Children's Literature

The Importance of Authority in Education[1]
Reflections on Mr. Pirogov's Problems of Life

N. A. Dobrolyubov

Source: N. A. Dobrolyubov: Selected Philosophical Essays, translated by J. Fineberg, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1948;
HTML Markup: For in February, 2002.

The intellectual movement in our society to which the events of the past few years have given rise, has recently turned its attention also to the problems of education. Two magazines devoted to education are now being published, and articles on education appear from time to time in other publications too. But the first to draw attention to this important subject was Morskoi Sborntk (Naval Magazine), which at the beginning of last year published an article on education by Mr. Bohm. This was followed by other articles that expressed views, more or less new and correct, on this subject. Many of these articles were favourably received by their readers, but none enjoyed such complete and brilliant success as Mr. Pirogov's "Problems of Life." He astonished everybody by the clarity of his views, the noble trend of his thoughts, the ardour and vivacity of his dialectics, and his artistic presentation of the subject under discussion. Everybody who read Mr. Pirogov's article expressed admiration for it; everybody talked about it, discussed it, formed his own opinions and drew his own conclusions. In this case, the public even anticipated the literary critics, who merely endorsed the favourable opinion that was generally expressed, without making a detailed analysis of the article or drawing any conclusions of their own. This fact speaks very strongly in favour of Russian public opinion, and it is all the more remarkable for the reason that Mr, Pirogov's article is not by any means conspicuous for sentimental slush or pompous pronouncements calculated to soothe negligent parents and educators; it does not try to adjust itself to the existing order of things, but on the contrary, hurls the bitter truth straight in the lace of society; not hesitating to say that there is evil in our midst, it boldly and passionately, for the sake of supreme, eternal truth, attacks the petty interests of the age, the narrow-mindedness and the selfish strivings that prevail in modern society. The favour with which the public received this article has a profound and sacred significance. It shows that with all its imperfections, with all its aberrations in practical life, our society wants, and is able, at least to understand what is good and just and what it should strive for. It already possesses so much inner strength that it is no longer scared by the consciousness of its defects; and consciousness of past and present evil is the surest pledge that good is possible in the future. Welcoming this noble impulse of the Russian people with profound joy and sincere sympathy, we take the liberty to express a few thoughts concerning Mr. Pirogov's article, thoughts that will arise in the mind of every thinking reader. We are particularly encouraged to do this by the fact that we have not yet met anywhere a more honest exposition of the ideas contained in Mr. Pirogov's general, aphoristic propositions.

The substance of the ideas expounded in "Problems of Life" is the following. The main and highest principles of our education are [totally] out of harmony with the prevailing trend in society. The result is that, on completing a course of education and on entering society, we find ourselves obliged either to renounce all that which we were taught in order to adjust ourselves to society, or else follow our own rules and convictions, and thus set ourselves in opposition to the social trend. To sacrifice sacred, higher convictions for the sake of mundane advantage, however, is too immoral and repugnant a step; but where shall we find the strength to go against falsehood? Education does not in the least prepare us for this struggle against the false trend of society. It does not even take the slightest trouble to imbue us with loftier human convictions; all it is concerned with is to train us to become scientists, lawyers, physicians, soldiers, and so on and so forth. And yet, on entering life, a man wants to have certain convictions, he wants to define what he is, what his goal and mission are. Examining himself, he finds ready-made solutions for these problems as given by his education; but on examining society he perceives in it strivings which run counter to these solutions. He wants to, combat evil and falsehood, but here the utter unsoundness of his previous education comes to light: he is unfit for the struggle; he must first re-educate himself [in order to enter the arena of the struggle].... Meanwhile, the years fly, life goes on, it is necessary to act...and the man acts, at random, often falling under the burden of difficult problems, and he is swept by the swift current of the crowd, first to one side and then to another, because he cannot act independently; the inner man in him has not been developed; he lacks convictions; and convictions are not easily acquired:

"Only those can have convictions, who from their earliest years have been trained to look penetratingly into themselves, who from their earliest years have been trained to love truth sincerely, staunchly to stand up for it, and to be unconstrainedly frank--both with their teachers as well as with their fellows."

This is what Mr. Pirogov dwells on. He points to the evil in education and proves his propositions with relentless and irresistible logic. He helps us to understand and to discern the cause of the evil: the predominance of externals in education itself, neglect of the inner man. But how is the inner man killed in children? How is it that externals are more developed? What particular influences cause them to cross life's threshold unprepared and helpless? Mr. Pirogov does not analyze these questions in detail, he leaves the answers to be conjectured. We shall take the liberty here of expressing a few thoughts that arose in our mind on reading "Problems of Life."

