A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 1


September of the year 1920 I was summoned by the Chief of the Gubernia Department of Public Education.

"Look here, my friend," he said. "I'm told you're raising hell about this here...er...this...gubsovnarkhoz" [Gubernia Economic Council.--Tr.] place you've been allotted for your school!"

"It's enough to make anyone raise hell," I replied. "Raise hell? I could sit down and cry! Is that a Craft School? A reeking, filthy hole like that? Is that your idea of a school?"

"Oh, yes! I know what you'd like! Us to erect a new building, put in new desks, and you just move in and do your stuff! But it's not the building that matters, my friend--what matters is the creation of the new man, and you educational chaps do nothing but carp. 'The building won't do, and the tables aren't right!' You haven't got the ... er ...spirit, the revolutionary spirit, you know. You're one of those White-collar workers, that's what you are!"

"Well, I don't wear a white collar, anyhow!"

"All right--you don't! But you're all a pack of lousy intellectuals. Here am I, looking everywhere for a man--and there's such a great work to be done! These homeless kids have increased and multiplied till you can hardly move for them in the streets, and they even break into the houses. And all I get for an answer is: 'It's your job, "it's the responsibility of the Department of Public Education'... all right, then, what about it?"

"What about what?"

"You know very well what! No one wants to take it on! Whoever I ask, they turn me down--'No, thanks--we don't want to get our throats cut!' All you chaps want is your comfortable study and your darling books ... you and your eyeglasses!"

I laughed.

"Now it's my glasses!"

"That's just what I say--you only want to read your books, and when you're confronted with a real live human being, you can only squall: 'He'll cut my throat--your real live human being!' Intellectuals!"

The Chief of the Gubernia Department of Public Education kept darting angry glances at me from his small black eyes, and showering imprecations through his walrus moustache upon the whole of the teaching fraternity.

But he was wrong, the Chief of the Gubernia Department of Public Education.

"Now, listen!" I began.

"What's the good of listening? What can you have to tell me? I know what you're going to say: 'If only we could do like they do over there... er ...in America! ...' I've just read a book about it--someone shoved it on to me. Reforma--...what d'you call them? Oh, yes, reformatories! Well, we haven't got any here yet!"

"Do let me say something!"

"Go ahead, then! I'm listening!"

"Before the Revolution there were ways of dealing with waifs, weren't there? They had reform schools for juvenile delinquents...."

"That won't do for us! What they had before the Revolution won't do for us!"

'Quite right! So we have to find new methods for the creation of the new man."

"New methods! You're right there!"

"And no one knows where to begin."

"And you don't either?"

"And I don't!"

"There's some chaps right here in this Gubernia Department of Public Education who know!"

"But they don't mean to do anything about it."

"You're right they don't--damn them! You're right, there!"

"And if I were to take it up, they'd make things impossible for me. Whatever I did, they'd say: 'That's not the way!"

"They would, the swine! You're right, there!"

"And you'd believe them--not me!"

"No, I wouldn't! I'd say: 'You should have done it yourselves!'"

"And supposing I really do make a muddle?"

The Chief of the Gubernia Department of Public Education banged on the table with his fist.

"You and your 'make-a-muddle'! What are you driving at? D'you think I don't understand? Muddle or no muddle, the work's got to be done. We'll have to judge by results. The main thing isn't just a colony for juvenile delinquents, but you know--er...social re-education. We've got to create the new man, you know--our sort of man. That's your job! Anyhow, we've all got to learn, and you'll learn. I like the way you said to my face, 'I don't know!' Very well, then!"

"And have you got a place? After all, we can't do without buildings, you know!"

"There is a place! A wonderful place, old man! There used to be a reform school for juvenile delinquents in that very place. It's quite near--about six kilometres. And it's fine there--woods, fields ...you'll be keeping cows!"

"And what about people?"

"I suppose you think I keep them in my pocket! Perhaps you'ld like a car, too!"

"And money?"

Money we've got! Here you are!"

He produced a bundle of notes from the drawer of his desk.

"A hundred and fifty million. This is for all sorts of organizational expenses, and any furniture you need."

"Are the cows included?" "The cows can wait. There aren't any windowpanes. You draw us up an estimate for the coming year."

"It's a bit awkward, somehow. Oughtn't I to go and have a look at the place first?"

"I've done that! D'you think you'll see thing I missed? All you need to do is to move in!"

"All right!" I said, with a sigh of relief, for I was convinced at the moment that nothing could be worse than those rooms of the Economic Council.

"You're a trump!" Said the Chief of the Gubernia Department of Public Education. "Go ahead! It's a glorious cause!"