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On Popular Education

from Fables For Children, Stories For Children, Natural Science Stori - WHAT MEN LIVE BY

I suppose each of us has had more than one occasion to come in contact
with monstrous, senseless phenomena, and to find back of these phenomena
put forward some important principle, which overshadowed those
phenomena, so that in our youthful and even maturer years we began to
doubt whether it was true that those phenomena were monstrous, and
whether we were not mistaken. And having been unable to convince
ourselves that monstrous phenomena might be good, or that the protection
of an important principle was illegitimate, or that the principle was
only a word, we remained in regard to those phenomena in an ambiguous,
undecided condition.

In such a state I was, and I assume many of us are, in respect to the
principle of "development" which obfuscates pedagogy, in its connection
with the rudiments. But popular education is too near to my heart, and I
have busied myself too much with it, to remain too long in indecision.
The monstrous phenomena of the imaginary development I could not call
good, nor could I be persuaded that the development of the pupil was
bad, and so I began to inquire what that development was. I do not
consider it superfluous to communicate the deductions to which I have
been led during the study of this matter.

To define what is understood by the word "development," I shall take the
manuals of Messrs. Bunakov and Evtushevski, as being new works, which
combine all the latest deductions of German pedagogy, intended as guides
for the teachers in the popular schools, and selected by the advocates
of the sound method as manuals in their schools.

In discussing what is to form the foundation for a choice of this or
that method for the teaching of reading, Mr. Bunakov says:

"No, an opinion about the method of construction based on such
near-sighted and flimsy foundations (that is, on experience) will be too
doubtful. Only the theoretical substratum, based on the study of human
nature, can make the judgments in this sphere firm and independent of
all casualties, and to a considerable degree guard them against gross
errors. Consequently for the final choice of the best method of teaching
the rudiments, it is necessary first of all to stand on theoretic soil,
on the basis of previous considerations, the general conditions of which
give to this or that method the actual right to be called satisfactory
from the pedagogical standpoint. These conditions are: (1) It has to be
a method which is capable of developing the child's mental powers, so
that the acquisition of the rudiments may be obtained together with the
development and the strengthening of the reasoning powers. (2) It must
introduce into the instruction the child's personal interest, so that
the matter be furthered by this interest, and not by dulling violence.
(3) It must represent in itself the process of self-instruction,
inciting, supporting, and directing the child's self-activity. (4) It
must be based on the impressions of hearing, as of the sense which
serves for the acquisition of language. (5) It has to combine analysis
with synthesis, beginning with the dismemberment of the complex whole
into simple principles, and passing over to the composition of a complex
whole out of the simple principles."

So this is what the method of instruction is to be based upon. I will
remark, not for contradiction, but for the sake of simplicity and
clearness, that the last two statements are quite superfluous, because
without the union of analysis and synthesis there can be not only no
instruction, but also no other activity of the mind, and every
instruction, except that of the deaf and dumb, is based on the sense of
hearing. These two conditions are put down only for beauty's sake and
for the obscuration of the style, so common in pedagogical treatises,
and so have no meaning whatever. The first three at first sight appear
quite true as a programme. Everybody, of course, would like to know how
the method is secured that will "develop," that will "introduce into the
instruction the pupil's personal interest," and that will "represent the
process of self-instruction."

But to the questions as to why this method combines all those qualities
you will find an answer neither in the books of Messrs. Bunakov and
Evtushevski, nor in any other pedagogical work of the founders of this
school of pedagogy, unless they be those hazy discussions of this
nature, such as that every instruction must be based on the union of
analysis and synthesis, and by all means on the sense of hearing, and so
forth; or you will find, as in Mr. Evtushevski's book, expositions about
how in man are formed impressions, sensations, representations, and
concepts, and you will find the rule that "it is necessary to start from
the object and lead the pupil up to the idea, and not start with the
idea, which has no point of contact in his consciousness," and so forth.
After such discussions there always follows the conclusion that
therefore the method advocated by the pedagogue gives that exclusive
real development which it was necessary to find.

After the above-cited definition of what a good method ought to be, Mr.
Bunakov explains how children ought to be educated, and, having given an
exposition of all the methods, which in my opinion and experience lead
to results which are diametrically opposite to development, he says
frankly and definitely:

"From the standpoint of the above-mentioned fundamental principles for
estimating the value of the satisfactoriness of the methods of
rudimentary instruction, the method which we have just elucidated in its
general features presents the following plastic qualities and
peculiarities: (1) As a sound method it wholly preserves the
characteristic peculiarities of all sound method,--it starts from the
impressions of hearing, at once establishing the regular relation to
language, and only later adds to them the impressions of sight, thus
clearly distinguishing sound, matter, and the letter, its
representation. (2) As a method which unites reading with writing it
begins with decomposition and passes over to composition, combining
analysis with synthesis. (3) As a method which passes over to the study
of words and sounds from the study of objects it proceeds along a
natural path, cooperates with the regular formation of concepts and
ideas, and acts in a developing way on all the sides of the child's
nature: it incites the children to be observant, to group their
observations, to render them orally; it develops the external senses,
mind, imagination, memory, the gift of speech, concentration,
self-activity, the habit of work, the respect for order. (4) As a method
which provides ample work to all the mental powers of the child, it
introduces into instruction the personal interest, rousing in children
willingness and love of work, and transforming it into a process of

This is precisely what Mr. Evtushevski does; but why it is all so
remains inexplicable to him who is looking for actual reasons and does
not become entangled in such words as psychology, didactics, methodics,
heuristics. I advise all those who have no inclination for philosophy
and therefore have no desire to verify all those deductions of the
pedagogues not to be embarrassed by these words and to be assured that
a thing which is not clear cannot be the basis of anything, least of all
of such an important and simple thing as popular education.

All the pedagogues of this school, especially the Germans, the founders
of the school, start with the false idea that those philosophical
questions which have remained as questions for all the philosophers from
Plato to Kant, have been definitely settled by them. They are settled so
definitely that the process of the acquisition by man of impressions,
sensations, concepts, ratiocinations, has been analyzed by them down to
its minutest details, and the component parts of what we call the soul
or the essence of man have been dissected and divided into parts by
them, and that, too, in such a thorough manner that on this firm basis
can go up the faultless structure of the science of pedagogy. This fancy
is so strange that I do not regard it as necessary to contradict it,
more especially as I have done so in my former pedagogical essays. All I
will say is that those philosophical considerations which the pedagogues
of this school put at the basis of their theory not only fail to be
absolutely correct, not only have nothing in common with real
philosophy, but even lack a clear, definite expression with which the
majority of the pedagogues might agree.