[In treating of the problems of education from the lofty heights of present-day pedagogics, we have up till now behaved in a way that is strongly reminiscent of the fable in which wolves are appointed to supervise sheep. In that fable every circumstance was fully taken into consideration, every opinion was canvassed, but one thing was forgotten--the sheep were not consulted. Similarly,] most of our ideas on pedagogics, while fully taking into consideration the problems of higher philosophy and laying down true and useful rules from the religious, political, moral, general psychological, and so forth, aspect, lose sight of one very important circumstance, viz., the actual life and nature of children and, in general, of all those who are being educated...That is why the child is often sacrificed to pedagogical considerations. Mounted on his moral hobbyhorse, the teacher regards his pupil as his property, as a thing, to do with as he pleases. "The child must not have a will of its own," the wise pedagogues say. "It must blindly obey its parents, teachers, and seniors generally. its teacher's commands must be the supreme law. and those commands be obeyed without the slightest argument. Absolute obedience--this is the main and sole condition of education. The ultimate object of education is to substitute the rational will of the teacher for the irrational will of the child." All this sounds very logical and correct, does it not? But recalling the description of this rational education given in "problems of Life," and with the impressions of our own upbringing and education still fresh in our minds, we cannot listen to logical arguments of this kind without a sceptical smile. All of them clearly reveal only one thing--the frightfully pedantic pride of the worthy pedagogues combined with contempt for the dignity of human nature in general. When saying that to the child the teacher is the personification of the moral law and rational conviction, they obviously place the teacher on an inaccessibly lofty pedestal as a model of infallible morality and wisdom. One would readily agree, of course, that if such an ideal teacher existed, absolute, blind obedience to his authority would not cause the child any particular harm (except the real harm of retarding the independent development of its individuality). But, firstly, the ideal teacher would not demand such absolute obedience: he would try to develop rational strivings and convictions in his pupil as quickly as possible. And secondly, to set out to find infallible and ideal teachers and educators in our times would be an exceedingly brave but utterly wasted effort. Too many conditions are needed for this. First of all, the moral rules of the educator must be absolutely correct, and they must be strictly applied in every contingency in life, however particular and petty. For him no question can be obscure and no situation doubtful, for what will the teacher do if such a situation arises and he mast order the child to do something? The child must implicitly obey every command, and consequently, must never provoke argument or discussion. Moreover, it is assumed that the teacher is absolutely dispassionate: he must never be moved by anger or by love, he must never feel indolent or tired, good moods and bad must not exist for him, he cannot be an ordinary man, he must be a special type of machine, the strict embodiment of the moral law. As far as we know, however, no such machine has been invented yet, and if some announce that they have discovered the secret of such an invention, it is only another expression of their contempt for human nature and of their desire at all costs to be as unlike a human being as possible. If, however, it is assumed that the teacher may be governed by passion, who can guarantee the absolute infallibility of his actions towards the child? Would it not be better to train the child to reason rationally from its earliest years [so that it may, as soon as possible, acquire the ability and strength to disobey our commands when we order it to do something wrong]?

As regards his intellect, the ideal teacher must possess clear, firm and infallible convictions, and extremely high and all-sided development, on extensive and versatile knowledge, all in complete harmony with general principles. His very nature must be much superior to that of the child in every respect. If this is not the case, what will happen when the teacher, for example, will express admiration for Derzhavin and compel his pupil to learn the ode "God," while the child has already become fond of Pushkin and regards the ode "God" as a [totally] unintelligible jumble of words? Suppose a child is compelled to go on practising the musical scales for a whole year when its fingers have long been freely running up and down the keyboard and it is just longing to play, and to go on playing? Suppose a child admires a picture, a statue, a song, flowers and insects, examines with curiosity some apparatus used in physics or chemistry and puts a question to the teacher which the latter is unable to answer?... [Here it is useless insisting on absolute obedience!] Are there many teachers and educators who are capable of answering all questions children ask? Many, of course, have on more than one occasion seen a perky seven or eight-year-old child floor a worthy greybeard and leave him baffled. And yet, this worthy greybeard has a pupil who must obey him implicitly!... He, of course, will not baffle anybody!

Thus, the ideal teacher who does not wish the children to argue and develop convictions [but demands nothing but obedience] must be prepared for everything, must know everything, must have ready-made solutions for all the problems that might arise in the mind of his pupil, and anticipate all the opinions, arguments and conclusions than might sometime take shape in the child's mind. Only if he is thus prepared will he be able, at least to some extent, to perform his functions as an educator without violating the child's nature. Moreover, he must have the strength to guide his pupil along the true and best path in every field. If he discovers in the child an inclination for music or painting, a passion for botanics, a facile mathematical mind, poetic sensitiveness, ability to learn languages, etc., etc., he must be fully capable of developing all these inclinations in his pupil. If, however, he is incapable of undertaking this task, it shows that he himself is not yet sufficiently trained, not yet sufficiently developed to guide others. [And if that is the case, he has no right to demand implicit obedience.]

But even if we assume that the teacher can always rise above the individuality of the pupil (which happens, although, of course, not always, not by any means) he, at all events, cannot rise above an entire generation. The child is preparing to live in new surroundings, his environment will not be that of twenty or thirty years ago, when his teacher received his education. And usually, a teacher not only fails to foresee, but he simply fails to understand the requirements of the new times and thinks they are absurd. He tries to keep his pupil to the concepts and rules to which he himself adheres: quite a natural and comprehensible striving, but, nevertheless, one that becomes exceedingly harmful as soon as it begins to restrict the child's will and mind. The result is that the development of the pupil's natural reasoning faculties is retarded, and his receptiveness to the phenomena and requirements of the of the life of the society in which he will have to act is sometimes entirely deadened by the old prejudices and opinions he accepted on faith from his teacher in his childhood. Such an education is undoubtedly the foe of all improvement and progress, and it leads to lifeless immobility and stagnation.... Its influence affects not only separate individuals, but the whole of society.

