makarenkoist thinking.

Conductive Education is a very lonely organism for a number of its attributes. There is more than one way forward than junking them. The group as an pedagogic means, a virtue even, seems a very vulnerable example. I weary of hearing about centres, even conductors who ought to know better even if their masters do not) that unquestioningly proclaim the virtue of their 'one to one' (US 'one on one') service. Of course it can be hard to standing up for your principles in the real world' – so all the more reason to seek out approaches in other fields experiencing a similar pressure to help form a stiffer defence (the final part of Terje Halvorsen's article offers a pointer).

Still no pedagogy in England?

Precious little still, I would contend, in the sense of coherent pedagogical systems. 

It is years since Brian Simon stood up an asked 'Why no pedagogy in England?' The journal in which the above article was appeared in 2011, being published from the University of Bedfordshire. It is peer-reviewed, on line, free, and open access:

Has a dove brought back an early olive leaf?


Halvorsen, T. (2014) Key Pedagogic Thinkers: Anton Makarenko, Journal of Pedagogic Development, Vol. 4, no. 2

Makarenko., A. S. (various dates various editions, in many languages)) Road to Life. An Epic of Education. A Pedagogic Poem (
Full English-language text of vol 1 (with photographs):

Sutton, A. (20o9) Why no pedagogy in England? Brian Simon, Alexander Bain and 
Aleksandr Luriya, Conductive World, 10 June

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