But, perchance, the theory of the pedagogues of the new school, in spite
of its unsuccessful references to philosophy, has some value in itself.
And so we will examine it, to see what it consists in. Mr. Bunakov says:

"To these little savages (that is, the pupils) must be imparted the main
order of school instruction, and into their consciousness must be
introduced such initial concepts as they will have to come in contact
with from the start, during the first lessons of drawing, reading,
writing, and every elementary instruction, such as: the right side and
the left, to the right--to the left, up--down, near by--around, in
front--in back, close by--in the distance, before--behind,
above--below, fast--slow, softly--aloud, and so forth. No matter how
simple these concepts may be, I know from practice that even city
children, from well-to-do families, are frequently, when they come to
the elementary schools, unable to distinguish the right side from the
left. I assume that there is no need of expatiating on the necessity of
explaining such concepts to village children, for any one who has had to
deal with village schools knows this as well as I do."

And Mr. Evtushevski says:

"Without entering into the broad field of the debatable question about
the innate ability of man, we only see that the child can have no innate
concepts and ideas about real things,--they have to be formed, and on
the skill with which they are formed by the educator and teacher depends
both their regularity and their permanency. In watching the development
of the child's soul one has to be much more cautious than in attending
to his body. If the food for the body and the various bodily exercises
are carefully chosen both as regards their quantity and their quality,
in conformity with the man's growth, so much more cautious have we to be
in the choice of food and exercises for the mind. A badly placed
foundation will precariously support what is fastened to it."

Mr. Bunakov advises that ideas be imparted as follows:

"The teacher may begin a conversation such as he deems fit: one will ask
every pupil for his name; another about what is going on outside; a
third about where each comes from, where he lives, what is going on at
home,--and then he may pass over to the main subject. 'Where are you
sitting now? Why did you come here? What are we going to do in this
room? Yes, we are going to study in this room,--so let us call it a
class-room. See what there is under your feet, below you. Look, but do
not say anything. The one I will tell to speak shall answer. Tell me,
what do you see under your feet? Repeat everything we have found out
and have said about this room: in what room are we sitting? What are the
parts of the room? What is there on the walls? What is standing on the

"The teacher from the start establishes the order which is necessary for
the success of his work: each pupil is to answer only when asked to do
so; all the others are to listen and should be able to repeat the words
of the teacher and of their companions; the desire to answer, when the
teacher directs a question to everybody, is to be expressed by raising
the left hand; the words are to be pronounced neither in a hurry, nor by
drawing them out, but loudly, distinctly, and correctly. To obtain this
latter result the teacher gives them a living example by his loud,
correct, distinct enunciation, showing them in practice the difference
between soft and loud, distinct and correct, slow and fast. The teacher
should see to it that all the children take part in the work, by having
somebody's question answered or repeated, now by one, now by another,
and now by the whole class at once, but especially by rousing the
indifferent, inattentive, and playful children: the first he must
enliven by frequent questions, the second he must cause to concentrate
themselves on the subject of the common work, and the third he must
curb. During the first period the children ought to answer in full, that
is, by repeating the question: 'We are sitting in the class-room' (and
not in brief, 'In the class-room'); 'Above, over my head, I see the
ceiling;' 'On the left I see three windows,' and so forth."

Mr. Evtushevski advises that in this way be begun all the lessons on
numbers from 1 to 10, of which there are to be 120, and which are to be
continued through the year.

"One. The teacher shows the pupils a cube, and asks: 'How many cubes
have I?' and taking several cubes into the other hand, he asks, 'And how
many are there here?'--'Many, a few.'

"'Name here in the class-room an object of which there are
several.'--'Bench, window, wall, copy-book, pencil, slate-pencil, pupil,
and so forth.'--'Name an object of which there is only one in the
class-room.'--'The blackboard, stove, door, ceiling, floor, picture,
teacher, and so forth.'--'If I put this cube away in my pocket, how many
cubes will there be left in my hand?'--'Not one.'--'And how many must I
again put into my hand, to have as many as before?'--'One.'--'What is
meant by saying that Petya fell down once? How many times did Petya
fall? Did he fall another time? Why does it say once?'--'Because we are
speaking only of one case and not of another case.'--'Take your slates
(or copy-books). Make on them a line of this size.' (The teacher draws
on the blackboard a line two or four inches in length, or shows on the
ruler that length.) 'Rub it off. How many lines are left?'--'Not
one.'--'Draw several such lines.' It would be unnatural to invent any
other exercises in order to acquaint the children with number one. It
suffices to rouse in them that conception of unity which they, no doubt,
had previous to their school instruction."

Then Mr. Bunakov speaks of exercises on the board, and so on, and Mr.
Evtushevski of the number four with its decomposition. Before examining
the theory itself of the transmission of ideas, the question
involuntarily arises whether that theory is not mistaken in its very
problem. Has the condition of the pedagogical material with which it has
to do been correctly defined? The first thing that startles us is the
strange relation to some imaginary children, to such as I, at least,
have never seen in the Russian Empire. The conversations, and the
information which they impart, refer to children of less than two years
of age, because two-year-old children know all that is contained in
them, but as to the questions which have to be asked, they have
reference to parrots. Any pupil of six, seven, eight, or nine years will
not understand a thing in these questions, because he knows all about
that, and cannot make out what it all means. The demands for such
conversations evince either complete ignorance, or a desire to ignore
that degree of development on which the pupils stand.

Maybe the children of Hottentots and negroes, or some German children,
do not know what is imparted to them in such conversations, but Russian
children, except demented ones, all those who come to a school, not only
know what is up and what down, what is a bench and what a table, what is
two and what one, and so forth, but, in my experience, the peasant
children who are sent to school by their parents can every one of them
express their thoughts well and correctly, can understand another
person's thought (if it is expressed in Russian), and can count to
twenty and more; playing with knuckle-bones they count in pairs and
sixes, and they know how many points and pairs there are in a six.
Frequently the pupils who came to my school brought with them the
problem with the geese, and explained it to me. But even if we admit
that children possess no such conceptions as those the pedagogues want
to impart to them by means of conversations, I do not find the method
chosen by them to be correct.