If the prejudices and errors of the old generation are forcibly implanted into the child's impressionable soul from its earliest years, then the enlightenment and improvement of an entire nation is long delayed by this unfortunate circumstance. True, the bitter experience of life convinces an entire generation that what it was told in childhood was false, and a man loses part of his childish enthusiasm for what he had been taught in the past and had been refuted by life; nevertheless, by force of habit, he clings to what he had been taught in the past and imparts it to his children, only with enthusiasm than it was imparted to him. The new generation loses a particle of the awe it felt for inculcated ideas; but, on the other hand, inborn habit is strengthened, and as time goes on the people cling more unconsciously and, for that very reason, the more tenaciously, to the traditions of their fathers. Life must make it impossible for these long moribund traditions to continue; a powerful thinker, a genius must arise to compel society to feel the need for and the possibility of change in the accepted, irrational principles. And after this discovery, how slowly and feebly the new idea takes root; how long it takes to penetrate the depths of men's souls and spread among the masses! Centuries have passed since it was proved that the earth moves, but to this day our common people, constantly hearing that the sun has risen and the sun has set, look upon it as an enormous lantern moving across the sky from east to west. The divine doctrines of Christianity have been preached in Russia for nine centuries already, but among the people belief in hobgoblins, water sprites and wood sprites is still strong. Even those who subsequently abandon the beliefs of their childhood in theory, long yield to them in practice. There are many educated people who are familiar with the phenomena of electricity and yet hide in horror in a dark room during a thunderstorm; similarly, there are many others who have acquired the ability to discuss true human virtues, and still, when appraising their friends, they attach most importance to a refined French accent and to a fashionable waistcoat. What is this due to if not the influence of the irrational impressions of childhood, imparted to the child, unfortunately, by those whom it loves or respects? But you will say: "it is inevitable that the older generations should influence the younger, and it is impossible to destroy this influence, the more so that, although it has some bad sides, it also has many good sides: all the treasures of knowledge accumulated in past centuries art: imparted to the child precisely through this influence, and without it, it would be impossible to bring a man up to the line from which he must, in life, continue all that which mankind had done before him." This argument is quite just, and we would be unwise if we were to demand the destruction of that which naturaIly arises of itself, exists, and cannot be destroyed. But, on the other hand, we see no reason why we should advocate that which is of itself inevitable. The younger generation must necessarily be influenced by the older generation, and this is extremely beneficial for the development and perfection of a man, and of mankind. Nobody will contest this obvious truth. All we say is: why make the past the ideal for the future? Why demand from new generations absolute, blind submission to the opinions of preceding generations? Why destroy the independent development of a child by violating its nature, killing its belief in itself, and compelling it to do only what I wish it to do, and only in the way I want it done, and only because I want it?... By demanding such absolute obedience you are preventing the rational, proper and free development of the child. How harmfully this affects the entire moral being of a child can be seen from innumerable facts, and can be proved also on theoretical grounds. We shall present some of these.

First of all we shall define more clearly what is meant by absolute obedience. Absolute means not conditioned by any circumstances, unaffected by any contingency, not springing from any external or internal cause, but self-existent and containing its own justification. This is the kind of obedience that we demand from children, and the necessity for which was only recently very strongly urged by Pastor Sederholm in Morskoi Sbornik (1856, No. 14). This means that the child must obey without question, that it must blindly believe its teacher, regard his commands alone as infallible and everything else as wrong, and lastly, that it must do all this not because it is good and just, but because it is so ordered and, therefore, must be good and just.

Let us see what psychological effect such a renunciation of will must have upon the child.

First let us suppose that the teachers and educators are ideal. Their admonitions are always just, always consistent, always commensurate with the degree of the child's spiritual development; they themselves are loved and respected by the children. Let us suppose that teachers of this type demand absolute and not rational obedience from children. What is the result?

A command is given; the child obeys without question; for this it is praised and rewarded. But there is nothing worthy of reward in the act itself; the child obeys the command forthwith because the thing it is ordered to do seems quite natural, because it coincides with its own wishes. Why then is it praised? Obviously because it obeys.

Another command is given; the pupil does not like it, he thinks it is unjust and uncalled for, and voices objection. He is told that he must obey and not argue. His teacher is angry with him. Unwillingly he obeys, but the thought that his objection was just remains strongly embedded in his mind. Why then was he rebuked? Obviously for his disobedience.

Similar incidents occur often, and gradually the sense of truth and respect for rational conviction dies out in the child's soul, and their place is taken by blind obedience to authority.

You will say that later, when the pupil grows wiser, he will realize how rational were the commands of his teacher. This, of course does happen, and it is very good, but only for the teacher, who thereby wills more respect for himself; but it is not good for the pupil, upon whom such discoveries have quite the opposite effect. Realizing a year, a month, a week, a day, and even an hour later, at all events too late (because the thing has been done, and done not from conviction [but by command]), realizing that his objection was foolish and groundless, the child loses confidence in his own powers of reasoning, his own arguments lose courage and vigour, he becomes afraid to form an opinion of his own and dares not follow the dictates of his own convictions even when they appear to him to be as clear as daylight.... He will think to himself: perhaps something is wrong.... Perhaps, a little later on, it will turn out that I was wrong.... Hence, irresoluteness, procrastination, listlessness, inclination to wait and see rather than to act--features which are retained for the rest of one's life, and which we are often astonished to see in people who are gifted with remarkable ability to reason theoretically [but who lack the courage to put their thoughts into practice].

