On the Evils of Individuality

Iu. V. Idashkin, Some Deviations in the Development of Personality of the Schoolchild and Ways of Overcoming Them. 1961

 

Original Source: Voprosy psikhologii, No. 1 (1961).

Now that our country has entered the period of the comprehensive building of communism, problems of the communist upbringing of the Soviet people, and especially of the youth, acquire important significance. “We are now solving two historical problems,` said N. S. Khrushchev at the All-Russian Congress of Teachers, “the creation of the material and technical base of communism and the education of the new man. This is in essence a single process. If we lag behind in the education and character training of the Soviet people, then the entire matter of building communism is inevitably retarded.”

We are living at a time when each member of our society must participate actively, militantly and with initiative in the building of communism, rather than passively or contemplatively.

The direct participation through work of each member of our society in the building of communism has a two-fold significance: on the one hand, it multiplies the ranks of that army of builders which is really bringing nearer the victory of communism in the country and, on the other hand it instills and molds the personality traits of the new man – the man of the communist tomorrow.

For this reason our society has declared a decisive and merciless war on every idler, parasite and other morally depraved person who is striving in one way or another to avoid socially useful labor and to enjoy the benefits of society without giving society anything in exchange.

It is no secret that among such renegades there are even representatives of the youth, largely from the ranks of yesterday’s schoolchildren. It is evident that this is largely due to the serious shortcomings in the educational and character-training work of the schools, which has not yet fully overcome its lack of contact with life.

The measures taken by the Party and the Government to strengthen the ties of the school with life and for the further development of public education in the country lay the basis for a radical reorganization of the entire educational and character training work of the school, for the combining of study with socially useful labor, in order that the knowledge mastered in school is transformed, in the phrase of N. S. Khrushchev, “into deep ideological. convictions, the kind of convictions which create strong feelings, and which are manifested in deeds and in actions for the welfare of the people.”

However it would be a serious mistake to think that the socially useful work of the schoolchildren will by itself solve at once all of the problems involved in the formation of personality.

One of the basic goals of the schools, as N. S. Khrushchev defined it in his speech at the All-Russian Congress of Teachers, consists of “instilling in the students the ability to work collectively, i.e., in the final analysis, the ability to live and to work in a communist manner.” But this ability “to live and to work in a communist manner” must be developed by the entire system of educational influences exerted both in the school and outside of it. In the present article we do not propose to examine the whole complex of questions connected with the problem of the molding of the personality of a schoolchild. We will deal only with individual problems concerning the organization of educational work in the school which in our view, are closely connected with the causes of some deviations in the development of the personality of the schoolchild.

The personality of a man emerges and is molded in its real, objective interrelations with reality, i.e., in the final analysis, with society. The normal development of the personality always presupposes a correct relationship between the individual and society. However, the, process of establishing this relationship is not an automatic one. An indissolubly united process of character training and instruction plays a decisive role in the molding of the personality. Pedagogical influences must, as A. S. Makarenko so vividly put it, “design the human personality, achieving this through a purposeful organization of the life and activity of the child and, in the first place, through the organization of his interrelations with. the people around him. In essence, the interrelations of the schoolchild with those in his environment appear, on the subjective level for the schoolchild himself, in the form of his concrete relation to the different forms of the school collective – the class, the school, the Young Pioneer detachment or squad, to the persons who organize and lead these groups – the teachers, the Young Pioneer organizers and leaders, etc., and also to the family and parents –

Makarenko’s idea that correct Soviet character training is possible only in a system of correct relations between the individual and the collective has long become a principle of Soviet pedagogy. However the distinguished Soviet pedagogue always emphasized that in the objectively developed relations between the individual and the collective the character and concrete content of the subjective relation of the individual to the collective acquires enormous significance, namely, on what this relation is built, the motives by which it is determined., the experiences connected with it and, as a consequence of all of this, the concrete qualities of the personality which this relation molds.

This very situation is by no means always taken into account in daily pedagogical work.

Proceeding from the fact that upon entering the collective of the school, and of the Pioneer detachment, the child simultaneously enters into objective relations with the people around him, many pedagogues are inclined to believe that the future development of the schoolchild’s personality is achieved according to the principle of the “self-regulating system.” In accordance with such a position the pedagogue regards it as his task to keep an eye on the normal functioning of the “class organism,” taking measures only to eliminate such abnormalities as lack of progress and discipline.