Thus, for example, Mr. Bunakov has written a reader. This book is to be
used in conjunction with the conversations to teach the children
language. I have run through the book and have found it to be a series
of bad language blunders, wherever extracts from other books are not
quoted. The same complete ignorance of language I have found in Mr.
Evtushevski's problems. Mr. Evtushevski wants to give ideas by means of
problems. First of all he ought to have seen to it that the tool for the
transmission of ideas, that is, the language, was correct.

What has been mentioned here refers to the form in which the development
is imparted. Let us look at the contents themselves. Mr. Bunakov
proposes the following questions to be put to the children: "Where can
you see cats? where a magpie? where sand? where a wasp and a suslik?
what are a suslik and a magpie and a cat covered with, and what are the
parts of their bodies?" (The suslik is a favourite animal of pedagogy,
no doubt because not one peasant child in the centre of Russia knows
that word.)

"Naturally the teacher does not always put these questions straight to
the children, as forming the predetermined programme of the lesson; more
frequently the small and undeveloped children have to be led up to the
solution of the question of the programme by a series of suggestive
questions, by directing their attention to the side of the subject which
is more correct at the given moment, or by inciting them to recall
something from their previous observations. Thus the teacher need not
put the question directly: 'Where can a wasp be seen?' but, turning to
this or that pupil, he may ask him whether he has seen a wasp, where he
has seen it, and then only, combining the replies of several pupils,
compose an answer to the first question of his programme. In answering
the teacher's questions, the children will often connect several remarks
that have no direct relation to the matter; for example, when the
question is about what the parts of a magpie are, one may say
irrelevantly that a magpie jumps, another that it chatters funnily, a
third that it steals things,--let them add and give utterance to
everything that arises in their memory or imagination,--it is the
teacher's business to concentrate their attention in accordance with the
programme, and these remarks and additions of the children he should
take notice of for the purpose of elaborating the other parts of the
programme. In viewing a new subject, the children at every convenient
opportunity return to the subjects which have already been under
consideration. Since they have observed that a magpie is covered with
feathers, the teacher asks: 'Is the suslik also covered with feathers?
What is it covered with? And what is a chicken covered with? and a
horse? and a lizard?' When they have observed that a magpie has two
legs, the teacher asks: 'How many legs has a dog? and a fox? and a
chicken? and a wasp? What other animals do you know with two legs? with
four? with six?'"

Involuntarily the question arises: Do the children know, or do they not
know, what is so well explained to them in these conversations? If the
pupils know it all, then, upon occasion, in the street or at home, where
they do not need to raise their left hands, they will certainly be able
to tell it in more beautiful and more correct Russian than they are
ordered to do. They will certainly not say that a horse is "covered"
with wool; if so, why are they compelled to repeat these questions just
as the teacher has put them? But if they do not know them (which is not
to be admitted except as regards the suslik), the question arises: by
what will the teacher be guided in what is with so much unction called
the programme of questions,--by the science of zoology, or by logic? or
by the science of eloquence? But if by none of the sciences, and merely
by the desire to talk about what is visible in the objects, there are so
many visible things in objects, and they are so diversified, that a
guiding thread is needed to show what to talk upon, whereas in objective
instruction there is no such thread, and there can be none.

All human knowledge is subdivided for the purpose that it may more
conveniently be gathered, united, and transmitted, and these
subdivisions are called sciences. But outside their scientific
classifications you may talk about objects anything you please, and you
may say all the nonsense imaginable, as we actually see. In any case,
the result of the conversation will be that the children are either
made to learn by heart the teacher's words about the suslik, or to
change their own words, place them in a certain order (not always a
correct order), and to memorize and repeat them. For this reason all the
manuals of this kind, in general all the exercises of development,
suffer on the one hand from absolute arbitrariness, and on the other
from superfluity. For example, in Mr. Bunakov's book the only story
which, it seems, is not copied from another author, is the following:

"A peasant complained to a hunter about his trouble: a fox had carried
off several of his chickens and one duck; the fox was not in the least
afraid of watch-dog Dandy, who was chained up and kept barking all night
long; in the morning he had placed a trap with a piece of roast meat in
the fresh tracks on the snow,--evidently the red-haired sneak was
disporting near the house, but he did not go into the trap. The hunter
listened to what the peasant had to say to him, and said: 'Very well;
now we will see who will be shrewder!' The hunter walked all day with
his gun and with his dog, over the tracks of the fox, to discover how he
found his way into the yard. In the daytime the sneak sleeps in his
lair, and knows nothing of what is going on, so that had to be
considered: on its path the hunter dug a hole and covered it with
boards, dirt, and snow; a few steps from it he put down a piece of
horseflesh. In the evening he seated himself with a loaded gun in his
ambush, fixed things in such a way that he could see everything and
shoot comfortably, and there he waited. It grew dark. The moon swam out.
Cautiously, looking around and listening, the fox crept out of his lair,
raised his nose, and sniffed. He at once smelled the odour of
horseflesh, and ran at a slow trot to the place, and suddenly stopped
and pricked his ears: the shrewd one saw that there was a mound there
which had not been in that spot the previous evening. This mound
apparently vexed him, and made him think; he took a large circle around
it, and sniffed and listened, and sat down, and for a long time looked
at the meat from a distance, so that the hunter could not shoot him,--it
was too far. The fox thought and thought, and suddenly ran at full speed
between the meat and the mound. Our hunter was careful, and did not
shoot. He knew that the sneak was merely trying to find out whether
anybody was sitting behind that mound; if he had shot at the running
fox, he would certainly have missed him, and then he would not have seen
the sneak, any more than he could see his own ears. Now the fox quieted
down,--the mound no longer disturbed him: he walked briskly up to the
meat, and ate it with great delight. Then the hunter aimed carefully,
without haste, so that he might not miss him. Bang! The fox jumped up
from pain and fell down dead."