But what if the child was right in the absolute sense, if his objection to the command was sound from the point of view of higher principles and contradicted only the circumstances of everyday life? The circumstances of everyday life justify the teacher; the child is aware of this; but as he had not yet been consciously convinced of the principle, the higher truth, being out of harmony with life, gradually passes into the category of abstract, useless ideas, mere fantasy.

Here are some examples. In conversation at home a boy says that his playmate is a thief. The boy's father rebukes him and tells him not to say anything like that again. The boy feels hurt and thinks the rebuke is unjust. But one evening, a week later, another playmate of his accuses the little thief of stealing. This causes an uproar. The two families quarrel, the candid chatterbox is punished....The father says to the boy: There! You see what comes of this sort of thing!

A boy becomes very friendly with an old manservant. The boy's arrogant tutor rebukes him for this and forbids him to talk to the old man. But the boy disobeys. One day the boy misbehaves so badly in the servants' hall that the old manservant unceremoniously takes him by the arm and puts him out, respectfully admonishing him the while. The boy feels offended at this. The tutor is horrified on witnessing this incident and to stir up the boy's pride he says: There! You see what comes of being disobedient...Wait, he will thrash you one of these days, if you keep chummy with him!... The boy repents of having been friendly with the old man, as if it were a crime.

A governess orders a girl to behave properly--stand straight, walk steadily, keep your head up, speak only when you are spoken to, etc. With rules like these inculcated in her mind she goes to a party. There are many children at the hostess' house and they are all very merry. They ramp slid play, laugh and chatter, make a lot of noise and have lots of fun. The girl would like to join them, but the governess says that this is improper, and so she sits alone and gazes enviously at the other girls having a merry time, especially at one who seemed to be enjoying herself more than the rest.... But suddenly this girl falls and breaks her leg....The triumphant governess says to her humble ward: There! You see what comes from misbehaving!...

And so on and so forth. Judge then, impartially, to what extent absolute obedience serves here to develop the moral sense. Does not such upbringing, on the contrary, kill the good and holy elements that are innate in a child? Is it not natural, under these circumstances, that it should take the exception for the rule, and distorted system for a natural one? And who will be to blame far this? Will it be the child?

And yet, how richly a man's mind could develop, and what strength of conviction would grow in him and merge with his whole being if he were taught in his earliest years to think about what he was doing, if every act the child performed was performed with the conviction that it was necessary and just, if it grew accustomed to ponder over its actions and did what others told it to do not out of respect for the person who commands, but out of conviction that what was done was right!... [True, in that case, many educators would have to resign their posts, because their pupils would prove to them that they did not know how to command!]

By killing boldness and independence of mind in the child, absolute obedience also harmfully affects the emotions. Consciousness of its individuality and of certain human rights begins to arise very early in the minds of children (if it only begins and is not born with them). This consciousness [necessarily] demands [satisfaction in the shape of] the opportunity to pursue its own desires [and not serve as an unconscious tool for the achievement of the unknown objects of others]. As soon as a child's strivings are satisfied, i.e., as soon as it is given scope for thinking and acting independently (to some degree at least), the child is happy and cheerful, is imbued with the most charming feelings, it is gentle, betrays no sign of irritability, and displays the most amiable and rational obedience to what it considers just. On the other hand, when a child's activity is restricted and its strivings are suppressed, finding neither the desired satisfaction nor even a rational explanation, when instead of a conscious individual life the child must, like a corpse or an automaton, serve merely as an obedient tool [of another's will] then, naturally, the child's soul becomes weighted down by gloom; it becomes morose, listless, lifeless, shows dislike for others and becomes the victim of the basest emotions and inclinations. In his attitude towards his teacher, until he acquires the absolute virtue of a machine, the pupil is very irritable and distrustful. And subsequently, even after he has succeeded in effacing himself to some extent, he nevertheless retains a dislike for his teacher who demands only absolute obedience to his commands [justly, although only by a vague instinct, regarding his teacher as a tyrant and an enemy of his individuality, which a man can never entirely renounce, no matter how much he may try].

Is it necessary to speak of the fatal influence the habit of absolute obedience exerts upon the development of the will? It would seem to be quite superfluous, and we would gladly have skipped this point in silence if we had not before our eyes the strange contentions of Mr. Sederholm (Morskoi Sbornik, No. 14),who affirms that "the efforts a child makes to overcome its own will and subordinate it to that of another develops its moral strength(!). This alone rouses in the child's soul the first manifestation of morality, the first moral struggle, and only with it does human life proper commence. And as a result of ceaseless exercise in this struggle, his will becomes so fortified that later, when his education is finished, he is capable of obeying himself and of doing what his reason and conscience dictate to him." The whole of this argument reminds us of a clever parent who wishing his son to develop a supple body, compelled him to balance himself on his back across a narrow plank raised about three feet from the ground. The child waved its arms and legs, trying to find some support, failed to find it and, worn out by its efforts, slipped from the plank with a frightful shriek. As a result of these wise methods its development was stunted, and, in addition, it could never afterwards cross a bridge without a shudder. Generally speaking, this system of knocking out a wedge with the aid of another wedge has been in vogue [among us] for a long time [and we have long witnessed its frightful results]. A child is afraid of the dark, so it is locked in a dark room; a child dislikes a certain kind of food, so it is deliberately compelled to eat that food every day for a whole week; a child is fond of reading, but it is sent out to play; it wants to romp about, but it is ordered to keep still--and often all this is done not because it is thought necessary and useful for the child, but because of the pure and altruistic pedagogical motive of training the child to be obedient....incidentally, our practical educators, somewhat more consistent than Mr. Sederholm; they bluntly say: The child must be trained to be obedient: if it is not broken in now, it will be too late to attempt to break it in later." Thus, they frankly admit that their object is to present society with future Molchalins. Mr. Sederholm says that obedience cultivates a strong will! But this is the same as if I, in suppressing every mental impulse in my pupil, were to say to him every time I did so [(as teachers who demand absolute obedience usually do)]: "Don't argue!" and drew from this the following deduction: "This develops the pupil's mental faculties, for it compels him to think and compare the correctness of my opinion with the incorrectness of his objections," Is this not as logical an assumption as Mr. Sederholm's? And is it not easy to, bring up children in this way?