But in this case we are left without any knowledge of how the objective relations in which the schoolchild finds himself become relations for him personally, of how these relations acquire “personal” meaning, and what sort of meaning, of how they mold the qualities of the personality. Occasionally it turns out that even such “objective and dependable” signs of the condition of the collective as evaluations of progress and discipline in reality show exactly nothing, because knowledge acquired by the schoolchildren which is not transformed into convictions remains as formal baggage, and discipline which amounts to more or less satisfactory obedience does not become, as A. S. Makarenko said, “a moral and political phenomenon.”

All of the above is quite well known from psychological literature. It was demonstrated long ago that the unique individuality of the life histories of schoolchildren, the peculiarities of family upbringing of necessity also determine the character of the relations with the class and the school which the child or adolescent enters. And although it is quite evident that this demands an exceptionally careful individual approach to each pupil, a careful and thoughtful determination of his individual position in the group without which any interaction with the group either loses any meaning or has a negative effect, in school practice individual work with the pupils frequently is replaced by so-called “work with the class.”

It is extremely important to note the following: the loss of pedagogical control over the personal position of the schoolchild leads to consequences which are significantly more grievous than a breach of the external forms of behavior or failure. In a number of instances it appears, in formal terms, from conduct and achievement in school and from success, that all is well. But in the meantime serious breaches arise in the process of molding the personality of the schoolchildren which sometimes have a deeper and more hidden character.

A characteristic example of such a breach took place in 1959 in one of the Moscow schools, when one of the 10th grade students presented in the final examination on literature a piece of work which testified to his complete rejection of Soviet belles-lettres. What is important here is not so much this youth’s immature and often ineffectual literary views and tastes- themselves as the fact that they were expressed by a student who, technically, was completely “satisfactory,” never having received a poor mark in conduct or achievement.

Even a very superficial analysis of a number of incidents involving breaches of the ethical and, occasionally, even the legal norms of our society by individual schoolchildren or by yesterday’s school graduates, which have been described in our periodicals, testify to the fact that the basic cause of these breaches has been the conflict between certain needs and interests of the schoolchild and the immediate school reality, in which they could not be satisfied.

In appraising such incidents it is customary to point out that from the very beginning these needs bore an anomalous character; at the same time the problem regarding the possibility of their satisfaction by the school is generally put aside. But such a view is nothing less than an attempt to free oneself of the responsibility for a “pedagogical catastrophe.” The concrete material of psychological research which we already have at our disposal makes it possible to indicate, with complete definiteness, the quite typical conditions which give rise to deviations in the molding of the schoolchild’s personality.

What are these conditions?

First we note that in the process of school life the pupil is always encountering definite demands on his personality and on his intellectual and practical activity. In a number of cases (and this can occur at any age level) it appears that because of the peculiarity of his previous experience a pupil is not able to respond satisfactorily to one or another of these demands. However the objective situation is such that he is still required to respond to these demands. This is where conflict arises between the pupil and those who make these demands upon him (the school and parents).

If the teacher notices the emerging conflict in time and knows what to do to overcome it, the normal development of the personality will be assured. If however, this does not occur, the pupil will spontaneously seek a way out of the conflict that has been created, and then there is ample opportunity for the emergence and solidification of any negative modes of behavior and, as a consequence of their crystallization, negative forms of relation to reality, beginning with systematic copying and the utilization of prompting and extending to protracted truancy and a persistently pretentious and negative attitude towards teachers, comrades and the school generally.

Further, every child or adolescent develops a claim to a definite place or role in the group as a result of his own previous experience, as’ well as particular interests and inclinations that have been formed. However, the satisfaction of these claims, and also of the interests and inclinations, proves at times. to be impossible. In some cases the real capacities of the child prove, insufficient for the realization of his claims and inclinations in the corresponding practical activity; sometimes the teacher simply does not notice them or does not know how to find concrete forms for their satisfaction. In. both cases a conflict arises between the pupil and the school, and the student develops a persistent negative attitude towards the school and everyone connected with it.

What are the consequences of such conflicts?