Everything is arbitrary here: it is an arbitrary invention to say that a
fox could carry off a peasant's duck in winter, that peasants trap
foxes, that a fox sleeps in the daytime in his lair (for he sleeps only
at night); arbitrary is that hole which is uselessly dug in winter and
covered with boards without being made use of; arbitrary is the
statement that the fox eats horseflesh, which he never does; arbitrary
is the supposed cunning of the fox, who runs past the hunter; arbitrary
are the mound and the hunter, who does not shoot for fear of missing,
that is, everything, from beginning to end, is bosh, for which any
peasant boy might arraign the author of the story, if he could talk
without raising his hand.

Then a whole series of so-called exercises in Mr. Bunakov's lessons is
composed of such questions as: "Who bakes? Who chops? Who shoots?" to
which the pupil is supposed to answer: "The baker, the wood-chopper, and
the marksmen," whereas he might just as correctly answer that the woman
bakes, the axe chops, and the teacher shoots, if he has a gun. Another
arbitrary statement in that book is that the throat is a part of the
mouth, and so on.

All the other exercises, such as "The ducks fly, and the dogs?" or "The
linden and birch are trees, and the horse?" are quite superfluous.
Besides, it must be observed that if such conversations are really
carried on with the pupils (which never happens) that is, if the pupils
are permitted to speak and ask questions, the teacher, choosing simple
subjects (they are most difficult), is at each step perplexed, partly
through ignorance, and partly because ein Narr kann mehr fragen, als
zehn Weise antworten.

Exactly the same takes place in the instruction of arithmetic, which is
based on the same pedagogical principle. Either the pupils are informed
in the same way of what they already know, or they are quite arbitrarily
informed of combinations of a certain character that are not based on
anything. The lesson mentioned above and all the other lessons up to ten
are merely information about what the children already know. If they
frequently do not answer questions of that kind, this is due to the fact
that the question is either wrongly expressed in itself, or wrongly
expressed as regards the children. The difficulty which the children
encounter in answering a question of that character is due to the same
cause which makes it impossible for the average boy to answer the
question: Three sons were to Noah,[1]--Shem, Ham, and Japheth,--who was
their father? The difficulty is not mathematical, but syntactical, which
is due to the fact that in the statement of the problem and in the
question there is not one and the same subject; but when to the
syntactical difficulty there is added the awkwardness of the proposer of
the problems in expressing himself in Russian, the matter becomes of
greater difficulty still to the pupil; but the trouble is no longer

[Footnote 1: The Russian way of saying "Noah had three sons."]

Let anybody understand at once Mr. Evtushevski's problem: "A certain boy
had four nuts, another had five. The second boy gave all his nuts to the
first, and this one gave three nuts to a third, and the rest he
distributed equally to three other friends. How many nuts did each of
the last get?" Express the problem as follows: "A boy had four nuts. He
was given five more. He gave away three nuts, and the rest he wants to
give to three friends. How many can he give to each?" and a child of
five years of age will solve it. There is no problem here at all, but
the difficulty may arise only from a wrong statement of the problem, or
from a weak memory. And it is this syntactical difficulty, which the
children overcome by long and difficult exercises, that gives the
teacher cause to think that, teaching the children what they know
already, he is teaching them anything at all. Just as arbitrarily are
the children taught combinations in arithmetic and the decomposition of
numbers according to a certain method and order, which have their
foundation only in the fancy of the teacher. Mr. Evtushevski says:

"Four. (1) The formation of the number. On the upper border of the board
the teacher places three cubes together--I I I. How many cubes are there
here? Then a fourth cube is added. And how many are there now? I I I I.
How are four cubes formed from three and one? We have to add one cube to
the three.

"(2) Decomposition into component parts. How can four cubes be formed?
or, How can four cubes be broken up? Four cubes may be broken up into
two and two: II + II. Four cubes may be formed from one, and one, and
one, and one more, or by taking four times one cube: I + I + I + I. Four
cubes may be broken up into three and one: III + I. It may be formed
from one, and one, and two: I + I + II. Can four cubes be put together
in any other way? The pupils convince themselves that there can be no
other decomposition, distinct from those already given. If the pupils
begin to break the four cubes in this way: one, two, and one, or, two,
one and one; or, one and three, the teacher will easily point out to
them that these decompositions are only repetitions of what has been got
before, only in a different order.

"Every time, whenever the pupils indicate a new method of decomposition,
the teacher places the cubes on a ledge of the blackboard in the manner
here indicated. Thus there will be four cubes on the upper ledge; two
and two in a second place; in a third place the four cubes will be
separated at some distance from each other; in a fourth place, three and
one, and in a fifth one, one, and two.

"(3) Decomposition in order. It may easily happen that the children will
at once point out the decomposition of the number into component parts
in order; even then the third exercise cannot be regarded as
superfluous: Here we have formed four cubes of twos, of separate cubes,
and of threes,--in what order had we best place the cubes on the board?
With what shall the decomposition of the four cubes begin? With the
decomposition into separate cubes. How are four cubes to be formed from
separate cubes? We must take four times one cube. How are four cubes to
be formed from twos, from a pair? We must take two twos,--twice two
cubes, two pairs of cubes. How shall we afterward break up the four
cubes? They can be formed of threes: for this purpose we take three and
one, or one and three. The teacher explains to the pupils that the last
decomposition, that is, 1 1 2, does not come under the accepted order,
and is a modification of one of the first three."

Why does Mr. Evtushevski not admit this last decomposition? Why must
there be the order indicated by him? All that is a matter of mere
arbitrariness and fancy. In reality, it is apparent to every thinking
man that there is only one foundation for any composition and
decomposition, and for the whole of mathematics. Here is the
foundation: 1 + 1 = 2, 2 + 1 = 3, 3 + 1 = 4, and so forth,--precisely
what the children learn at home, and what in common parlance is called
counting to ten, to twenty, and so forth. This process is known to every
pupil, and no matter what decomposition Mr. Evtushevski may make, it is
to be explained from this one. A boy that can count to four, considers
four as a whole, and so also three, and two, and one. Consequently, he
knows that four was produced from the consecutive addition of one.
Similarly he knows that four is produced by adding twice one to two,
just as he knows twice one is two. What, then, are the children taught
here? That which they know, or that process of counting which they must
learn according to the teacher's fancy.

The other day I happened to witness a lesson in mathematics according to
Grube's method. The pupil was asked: "How much is 8 and 7?" He hastened
to answer and said 16. His neighbour, too, was in a hurry and, without
raising his left hand, said: "8 and 8 is 16, and one less is 15." The
teacher sternly stopped him, and compelled the first boy to add one
after one to 8, until he came to 15, though the boy knew long ago that
he had made a blunder. In that school they had reached the number 15,
but 16 was supposed to be unknown yet.