Mr. Sederholm's reference to struggle is beside the point. Actually, there is no struggle here, but surrender without a fight, which, if repeated often, will produce not a strong will, but moral flabbiness. And even if there is a struggle, it is a most irrational one: on the one hand, there is the inner strength, the natural inclinations, which the child regards as correct; on the other hand there is the external, incomprehensible pressure of another's tyranny, or what the child regards as tyranny.... [With absolute obedience] victory is usually achieved by the external force, and this must inevitably kill internal vigour [and kill all desire to resist external influences]. Furthermore, we must not lose sight of one other circumstance: many of the commands that are given to a child are often of a kind about which it has not yet formed any definite opinion, and so it makes no difference to it whether it obeys them or not. Without understanding why, it does what it is told only because it is told to do so. There is no [struggle] here, there is only unthinking obedience, and this, subsequently, grows into a habit. A man brought up in this way remains for the rest of his life an object of different influences, which are determined not by rational necessity, not by deliberate choice, but by sheer accident. Such a man will follow the lead of the first person into whose hands he falls.

The influence which absolute obedience exercises on the conscience (to which Mr. Sederholm also refers), may be seen from all that has been said above. Growing accustomed to doing everything without thinking, doing it not because he is convinced that it right and good, but only because he is ordered to do so, a man becomes indifferent to good and evil and does things repugnant to the moral sense without any qualms of conscience, and justifies himself with the plea that "I obeyed orders." These are the inevitable consequences of the absolute obedience method. But think how many more inconveniences this causes when orders are obeyed. The teacher's commands may be wrong and inconsistent and, therefore, will distort the child's natural logic. If the child has several teachers, their commands may contradict each other and the child, obliged to obey them all, finds itself in a dark labyrinth, from which it can find escape only by losing its sense of moral duty (if it has not before that worked out its own rules and, therefore, has developed a contempt for its teachers). All the teacher's defects, moral and intellectual, may be easily imparted to the pupil who has been trained to harmonize his actions not with the moral law, not with the dictates of reason, but exclusively with the absolute will of the teacher.

Thus, lack of independent judgment and opinions, a constant feeling of dissatisfaction deep down in the heart, listlessness and irresoluteness in action, lack of will to resist outside influences, loss of personality in general and, as a consequence, frivolousness and baseness, a weak and vague sense of duty and inability to introduce into life something new, more perfect, different from previously established standards--such are the gifts which [absolute obedience during upbringing] bestows upon the man in sending him out into the battle of life!... And it is with qualities such as these that a man must fight for his convictions [against the whole of society] and, accustomed to live under the guidance of another's mind, to act at the dictates of another's will, he must suddenly make himself the criterion of the whole of society, he must say: you are wrong, I am right; you are doing evil, this is the way to do good! But where will he acquire the strength to do this? What will he fight for? Will he fight for the authority of his teachers, who had guided his life and his concepts up to now? And besides, who gave him the right to do this? [Properly speaking, his relationships have not changed in the least: up to now they had been relations of subordination in upbringing and education; from now on his relations with his fellows at work and in social intercourse will be the same. What mind can assimilate such a conclusion: here is a line--fifteen or twenty years--to which you are led while being compelled implicitly and absolutely to obey others; this was done so that you may, after crossing this line, be able to fight others. It would be far more natural] to conclude that in his subsequent life too a man must behave exactly as he had been compelled to up to now.

All these arguments are, of course, based on the assumption that the system [of absolute obedience] is a perfect success. But there are natures with which this system cannot possibly succeed. These are the proud, strong and energetic natures. Receiving normal, free development, they rise high above the crowd and astonish the world by the richness and immensity of their spiritual strength. These men perform great deeds and become the benefactors of mankind. But if their natural development is retarded, if they are hedged in by commonplace routine, by the narrow concepts of some very narrow-minded teacher, having no room in which to spread their wings, and compelled to plod along the narrow track which the teacher regards as quite convenient and proper, such people either drop into apathetic idleness, become superfluous in the world, or become blind and violent opponents of the very principles upon which they had been brought up. Then they become a misery to themselves and a terror to society, which is obliged to banish them. The most striking example of such a turn of affairs is presented by Voltaire, who was brought up according to the [pious] and stern rules of the Jesuit schools, which are based on lifeless obedience. Once he has become convinced that his teacher is wrong, such a pupil does not stop..... And what can stop him? Good and evil, falsity and truth, are all mixed up in his mind in imperative commands, and he sees them only through the prism of his frustrated individuality. His moral sense is stunted, his mind is not trained to ponder calmly and unhurriedly over his actions; all he knows and believes has been hammered into his heart without his own will and emotions playing any part in this. Hence, his whole inner world, not developed by him independently, but thrust upon him from outside, seems to him to be alien, external, is easily upset at one stroke, especially if some influence, the very opposite of his teacher's, intervenes. Embittered, [against his oppressors] he develops within himself the spirit of contradiction and becomes the opponent not only of abuses, but of the very principles that are accepted by society. It goes without saying that an early death awaits him, or else a life of suffering and discontent with himself and others, a life wasted in fruitless search, because he is unable to settle down to any particular thing. How many noble and gifted natures, the victims of teachers' commands, have perished in this way, sometimes with loud complaints, but most often simply in sullen anger against the world, perishing without any fuss, and leaving no trace?

