Part 3 – Shatsky (1922) ‘Which comes first: the children or the school?’

Extracts from Stanislav Shatsky, A Teacher’s Experience (Progress Publishers, 1981)

(p. 203) The main question which should serve to get rid of the blurred ideas of present-day educationists is not what is the kind of school we need today, but what is a child’s life, what are its characteristic features and in what way are they of value in relation to the work of the school.

(p. 209) The enormous task facing any reasonable state lies not in moulding people of monotonous uniformity to carry out the functions required within the state, but in creating conditions as favourable as possible to the structuring of children’s lives at any given time. To live now, this very minute, to master the art of living in such a way that the needs which each age brings to the surface might be satisfied, that is the best way to prepare someone through a series of imperceptible transitions for the form of vital activity peculiar t the mature adult. In this and only in this endeavour does the main task of the state lie when it comes to education.

(p. 212) One of main focuses which I would recommend for work in school … is that of the “child-explorer” or “child-researcher”

(p. 215) These three forms of experience – personal, structured and pre-processed – exert a somewhat intermittent spasmodic influence upon children. Our target with regard to method should be to link together in a single process and to analyse carefully the interdependence of these three types of experiential activity peculiar to the child, school and life itself…. The crux of the matter lies, as I see it, in the fact that this process of comparison [of different types of experiences] is only accomplished in real life with tremendous difficulties. School in providing a favourable environment for working on that comparison serves to remove many of those difficulties.

(p. 216) We must be able to identify the material drawn from personal experience, analyse it and then on the basis of the conclusions drawn from such analysis organise our lessons in school so that these serve to fill out gaps in the child’s personal activities to date, checking, refuting or affirming the correctness of observations made by children (whatever these might consist of), and then to establish analogies with ready-made experience of human activity (in art, work and science).

(p. 218) School, in its work to lend shape to children’s lives should be concerned with study of the elements (activities) which constitute that life. In order to carry out this task we need to turn our attention to the detailed aspects  of children’s lives as these unfold within the natural conditions of the child’s environment.

(p. 223) The sole goal for schools and teachers should be to organize varied activities for children and to study them as they engage in these all the time. The curriculum needs to be organised not round ‘subjects’ but round activities for the children.

(p. 228) Thus school represents the leaven, and the environment in which it causes leavening to take place is children’s life in the broad sense…. [S]chool should exist for children and not the other way round.

(p. 229) We create for them artificial, allegedly suitable conditions in which to foster learning, yet in practice we do not guarantee children conditions that are even tolerable as far as hygiene is concerned, with regard either to their physical health (all too often schools can be a rich source of infantile diseases), mental health (apathy, boredom, fatigue) or moral health (deception, fighting, rivalry, cunning, fears to which the community of children in a school is subject). All these shortcomings stem from the fact that the school is cut off from the main stream of children’s lives. In this case in their most extreme, i.e. consistently applied methods, such schools become the setting for a distorted life meted out to the children.

Part 2 – Shatsky (1918) ‘First steps towards education through work’

Extracts from Stanislav Shatsky, A Teacher’s Experience (Progress Publishers, 1981)

(p. 176) Prejudices in the way of setting up an education through work establishment There are two deeply rooted social prejudices which stand in the way of our attaining this ultimate goal, these are, firstly, the idea that it is essential to train children for their future life, activity or career (the prejudice regarding social education) and, secondly, the belief in the indisputable existence of a well-defined volume of knowledge strictly laid down for each stage of life…. These two parallel ideas which are mutually supporting have dealt and continue to deal great harm to children and they complicate efforts to think and analyse clearly and sensibly with regard to questions of child care. It is teachers whom these ideas impede most of all.

(p. 178) Progressive thinkers in the field of education … made an emphasis … on the endeavour to achieve as full as possible a life for the child now, without concern for what the future will bring. The threatening spectre of the future is removed, and before us unfolds the actual life of a child with its incredibly rich and purposeful content.

(p. 181) Even if we take it for granted that characteristics intrinsic to children include the urge to move, play, and vividly depict their experiences, it soon emerges as well that when we concern ourselves with their intellectual activity (that which provides the closest link with adult life) children can lead us to the most intriguing of discoveries. In practice we come to appreciate that children investigate, contemplate, examine and test out all objects that come within their orbit with a striking degree of concentration and tenacity.

(p. 182) Our main effort should be aimed at nurturing and retaining all that children start out with. This task however clearly emerges as exceedingly difficult by virtue of its very nature. We obstruct the preservation of those properties so useful to man that are to be found so early on in children through our educational organisations and in particular through our schools. … [I]n  the sphere where the adult should reign supreme, in the sphere of reason, the child possesses an important advantage in his indomitable urge to explore.

(p. 189) School is a place where the findings of our own personal experience are to be processed, systematised and compared with the findings drawn from the experience of others. In this way scope is provided for lively and meaningful mental activity, and natural abilities are developed and exercised…. Schooling through work is constantly extending the range of children’s first-hand experience; yet at the same time through a whole range of activities it summarises that experience, juxtaposing various minor facts of experience to provide an overall picture and thus bringing out the pattern underlying those facts.

(p. 189) I do not reject curricula out of hand; however, I only recognise curricula for learning through action, not curricula that consist of nothing but a catalogue of items of knowledge, disjointed rather than connected and obsolete into the bargain, which in accordance with some strange misconception have to be mastered by children of one or another specific age.