I am afraid that many people, reading all these long refutals of the
methods of object instruction and counting according to Grube, which I
am making, will say: "What is there here to talk about? Is it not
evident that it is all mere nonsense which it is not worth while to
criticize? Why pick out the errors and blunders of a Bunakov and
Evtushevski, and criticize what is beneath all criticism?"

That was the way I myself thought before I was led to see what was going
on in the pedagogical world, when I convinced myself that Messrs.
Bunakov and Evtushevski were not mere individuals, but authorities in
our pedagogics, and that what they prescribe is actually carried out in
our schools. In the backwoods we may find teachers, especially women,
who spread Evtushevski's and Bunakov's manuals out before them and ask
according to their prescription how much one feather and one feather is,
and what a hen is covered with. All that would be funny if it were only
an invention of the theorist, and not a guide in practical work, a guide
that some follow already, and if it did not concern one of the most
important affairs of life,--the education of the children. I was amused
at it when I read it as theoretical fancies; but when I learned and saw
that that was being practised on children, I felt pity for them and

From a theoretical standpoint, not to mention the fact that they
faultily define the aim of education, the pedagogues of this school make
this essential error, that they depart from the conditions of all
instruction, whether this instruction be on the highest or lowest stage
of the science, in a university or in a popular school. The essential
conditions of all instruction consist in selecting the homogeneous
phenomena from an endless number of heterogeneous phenomena, and in
imparting the laws of these phenomena to the students. Thus, in the
study of language, the pupils are taught the laws of the word, and in
mathematics, the laws of the numbers. The study of language consists in
imparting the laws of the decomposition and of the reverse composition
of sentences, words, syllables, sounds,--and these laws form the subject
of instruction. The instruction of mathematics consists in imparting the
laws of the composition and decomposition of the numbers (but I beg to
observe,--not in the process of the composition and the decomposition of
the numbers, but in imparting the laws of that composition and
decomposition). Thus, the first law consists in the ability of regarding
a collection of units as a unit of a higher order, precisely what a
child does when he says: "2 and 1 = 3." He regards 2 as a kind of unit.
On this law are based the consequent laws of numeration, then of
addition, and of the whole of mathematics. But arbitrary conversations
about the wasp, and so forth, or problems within the limit of 10,--its
decomposition in every manner possible,--cannot form a subject of
instruction, because, in the first place, they transcend the subject
and, in the second place, because they do not treat of its laws.

That is the way the matter presents itself to me from its theoretical
side; but theoretical criticism may frequently err, and so I will try to
verify my deductions by means of practical data. G---- P---- has given
us a sample of the practical results of both object instruction and of
mathematics according to Grube's method. One of the older boys was told:
"Put your hand under your book!" in order to prove that he had been
taught the conceptions of "over" and "under," and the intelligent boy,
who, I am sure, knew what "over" and "under" was, when he was three
years old, put his hand on the book when he was told to put it under it.
I have all the time observed such examples, and they prove more clearly
than anything else how useless, strange, and disgraceful, I feel like
saying, this object instruction is for Russian children. A Russian child
cannot and will not believe (he has too much respect for the teacher and
for himself) that the teacher is in earnest when he asks him whether the
ceiling is above or below, or how many legs he has. In arithmetic, too,
we have seen that pupils who did not even know how to write the numbers
and during the whole time of the instruction were exercised only in
mental calculations up to 10, for half an hour did not stop blundering
in every imaginable way in response to questions which the teacher put
to them within the limit of 10. Evidently the instruction of mental
calculation brought no results, and the syntactical difficulty, which
consists in unravelling a question that is improperly put, has remained
the same as ever. And thus, the practical results of the examination
which took place did not confirm the usefulness of the development.

But I will be more exact and conscientious. Maybe the process of
development, which at first is confined not so much to the study, as to
the analysis of what the pupils know already, will produce results later
on. Maybe the teacher, who at first takes possession of the pupils'
minds by means of the analysis, later guides them firmly and with ease,
and from the narrow sphere of the descriptions of a table and the count
of 2 and 1 leads them into the real sphere of knowledge, in which the
pupils are no longer confined to learning what they know already, but
also learn something new, and learn that new information in a new, more
convenient, more intelligent manner. This supposition is confirmed by
the fact that all the German pedagogues and their followers, among them
Mr. Bunakov, say distinctly that object instruction is to serve as an
introduction to "home science" and "natural science." But we should be
looking in vain in Mr. Bunakov's manual to find out how this "home
science" is to be taught, if by this word any real information is to be
understood, and not the descriptions of a hut and a vestibule,--which
the children know already. Mr. Bunakov, on page 200, after having
explained that it is necessary to teach where the ceiling is and where
the stove, says briefly:

"Now it is necessary to pass over to the third stage of object
instruction, the contents of which have been defined by me as follows:
The study of the country, county, Government, the whole realm with its
natural products and its inhabitants, in general outline, as a sketch of
home science and the beginning of natural science, with the predominance
of reading, which, resting on the immediate observations of the first
two grades, broadens the mental horizon of the pupils,--the sphere of
their concepts and ideas. We can see from the mere definition that here
the objectivity appears as a complement to the explanatory reading and
narrative of the teacher,--consequently, what is said in regard to the
occupations of the third year has more reference to the discussion of
the second occupation, which enters into the composition of the subject
under instruction, which is called the native language,--the explanatory

We turn to the third year,--the explanatory reading, but there we find
absolutely nothing to indicate how the new information is to be
imparted, except that it is good to read such and such books, and in
reading to put such and such questions. The questions are extremely
queer (to me, at least), as, for example, the comparison of the article
on water by Ushinski and of the article on water by Aksakov, and the
request made of the pupils that they should explain that Aksakov
considers water as a phenomenon of Nature, while Ushinski considers it
as a substance, and so forth. Consequently, we find here again the same
foisting of views on the pupils, and of subdivisions (generally
incorrect) of the teacher, and not one word, not one hint, as to how any
new knowledge is to be imparted.