But what would you have?--we shall be asked. Would you give the child complete liberty, put no curb upon him, and yield to his caprices?

Not at all. All we say is that a child must not be trained, as dogs are trained, by being compelled to perform tricks at the sign of its trainer. We want education to be guided by reason, and this reason should not only be understood by the teacher, but should also be clear to the child. We affirm that all the measures the teacher take; should be so applied as to find full and clear justification in the child's mind. We demand that teachers should show more respect for human nature and try to develop and not suppress the inner man in their pupils; that the object of education should be to make a man moral not by habit, but by consciousness and conviction.

"But this is a ridiculous and absurd claim," the profound pedagogues will answer with a contemptuous smile. "Is it possible to demand that a little child should be able to reason correctly about problems of his morality? Is it possible to convince it when it is not yet developed enough to be convinced by argument? On sending a boy out for a walk it would be absurd to reed him a course of lectures on physiology to prove to him why walking is beneficial; and it would be equally absurd when giving him the multiplication tables, to enumerate all the mathematical calculations in which they are needed, in order to prove how useful it is to learn them.... [The main task of education is to achieve at all costs the absolute obedience of the pupil to his superiors, and if this cannot be achieved by persuasion it must be achieved by fear."]

There is one flaw in all these arguments--the acceptance of [the present] status quo as the normal state of affairs. I agree with you when you say that children have not yet developed to the stage of clearly understanding their duties; but it is precisely your duty to develop this understanding in them. That is why they are educated. But instead of imbuing them with conscious convictions you suppress those which develop in the child spontaneously; and your only aim is to make children the unconscious and obedient tools of your commands. Realizing that the child does not understand you, you calmly fold your arms and imagine that all you can do is sit on the seashore and wait for favourable weather, as much as to say: perhaps the child will reveal ability when it grows up, and then it will be possible to talk to it; but for the time being it must do what I tell it to do. If that is the case, what is your function, O most learned pedagogues? And what is the use of education?... Is it not your bounden duty to get the child to understand you?... You exist for the child, not the child for you; you must adjust yourselves to its nature, to its spiritual condition, in the same way as a physician adjusts himself to his patient, and tailor to his customer. "The child is not yet developed"--but how can it develop if you make no effort to develop it, but, on the contrary, retard its natural development? From your logic it follows that it is impossible to learn a foreign language in a rational way because you don't understand it when you start learning--and therefore, the pupil must be compelled simply to repeat unfamiliar sounds until he has learnt them by heart without understanding their meaning, as much as to say: when he has memorized a lot of words, the meaning of them will somehow gradually dawn upon him!... There is scarcely anything that stands out so vividly in all these arguments as the desire to disguise one's indolence and various selfish motives under the cloak of the most sacred principles of virtue. But by degrading rational convictions, by compelling the pupil to act without thinking, one may undermine them far more quickly than by allowing the child the widest [possible] freedom of development. All these shortsighted arguments about the undeveloped state of the child's nature are strongly reminiscent of those gentlemen who protest against Gogol and his followers on the ground that these writers are merely beating the air, that their methods are ineffective, and that the type of people they attack can be impressed only by a cudgel, not by persuasion.... As if anybody can be taught anything with a cudgel! As if thrashing a man can make him morally better and imbue him with any conviction except the one, perhaps, that you are stronger than he!... In training animals, of course, the argumentum baculinum is extremely effective; with its aid horses are broken ill, bears are taught to dance, and even human beings are trained to perform all sorts of special tricks. But with all their skill and agility, neither horses nor bears, nor many of the human beings thus trained, become the least bit wiser!

"But how," the learned pedagogues also ask, "is the child to be protected from the pernicious influences that surround it? Should it be allowed to learn that these influences are pernicious by its own experience? If it were, not a single child would survive. Having experienced, for example, what poison is, or what it means to fall out of a fourth floor window, the child will scarcely be grateful to the pedagogue who, out of his profound respect for human nature, had tried persuasion at the critical moment, and had not dared simply to take the poison away from the child, or to drag it away from the window..." Leaving aside the [ludicrous] absurd aspect of this argument, according to which, for example, a subordinate cannot save a drowning superior (because he cannot demand absolute obedience from him, and without this it is impossible to save him), we shall observe one thing. Children often fall from windows and take arsenic instead of sugar precisely because the system of absolute obedience compels them only to obey, but gives them no real understanding of things, it awakens no rational convictions in them.

