Vasily Alexandrovich Sukhomlinsky


Vasily Alexandrovich Sukhomlinsky (1918-1970) devoted thirty-five years of his short life to the upbringing and instruction of children. For twenty-nine years he was director of a school in the Ukrainian village of Pavlysh, far away from the big cities.
For his work in education, he was awarded the titles of Hero of Socialist Labour and Merited Teacher of the Ukrainian SSR, and elected Corresponding Member of the Academy of Pedagogical Science of the USSR.
What is the essence of Vasily Sukhomlinsky’s work as an educator?
Progressive educators have long tried to merge upbringing and instruction into one educational process. This dream was realized in the educational work of Sukhomlinsky. To see an individual in every school child — this was the essence of his educational method and a necessary requirement for anyone who hopes to raise and teach children.
Vasily Sukhomlinsky showed in theory and practice that any healthy child can get a modern secondary education in an ordinary public school without any separation of children into groups of bright and less bright. This was no new discovery. But he found the sensible mean that enables the teacher to lead the child to knowledge in keeping with the national educational programme. The main thing for Sukhomlinsky was to awaken the child’s desire to learn, to develop a taste for self-education and self-discipline.
Sukhomlinsky studied each of his pupils, consulting with the other teachers and with the parents, comparing his own thoughts with the views of the great educators of the past and with folk wisdom.
To teach children, you must like them. Only then can one help the child discover the joy of working, of friendship, and humanity. The teacher must find his way to the heart of every child. Only then can he or she teach children to love their families, their school, work and knowledge, and their homeland. Precisely this method—finding one’s way to the heart of the child—was the foundation of the work Vasily Sukhomlinsky did in education.
To bring out the best in one’s pupils—to develop their natural abilities, to determine their moral qualities, to raise honest people devoted to communist ideals—this was what he considered to be the goal of a Soviet teacher.
The educational method of Sukhomlinsky is education to the good, the truth, the world of feelings and thoughts; it is the formation of a Person and Citizen.
In the last twenty years of his life, Sukhomlinsky made notes on his observations and reflections which he then used for his many books and articles, the best known of which are To Children I Give My Heart, The Birth of a Citizen, The Secondary School in Pavlysh, and The Wise Power of the Collective. They are the synthesis of the rich experience of this excellent educator. Sukhomlinsky himself called his works a “product of Makarenko”. He found the educational experience and life of Soviet educator Anton Semyonovich Makarenko (1888-1939) to be of great value.
At the root Makarenko’s method was a profound respect for and belief in the individual. He headed a children’s work colony during the 1920s, a very difficult time for the Soviet Republic when large numbers of children had lost their parents, families, and homes. To relieve the grief of these abandoned children, it was essential to surround them with warmth and attention, to give them a new family. For the children in Makarenko’s custody, the collective became just such a family. To reeducate these children, to break deep-rooted habits, a new approach was urgently needed, and it was brilliantly worked out by Makarenko. But the main element in Makarenko’s system, as Sukhomlinsky saw it, was the “constant, inexhaustible ring of humanism”, the “captivating beauty of the finest human aspirations”.
The contact between teacher and child and the atmosphere of goodwill that Makarenko created was exactly what the school in Pavlysh headed by Vasily Sukhomlinsky sought to secure. The two teachers linked education with a civic vision of the world, with an understanding of the beauty of the individual in his devoted service to his country and people. They thought that to teach young people how to live was much more than just giving them an understanding of good and evil—it was teaching them intolerance of social evil and injustice.
The educational legacy of Vasily Sukhomlinsky focuses upon the following: in choosing an educational method, he acted in accordance with the principles of Makarenko, the essence of which is that any method used in isolation from the others might yield either positive or negative results. The entire system of methods, harmoniously organized, is important.
The theory of collective education, associated first and foremost with the name of Makarenko, was confirmed by the educational practices of Vasily Sukhomlinsky. In the modern world it is impossible to raise and educate children outside the collective, because only such an education teaches children the joy of communicating with other people and gives them the opportunity to discover their own abilities.
The contemporary development of the science of education, the improvement of schools, inevitably requires more attention to the discoveries and achievements of all progressive educators and to their legacy. The excellent results of Sukhomlinsky’s work show that all things educational rest on a single foundation and work toward the goal of moulding the rising generation in a spirit of high morality and civic duty.
Vasily Sukhomlinsky died early. His passing on at the age of only 52 is an aftermath of the war.
When the Great Patriotic War against fascist Germany (1941-45) broke out, twenty-three-year-old Sukhomlinsky, fresh from the Poltava Teacher Training Institute enlisted in the army. His wife Vera stayed behind in Nazioccupied Pavlysh, and aided the partisans. While on a partisan mission, she was seized by the Gestapo. In the fascist prison, a son was born to her. The fascists tortured the brave woman, demanding that she name the leaders of the partisan detachment, but she kept silent. They killed her infant son, only a few days old, before her eyes. Vera herself was hanged. . . At that time, Sukhomlinsky was fighting against the invaders at the approaches to Moscow. Severely wounded, he was carried off the field of battle. Ever since then, deadly shell fragments were embedded in his chest, and there was a great pain in his heart for his loved ones who had perished.
To the very last day of his life—2 September 1970 — Vasily Sukhomlinsky lived for children.
Years passed, and the country healed the wounds of war. New generations who knew the war only from history books were born. The children of the Pavlysh school had no idea then that they were being taught, led about the fields and forests, by a man in whose chest the scars of war still burned fresh.
Medicine was powerless to help him. Sukhomlinsky died at his post at the beginning of the school year, having opened the doors of his school for the last time for a new generation of children.
The educational legacy of Sukhomlinsky, his experience as an educator, is attracting more and more attention among teachers and parents not only in the Soviet Union, but also all over the world.


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