It is not known what shall be taught: natural history, or geography.
There is nothing there but reading with questions of the character I
have just mentioned. On the other side of the instruction about the
word,--grammar and orthography,--we should just as much be looking in
vain for any new method of instruction which is based on the preceding
development. Again the old Perevlevski's grammar, which begins with
philosophical definitions and then with syntactical analysis, serves as
the basis of all new grammatical exercises and of Mr. Bunakov's manual.

In mathematics, too, we should be looking in vain, at that stage where
the real instruction in mathematics begins, for anything new and more
easy, based on the whole previous instruction of the exercises of the
second year up to 20. Where in arithmetic the real difficulties are met
with, where it becomes necessary to explain the subject from all its
sides to the pupil, as in numeration, in addition, subtraction,
division, in the division and multiplication of fractions, you will not
find even a shadow of anything easier, any new explanation, but only
quotations from old arithmetics.

The character of this instruction is everywhere one and the same. The
whole attention is directed toward teaching the pupil what he already
knows. And since the pupil knows what he is being taught, and easily
recites in any order desired what he is asked to recite by the teacher,
the teacher thinks that he is really teaching something, and the pupil's
progress is great, and the teacher, paying no attention to what forms
the real difficulty of teaching, that is, to teaching something new,
most comfortably stumps about in one spot.

This explains why our pedagogical literature is overwhelmed with manuals
for object-lessons, with manuals about how to conduct kindergartens (one
of the most monstrous excrescences of the new pedagogy), with pictures
and books for reading, in which are eternally repeated the same articles
about the fox and the blackcock, the same poems which for some reason
are written out in prose in all kinds of permutations and with all kinds
of explanations; but we have not a single new article for children's
reading, not one Russian, nor Church-Slavic grammar, nor a Church-Slavic
dictionary, nor an arithmetic, nor a geography, nor a history for the
popular schools. All the forces are absorbed in writing text-books for
the instruction of children in subjects they need not and ought not to
be taught in school, because they are taught them in life. Of course,
there is no end to the writing of such books; for there can be only one
grammar and arithmetic, but of exercises and reflections, like those I
have quoted from Bunakov, and of the orders of the decomposition of
numbers from Evtushevski, there may be an endless number.

Pedagogy is in the same condition in which a science would be that would
teach how a man ought to walk; and people would try to discover rules
about how to teach the children, how to enjoin them to contract this
muscle, stretch that muscle, and so forth. This condition of the new
pedagogy results directly from its two fundamental principles: (1) that
the aim of the school is development and not science, and (2) that
development and the means for attaining it may be theoretically defined.
From this has consistently resulted that miserable and frequently
ridiculous condition in which the whole matter of the schools now is.
Forces are wasted in vain, and the masses, who at the present moment are
thirsting for education, as the dried-up grass thirsts for rain, and are
ready to receive it, and beg for it,--instead of a loaf receive a stone,
and are perplexed to understand whether they were mistaken in regarding
education as something good, or whether something is wrong in what is
being offered to them. That matters are really so there cannot be the
least doubt for any man who becomes acquainted with the present theory
of teaching and knows the actual condition of the school among the
masses. Involuntarily there arises the question: how could honest,
cultured people, who sincerely love their work and wish to do good,--for
such I regard the majority of my opponents to be,--have arrived at such
a strange condition and be in such deep error?

This question has interested me, and I will try to communicate those
answers which have occurred to me. Many causes have led to it. The most
natural cause which has led pedagogy to the false path on which it now
stands, is the criticism of the old order, the criticism for the sake of
criticism, without positing new principles in the place of those
criticized. Everybody knows that criticizing is an easy business, and
that it is quite fruitless and frequently harmful, if by the side of
what is condemned one does not point out the principles on the basis of
which this condemnation is uttered. If I say that such and such a thing
is bad because I do not like it, or because everybody says that it is
bad, or even because it is really bad, but do not know how it ought to
be right, the criticism will always be useless and injurious. The views
of the pedagogues of the new school are, above all, based on the
criticism of previous methods. Even now, when it seems there would be no
sense in striking a prostrate person, we read and hear in every manual,
in every discussion, "that it is injurious to read without
comprehension; that it is impossible to learn by heart the definitions
of numbers and operations with numbers; that senseless memorizing is
injurious; that it is injurious to operate with thousands without being
able to count 2-3," and so forth. The chief point of departure is the
criticism of the old methods and the concoction of new ones to be as
diametrically opposed to the old as possible, but by no means the
positing of new foundations of pedagogy, from which new methods might

It is very easy to criticize the old-fashioned method of studying
reading by means of learning by heart whole pages of the psalter, and of
studying arithmetic by memorizing what a number is, and so forth. I will
remark, in the first place, that nowadays there is no need of attacking
these methods, because there will hardly be found any teachers who would
defend them, and, in the second place, that if, criticizing such
phenomena, they want to let it be known that I am a defender of the
antiquated method of instruction, it is no doubt due to the fact that my
opponents, in their youth, do not know that nearly twenty years ago I
with all my might and main fought against those antiquated methods of
pedagogy and cooperated in their abolition.

And thus it was found that the old methods of instruction were not good
for anything, and, without building any new foundation, they began to
look for new methods. I say "without building any new foundation,"
because there are only two permanent foundations of pedagogy:

(1) The determination of the criterion of what ought to be taught, and
(2) the criterion of how it has to be taught, that is, the determination
that the chosen subjects are most necessary, and that the chosen method
is the best.

Nobody has even paid any attention to these foundations, and each school
has in its own justification invented quasi-philosophical justificatory
reflections. But this "theoretical substratum," as Mr. Bunakov has
accidentally expressed himself quite well, cannot be regarded as a
foundation. For the old method of instruction possessed just such a
theoretical substratum.

The real, peremptory question of pedagogy, which fifteen years ago I
vainly tried to put in all its significance, "Why ought we to know this
or that, and how shall we teach it?" has not even been touched. The
result of this has been that as soon as it became apparent that the old
method was not good, they did not try to find out what the best method
would be, but immediately set out to discover a new method which would
be the very opposite of the old one. They did as a man may do who finds
his house to be cold in winter and does not trouble himself about
learning why it is cold, or how to help matters, but at once tries to
find another house which will as little as possible resemble the one he
is living in. I was then abroad, and I remember how I everywhere came
across messengers roving all over Europe in search of a new faith, that
is, officials of the ministry, studying German pedagogy.