If the complaints about the unreasonableness of children at least had some foundation! Actually, they are downright calumny, invented by the idle fancies of incompetent pedagogues for their own ends. First of all we must observe that education does not give us reason any more than, say, logic teaches us to think, grammar to speak, poetry to be a poet, etc. The object of education, like that of every other theoretical science which deals with man's internal world, is to stimulate and to clear up in the mind that which has long lived in the soul, but has lived spontaneously, unconsciously and unaccountably. Impart reason to a monkey with your system [of absolute obedience] and the whole world will bow in reverence to this system and bring up its children in accordance with its rules. But you cannot do that and, therefore, you must humbly recognize the rights of reason in the very nature of the child; you must not neglect it, but wisely utilize the advantages it offers you. Children possess far more reason than is supposed. They are very clever and perspicacious, although, as a rule, they are unable to shape or express their thoughts clearly and definitely. A (child's logic is very clearly revealed in the earliest period of its life, and the best proof of this is its language. It may be positively stated that a three or four-year-old child never heard half the words it gives utterance to; it composes and utters them on the models of those it has heard, and nearly always composes them correctly. The same may be said about forms: a child that has no conception of grammar will use all the cases, tenses, declensions, etc., of unfamiliar words no less correctly than you do yourself when, already an adult, you learn a foreign language. From this it follows that at least the power of induction and analogy, the ability to classify, develops in a child very early.

The same must be said about understanding the connection between cause and effect. Once having burned its finger at a candle, a child will never grasp a candle with its bare hand again; noting that snow comes in winter and there is no snow in the summer, a child, seeing the snow melt in the spring, guesses that summer is coming, etc., etc. Every child fondles those who fondle it, and shrinks from those who treat it unkindly, etc.

More than that: children very early form conceptions. After learning what a house, a book, a table, etc., is, a child will infallibly recognize all other houses, books and tables, although the new ones it sees do not resemble those it had previously seen. This shows that concepts already form in its mind, and, as is well known, to form concepts one must be able to form judgements and draw deductions.

Why have the learned pedagogues taken it into their heads that children are incapable of understanding rational persuasion and can be ruled only by fear, deception, and so forth? I cannot imagine why a false conviction should take root in a child's soul more readily than a true one. A child must not be soothed in a reasonable way when it is crying, but it is permissible to say to it "Don't cry; if you do the bogeyman will take you"; or "Stop crying; if you don't I shall thrash you." I should like to know what connection there is between a child crying and a bogeyman or the birch, and what logic the child is supposed to possess when it is admonished in this way?

"But," it is said, "a child cannot yet reason correctly about concrete cases because it still lacks experience: it has seen and knows so little as yet." This is quite true, and it is precisely the teacher's duty as quickly as possible to impart to the child the largest possible amount of knowledge about all sorts of things, taking care, particularly, that the child understands them fully and correctly. The very fact that the child contradicts, provides opportunities for imparting this knowledge, and the teacher's failure to answer this contradiction can be due only to his indolence or cowardice, but not to rational conviction. You order your pupil to do something; he says it cannot be done--well, show him how to do it. The child wants to do something, but you say that it cannot be done and you ask it how it intends to achieve its object. It tells you about the plans it has in its mind; prove to him consistently, and in detail, that his object cannot be achieved. And this will provide you with many splendid opportunities to impart to the child an enormous amount of true and interesting knowledge about the laws of nature, about the spiritual life of man, and the organization of society! Believe me, the child will understand your explanations and take note of them.

In general it may be said that in most cases the adults are to blame when children fail to understand. As a rule, the casual events in life somewhat shake the firmness of pure logic; de jure and de facto are inextricably interwoven; and we, accustomed to digressions, often permit an application of fundamental principles, or draw general conclusions from isolated facts which pure logic cannot possibly tolerate. The pure, virginal logic of the infant mind does not accept this and, therefore, the child obstinately refuses to understand all the illogical things we unconsciously do, or say, out of our polite regard for the status quo. If you fill the child's mind with true knowledge, it will be difficult for you to hammer into its head false conclusion drawn from this knowledge; if you have first compelled the child to accept a false premise, it will take you a long time to induce it to accept the conclusion you have drawn, which, although correct in itself, logically contradicts the original premise. Firm insistence upon these illogical conclusions without a detailed and frank explanation of the circumstances which called them forth will inevitably lead to the distortion of the child's natural common sense, and, unfortunately, we are guilty of such distortion far too often.

Equally harmful for a child's intelligence is the unnatural system of education in vogue among us. Knowledge can be acquired only by the analytical method; science itself developed in this way; and yet, even the most elementary subjects are introduced with the synthesis! This is a totally perverse method, which causes lessons to be unclear, confused and lifeless. For example, every subject is begun with an introduction in which the nature, importance, the benefits, sub-divisions, etc., of the subject are stressed. I ask you, how do you expect a boy to understand all this before he has studied the subject itself? History is divided into ancient, mediaeval and modern; every part is divided into the following periods, and so forth. What is this division based on? What will it cling to in the mind of a boy who has no idea of what history is? Geography is a science which shows, etc.; it consists of three parts: mathematical, physical and political. The first deals with such and such, the second with such and such, and so forth. Can we expect a child to make head or tail of this sort of geography if it is introduced to him in this way?

