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Tolstoy as a Schoolmaster

교사로서의 톨스토이


By Ernest Howard Crosby

 

 

 

Chapter 9

Other Classes

Tolstoy had as much difficulty in teaching geography as in history. The children showed no interest at all in the fact that the earth revolves on its axis and passes round the sun. When he began to teach in which continents the various countries are, they saw no use for such information. Just as in history he tried to begin with their own time, he now made the experiment of teaching geography beginning at their own village. They took some interest in the next village, but they knew it already without study. The place beyond altogether failed to arouse their curiosity. They would listen to stories about different countries, provided always that there was no geography in them, but that was all. And when they found that the stories were intended to hoodwink them into learning geography, they resented the fraud and took a strong dislike to the class.

Tolstoy concludes that the study of geography in schools is a mistake. He quotes with approval the saying of a character in a Russian comedy:

"What's the good of learning all the countries? The coachman will take you wherever you have to go."

As a teacher he felt in himself a whole world of information regarding nature, art and poetry which he had no time to communicate to the children. There are thousands of questions about the life around us to answer before we begin to tell about the tropics and the polar regions. Children have no natural taste for geography, and the first thing to do, if it is to be studied, is to awaken that taste. Tolstoy suggests the reading of travels as a means to this end. I would be tempted to add, as even a more efficient awakener, the collecting of postage-stamps. The ordinary boy learns much more in this way than from the best of teachers.

In his book, What is Art? Tolstoy has fully explained his belief that the poetry, music and painting of the day have grown up in a stifling atmosphere, and that they are degenerate products. He had already formed these opinions in the days of the Yasnaia school. The children were bored by the best poetry, but they enjoyed the rude popular songs of the peasantry, and Tolstoy thinks that these latter exhibit the truer art. Hence it is natural that he should not have been altogether satisfied with the instruction which he gave to the boys in music and drawing, for from his own point of view, he should have been the pupil and they the teachers. He declares that the boys sang better when left to themselves, before receiving lessons, than they did afterwards; but it must be remembered that the Russians are a musical people, and possess a treasure of national song.

In drawing he tried to give them all the freedom possible, and he points out that if they are made to copy and imitate at school they will go on merely copying and imitating all their lives. And in all things he would leave their own taste unaffected by the taste of the teacher, which he regards as necessarily vitiated. The child has the same right to its preferences which the master has, and his taste is less likely to be warped and distorted.

It must not be supposed that Tolstoy reached his views on education without studying fully the methods in vogue in Europe. He visited the schools of Germany, France and Switzerland, and questioned teachers and pupils with the object of learning all that could be learned from them. He made a special study of this kind at Marseilles (this was in the early sixties, I think), and was soon satisfied that the schools of that city were of very little use. Yet he found the inhabitants of Marseilles particularly intelligent, clever and civilized. What was the explanation? It was this. They had obtained their education outside of the schools, in the streets, the cafés, theatres, workshops and museums, and by reading such books as the novels of Dumas. This is the natural school, he says, which has undermined the artificial school, and has left hardly anything of it except its despotic form.

He infers that the more a people advances, the more does true education desert the school for the region of real life outside. And the effort of a school which wishes to adapt itself to this progress should be to answer the questions suggested by the home life of the pupil, for it is in his home and among his neighbours that he is brought face to face with life. The prevailing education of the day Tolstoy condemns as moral despotism, the determination of one individual to make another individual exactly like himself, and this he declares to be an unjustifiable invasion of the rights of the individual. We have no ethical right to do it.

He draws an amusing contrast between a child while suffering from this kind of education at school, "anxious, repressed, with an expression of weariness, fear and listlessness, repeating mechanically strange words in a strange language, a creature whose soul has retired like a snail into its shell," and the same child in the street or at home, "enjoying life, wishing to learn, a smile on his face, seeking to develop in every way, and expressing his ideas clearly when he speaks."

Fifteen years after his experiments in school-teaching Tolstoy sums up his deductions in an essay on "Public Instruction." The sole basis of education, he asserts, is freedom -- the freedom of the people to organize their own schools, and of the pupil to make up his own mind as to what he will learn and how he will learn it. And experience alone can point out the best method by indicating the most natural rapport between teacher and scholars. In each concrete case the actual degree of liberty will depend upon the master's talents and sympathy, but he insists upon the general principle that the less the restraint the better the school.

 

 

   
   

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