We have adopted the methods of instruction current with our nearest
neighbours, the Germans, in the first place, because we are always
prone to imitate the Germans; in the second, because it was the most
complicated and cunning of methods, and if it comes to taking something
from abroad, of course, it has to be the latest fashion and what is most
cunning; in the third, because, in particular, these methods were more
than any others opposed to the old way. And thus, the new methods were
taken from the Germans, and not by themselves, but with a theoretical
substratum, that is, with a quasi-philosophical justification of these

This theoretical substratum has done great service. The moment parents
or simply sensible people, who busy themselves with the question of
education, express their doubt about the efficacy of these methods, they
are told: "And what about Pestalozzi, and Diesterweg, and Denzel, and
Wurst, and methodics, heuristics, didactics, concentrism?" and the bold
people wave their hands, and say: "God be with them,--they know better."
In these German methods there also lay this other advantage (the cause
why they stick so eagerly to this method), that with it the teacher does
not need to try too much, does not need to go on studying, does not need
to work over himself and the methods of instruction. For the greater
part of the time the teacher teaches by this method what the children
know, and, besides, teaches it from a text-book, and that is convenient.
And unconsciously, in accordance with an innate human weakness, the
teacher is fond of this convenience. It is very pleasant for me, with my
firm conviction that I am teaching and doing an important and very
modern work, to tell the children from the book about the suslik, or
about a horse's having four legs, or to transpose the cubes by twos and
by threes, and ask the children how much two and two is; but if, instead
of telling about the suslik, the teacher had to tell or read something
interesting, to give the foundations of grammar, geography, sacred
history, and of the four operations, he would at once be led to working
over himself, to reading much, and to refreshing his knowledge.

Thus, the old method was criticized, and a new one was taken from the
Germans. This method is so foreign to our Russian un-pedantic mental
attitude, its monstrosity is so glaring, that one would think that it
could never have been grafted on Russia, and yet it is being applied,
even though only in a small measure, and in some way gives at times
better results than the old church method. This is due to the fact that,
since it was taken in our country (just as it originated in Germany)
from the criticism of the old method, the faults of the former method
have really been rejected, though, in its extreme opposition to the old
method, which, with the pedantry characteristic of the Germans, has been
carried to the farthest extreme, there have appeared new faults, which
are almost greater than the former ones.

Formerly reading was taught in Russia by attaching to the consonants
useless endings (buki--uki, vyedi--yedi), and in Germany es em
de ce, and so forth, by attaching a vowel to each consonant, now in
front, and now behind, and that caused some difficulty. Now they have
fallen into the other extreme, by trying to pronounce the consonants
without the vowels, which is an apparent impossibility. In Ushinski's
grammar (Ushinski is with us the father of the sound method), and in all
the manuals on sound, a consonant is defined thus: "That sound which
cannot be pronounced by itself." And it is this sound which the pupil is
taught before any other. When I remarked that it is impossible to
pronounce b alone, but that it always gives you b[)u], I was told
that was due to the inability of some persons, and that it took great
skill to pronounce a consonant. And I have myself seen a teacher correct
a pupil more than ten times, though he seemed quite satisfactorily to
pronounce short b, until at last the pupil began to talk nonsense. And
it is with these b's, that is, sounds that cannot be pronounced, as
Ushinski defines them, or the pronunciation of which demands special
skill, that the instruction of reading begins according to the pedantic
German manuals.

Formerly syllables were senselessly learned by heart (that was bad);
diametrically opposed to this, the new fashion enjoins us not to divide
up into syllables at all, which is absolutely impossible in a long word,
and which in reality is never done. Every teacher, according to the
sound method, feels the necessity of letting a pupil rest after a part
of a word, having him pronounce it separately. Formerly they used to
read the psalter, which, on account of its high and deep style, is
incomprehensible to the children (which was bad); in contrast to this
the children are made to read sentences without any contents whatever,
to explain intelligible words, or to learn by heart what they cannot
understand. In the old school the teacher did not speak to the pupil at
all; now the teacher is ordered to talk to them on anything and
everything, on what they know already, or what they do not need to know.
In mathematics they formerly learned by heart the definition of
operations, but now they no longer have anything to do with operations,
for, according to Evtushevski, they reach numeration only in the third
year, and it is assumed that for a whole year they are to be taught
nothing but numbers up to ten. Formerly the pupils were made to work
with large abstract numbers, without paying any attention to the other
side of mathematics, to the disentanglement of the problem (the
formation of an equation). Now they are taught solving puzzles, forming
equations with small numbers before they know numeration and how to
operate with numbers, though experience teaches any teacher that the
difficulty of forming equations or the solution of puzzles are overcome
by a general development in life, and not in school.

It has been observed--quite correctly--that there is no greater aid for
a pupil, when he is puzzled by a problem with large numbers, than to
give him the same problem with smaller numbers. The pupil, who in life
learns to grope through problems with small numbers, is conscious of the
process of solving, and transfers this process to the problem with large
numbers. Having observed this, the new pedagogues try to teach only the
solving of puzzles with small numbers, that is, what cannot form the
subject of instruction and is only the work of life.

In the instruction of grammar the new school has again remained
consistent with its point of departure,--with the criticism of the old
and the adoption of the diametrically opposite method. Formerly they
used to learn by heart the definition of the parts of speech, and from
etymology passed over to syntax; now they not only begin with syntax,
but even with logic, which the children are supposed to acquire.
According to the grammar of Mr. Bunakov, which is an abbreviation of
Perevlevski's grammar, even with the same choice of examples, the study
of grammar begins with syntactical analysis, which is so difficult and,
I will say, so uncertain for the Russian language, which does not fully
comply with the classic forms of syntax. To sum up, the new school has
removed certain disadvantages, of which the chief are the superfluous
addition to the consonants and the memorizing of definitions, and in
this it is superior to the old method, and in reading and writing
sometimes gives better results; but, on the other hand, it has
introduced new defects, which are that the contents of the reading are
most senseless and that arithmetic is no longer taught as a study.