And yet, see how much curiosity, what an eager desire to investigate the truth children display! The instinct of truth speaks in them very loudly, louder perhaps than in adults. They are not interested in the phantoms which people have created for themselves and to which they attach extreme importance. They do not study heraldry, they do not go into all the niceties of philology or metaphysics, they do not strive for rank and honour (that is, of course, if this is not dinned into them from the day they are born). But how eagerly they turn to nature, how joyfully they study all that is real and not shadowy, how interested they are in every phenomenon of life! They dislike the abstract, and this saves their souls from the forcible invasion of sophistries which even those who are doing their utmost to force them into the souls of their pupils cannot prove and explain. Yes, children are still fortunate in that nature does not at once lose its hold over them, does not at once allow them to fall victims to perverse, biased and one-sided human theory!

"But," we shall be told, "children have a great propensity for evil; the child's innate propensity for evil must be actively combated." Without going into a detailed analysis of this opinion we shall take the liberty of answering it in the words of Mr. Pirogov who, of course, is fully to be trusted in a matter dealing with the characteristics of human nature. This is what he says:

"Good and evil are fairly well balanced within us. Hence, there is no reason to think that our innate inclinations, even if little developed by education, attract us more to evil than to good. But the laws of a well-organized society, imbuing us with confidence in justice and in the vigilance of our rulers, could eliminate even the last traces of propensity for evil."

But even if it is true that we have an innate propensity for evil, can you undertake to eliminate it? Can you, who constantly contradict yourselves, who by your actions refute your own rules, who condemn your own actions by theoretical principles and stumble at every step, who sacrifice the commands of supreme nature to the selfish demands of crude egoism--can, you afford to throw stones at an innocent child and with pharisaical haughtiness protest against that little which you have found in it? No! First re-educate yourselves and then set to work to rectify the human nature of the children under your care.

If children cannot be regarded as the ideal of moral perfection, at all events, one must agree that they are far more moral than adults. They do not tell lies (until they are reduced to that by fear); they are ashamed of everything that is evil, they preserve within themselves the sacred sentiment of love for human beings free from all mundane prejudices. They become intimate with their fellows without inquiring whether they are rich, or their equals by birth; they even show a special propensity to become intimate with those who have been wronged by fate, with servants, and so forth. And their feelings are always expressed by deeds, they do not remain on their lips as they do with adults; a child will never eat an apple that has been given to it without sharing it with its brother, or sister, whom it loves; when it goes to a party it will always bring home a sweetmeat for its beloved nurse; it cries at the sight of its mother's tears out of pity for her. And in general, the opinion that the predominating sentiment in children is animal egoism is totally without foundation. If they show no sign of a strongly developed love for country and for humanity, it is, of course, because the scope of their ideas has not yet expanded enough to contain entire humanity. They do not know these things, and you cannot love what you do not know.

No, it is not for nothing that children have been set up as an example to us even by Him, before Whom peoples bow in reverence and Whose doctrines the world has proclaimed for so many centuries. Yes, we must learn from children, we ourselves must be reborn, become like children, to acquire a knowledge of real good and truth. And if we want to turn our attention to education, we must start by ceasing to despise the nature of children, and by ceasing to regard them as being incapable of understanding the dictates of reason. On the contrary, we must make use of the inner treasures which the nature of children offers us. Many of these natural treasures are still unexplored, many, in the words of the Bible, are hid from the wise and prudent and revealed unto babes!...

The object of this plea for the rights of infant nature against pedagogical tyranny, which checks natural development, was to point to one of the most important defects in our educational methods. We have not gone into details, we have merely advanced general propositions in the hope that wise educators, if they agree with us, will themselves realize what they must do, and how and what they must not do. The art of handling children cannot be imparted didactically; we can only indicate the principles upon which it should be based and the object which it should pursue. And we think that the main thing the educator should have in mind is respect for the human nature in children, to give it scope for free normal development, to try, first and foremost, to give it a correct understanding of things, to imbue it with living and firm convictions--to induce it to act consciously, out of respect for good and truth, and not out of fear and selfish expectation of praise and reward.

This is a difficult task, but not an impossible one. A beginning in turning to the child's innate reason was already made over a half a century ago by that noble and unselfish philanthropist and educationalist Pestallozzi. It was with reference to his school that Mme. de Stael made the significant observation that "childrens' failure to understand always comes mere from ohscure exposition than from the difficulty of the subjects" (De l'Allemagne). Thousands of experiments have confirmed the truth of this observation since it was made, and we must regretfully confess that it remains true to this day. Not only the mental but--and this is even more deplorable--also the moral education suffers, among us, from the same dogmatism, superficiality and lifelessness. To free ourselves from this miserable state, to pay attention not to the lifeless letter but to the living spirit, not to the achievement of external form but to the development of the inner man--such is the task which modern Russian education has to perform.


[1] This essay, first published in Sovremennik No. 5, 1857, was one of Dobrolyubov's first extensive expositions of his views on education. It was written as a review of an article entitled "Problems of Life," which caused considerable stir in Russia after the Crimean War, written by the celebrated Russian surgeon N. I. Pirogov and published in Morskoi Sbornik, No. 9, 1856. After the Crimean War Pirogov became one of the most popular public figures in Russia. The article referred to drew public attention because of the originality and boldness with which the author expressed views that were extremely progressive for that time. An enormous literature sprang up around that article, and it was translated into many European languages.