In practice (I can refer in this to all the inspectors of schools, to
all the members of school councils, who have visited the schools, and to
all the teachers), in practice, in the majority of schools, where the
German method is prescribed, this is what takes place, with rare
exceptions. The children learn not by the sound system, but by the
method of letter composition; instead of saying b, v, they say
b[)u], v[)u], and break up the words into syllables. The object
instruction is entirely lost sight of, arithmetic does not proceed at
all, and the children have absolutely nothing to read. The teachers
quite unconsciously depart from the theoretical demands and fall in with
the needs of the masses. These practical results, which are repeated
everywhere, should, it seems, prove the incorrectness of the method
itself; but among the pedagogues, those that write manuals and prescribe
rules, there exists such a complete ignorance of and aversion to the
knowledge of the masses and their demands that the relation of reality
to these methods does not in the least impair the progress of their
business. It is hard to imagine the conception about the masses which
exists in this world of the pedagogues, and from which result their
method and all the consequent manner of instruction.

Mr. Bunakov, in proof of how necessary the object instruction and
development is for the children of a Russian school, with extraordinary
naivete adduces Pestalozzi's words: "Let any one who has lived among the
common people," he says, "contradict my words that there is nothing more
difficult than to impart any idea to these creatures. Nobody, indeed,
gainsays that. The Swiss pastors affirm that when the people come to
them to receive instruction they do not understand what they are told,
and the pastors do not understand what the people say to them. City
dwellers who settle in the country are amazed at the inability of the
country population to express themselves; years pass before the country
servants learn to express themselves to their masters." This relation of
the common people in Switzerland to the cultured class is assumed as the
foundation for just such a relation in Russia.

I regard it as superfluous to expatiate on what is known to everybody,
that in Germany the people speak a special language, called
Plattdeutsch, and that in the German part of Switzerland this
Plattdeutsch is especially far removed from the German language, whereas
in Russia we frequently speak a bad language, while the masses always
speak a good Russian, and that in Russia it will be more correct to put
these words of Pestalozzi in the mouth of peasants speaking of the
teachers. A peasant and his boy will say quite correctly that it is very
hard to understand what those creatures, meaning the teachers, say. The
ignorance about the masses is so complete in this world of the
pedagogues that they boldly say that to the peasant school come little
savages, and therefore boldly teach them what is down and what up, that
a blackboard is placed on a stand, and that underneath it there is a
groove. They do not know that if the pupils asked the teacher, there
would turn up very many things which the teacher would not know; that,
for example, if you rub off the paint from the board, nearly any boy
will tell you of what kind of wood the board is made, whether of pine,
linden, or aspen, which the teacher cannot tell; that a boy will always
tell better than the teacher about a cat or a chicken, because he has
observed them better than the teacher; that instead of the problem about
the wagons the boy knows the problems about the crows, about the cattle,
and about the geese. (About the crows: There flies a flock of crows, and
there stand some oak-trees: if two crows alight on each, a crow will be
lacking; if one on each, an oak-tree will be lacking. How many crows and
how many oak-trees are there? About the cattle: For one hundred roubles
buy one hundred animals,--calves at half a rouble, cows at three
roubles, and oxen at ten roubles. How many oxen, cows, and calves are
there?) The pedagogues of the German school do not even suspect that
quickness of perception, that real vital development, that contempt for
everything false, that ready ridicule of everything false, which are
inherent in every Russian peasant boy,--and only on that account so
boldly (as I myself have seen), under the fire of forty pairs of
intelligent youthful eyes, perform their tricks at the risk of ridicule.
For this reason, a real teacher, who knows the masses, no matter how
sternly he is enjoined to teach the peasant children what is up and what
down, and that two and three is five, not one real teacher, who knows
the pupils with whom he has to deal, will be able to do that.

Thus, the chief causes which have led us into such error are: (1) the
ignorance about the masses; (2) the involuntarily seductive ease of
teaching the children what they already know; (3) our proneness to
imitate the Germans, and (4) the criticism of the old, without putting
down a new, foundation. This last cause has led the pedagogues of the
new school to this, that, in spite of the extreme external difference of
the new method from the old, it is identical with it in its foundation,
and, consequently, in the methods of instruction and in the results. In
either method the essential principle consists in the teacher's firm and
absolute knowledge of what to teach and how to teach, and this knowledge
of his he does not draw from the demands of the masses and from
experience, but simply decides theoretically once for all that he must
teach this or that and in such a way, and so he teaches. The pedagogue
of the ancient school, which for briefness' sake I shall call the church
school, knows firmly and absolutely that he must teach from the
prayer-book and the psalter by making the children learn by rote, and he
admits no alterations in his methods; in the same manner the teacher of
the new, the German, school knows firmly and absolutely that he must
teach according to Bunakov and Evtushevski, begin with the words
"whisker" and "wasp," ask what is up and what down, and tell about the
favourite suslik, and he admits no alterations in his method. Both of
them base their opinion on the firm conviction that they know the best
methods. From the identity of the foundations arises also a further
similarity. If you tell a teacher of the church reading that it takes
the children a long time and causes them difficulty to acquire reading
and writing, he will reply that the main interest is not in the reading
and writing, but in the "divine instruction," by which he means the
study of the church books. The same you will be told by a teacher of
Russian reading according to the German method. He will tell you (all
say and write it) that the main question is not the rapidity of the
acquisition of the art of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but in the
"development." Both place the aim of instruction in something
independent of reading, writing, and arithmetic, that is, of science, in
something else, which is absolutely necessary.

This similarity continues down to the minutest details. In either method
all instruction previous to the school, all knowledge acquired outside
the school, is not taken into account,--all entering pupils are regarded
as equally ignorant, and all are made to learn from the beginning. If a
boy who knows the letters and the syllables a, be, enters a church
school, he is made to change them to buki-az--ba. The same is true
of the German school.

Just so, in either school it happens that some children cannot learn the

Just so, with either method, the mechanical side of instruction
predominates over the mental. In either school the pupils excel in a
good handwriting and good enunciation with absolutely exact reading,
that is, not as it is spoken, but as it is written. Just so, with either
method, there always reigns an external order in the school, and the
children are in constant fear and can be guided only with the greatest
severity. Mr. Korolev has incidentally remarked that in instruction
according to the sound method blows are not neglected. I have seen the
same in the schools of the German method, and I assume that without
blows it is impossible to get along even in the new German school,
because, like the church school, it teaches without asking what the
pupil finds interesting to know, but what, in the teacher's opinion,
seems necessary, and so the school can be based only on compulsion.
Compulsion is attained with children generally by means of blows. The
church and

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