First, such a conflict, irrespective of the causes which have produced it, creates an obstacle, already noted in our literature and well known to every teacher, in the way of educational influences, which consists of the complete and stubborn rejection by the child or adolescent of any demand or wish of the teacher. But this means that adoption of the socially accepted forms of behavior, which should occur as a result of the interrelations with the teacher and the school collective, and which as a result of the accumulation of the corresponding behavioral and emotional experience, in the last analysis forms the definite personality traits, in practice is not achieved. Moreover, the schoolchildren naturally develop a tendency to find satisfaction of their pretensions and inclinations outside of school, which is accompanied by an explicit, frequently unintentional “reappraisal of moral values.” Thus a child or adolescent’ well knows the social and moral value of great achievement, participation in social activity and other attainments of school life. However, not having the possibility of attaining these successes for one reason or another, he tries, at times consciously and sometimes even involuntarily, from his new personal situation to deprecate the aforementioned achievements and to give preeminence to successes in other forms of activity which are unrelated to school, and often even conflict with it. It is at this point that those changes in interests, needs and personal pretensions emerge which ultimately lead to deep and serious deviations in the development of the personality.,

Let us illustrate this with several concrete examples.

Victor K., an 8th-grade student of one of the

Moscow schools, had a deep interest in literature. From an early age he showed an inclination for literary creativeness, and tried to write stories for newspapers and magazines. Naturally, his immature conception of the world and meager store of vital observations did not permit him to create works suitable for publication. Lack of success walled up the unhealthy self esteem of the boy and led to a sharply negative, pretentious attitude towards literary criticism, and finally even towards literature as a school subject. He began to ridicule the real and imaginary shortcomings of many published works of belles-lettres and to contrast some unsuccessful Soviet literary works with the popular novels of some Western writers, focusing his main attention not on the ideological aspect of the works but on certain formal methods. His teachers were not able to evaluate correctly the meaning and the causes of what was occurring. The adolescent was not drawn into the work of the school editorial staff or of the literary circle, and his views and inclinations were subjected to public ridicule. Soon Victor became acquainted with a group of loafers and dabblers who gave his literary dreams exaggerated attention and predicted for him a career as a writer. Victor gave up school, leaving the 9th grade. He did not go to work and for more than a year led a parasitic kind of life, preparing, by his own admission, to become a great writer.” Only the timely intervention of the editorial staff of one of the youth newspapers, which had be come interested in the adolescent, gave Victor an opportunity to do literary work suitable to his abilities and inclinations. He abandoned views alien to our society, stopped loafing and being a burden to his parents.

Here is another example.

A 9th- grade student of one of the Moscow schools, Sergei P., was captivated by dancing. At first he tried to organize a school dance group, but he ran up against the resistance of the school administration and the senior Young Pioneer leader, who insisted that only ballroom dancing be practiced in the group. Sergei and some of his friends sought permission to learn the so-called “Western” dances in addition to ballroom dancing. Permission was not granted and, moreover, Sergei was accused of “harmful and amoral” love for jazz music. The group soon broke up, but Sergei, as if as a sign of protest, began with redoubled energy to search for and collect phonograph records and tapes with records of jazz music, and to attend dances on verandas and in pavilions. Soon he became acquainted with a group of parasites and “stilyagas” – habitu»s of these establishments – and began to imitate them in dress and behavior. His progress in school declined sharply, he became rude to his teachers and cynical in his relations with girls. Friendship with shady characters involved him in crime, in making and speculating with recordings of the worst examples of jazz music.

Here is still another example.

Alexander L. was a shy, morbidly vain boy, in poor health. He always studied indifferently. His achievement became particularly poor in the 8th grade. The only subject in which Alexander always did excellently was the English language. This was evidently due to the fact that as a child he studied the language at home. However his teachers, not having examined the reasons for his success in the language, constantly reproached him for his poor achievement in the other subjects, attributing it to laziness, unwillingness to work, and based their reproaches on his excellent marks in the foreign language. Poor health did not permit Alexander to take part in various activities demanding physical strength, and this aggravated his difficult position in the class, which consisted primarily of boys. Alexander tried to leave school and enter a technical school, but the attempt proved unsuccessful: he failed in the competition. Soon after the new school year began in the 9th grade, Alexander accidentally became involved in a conversation with foreigners on a Moscow street. At the end of the conversation some young man approached him and, expressing admiration for Alexander’s knowledge of the language, suggested that they meet again. Having constantly suffered from a lack of appreciation of his own personality, and flattered by the compliments, Alexander agreed. Attracting the adolescent with praise and presents, the new acquaintance gradually involved him in speculation with foreign articles acquired from some foreign “tourists” with the help of Sasha’s knowledge of the language. The speculators gave Alexander a share of the proceeds and the adolescent, feeling himself “materially well-off,” soon left school. Alexander L. appeared at the prisoner’s bench already as a “person without a definite occupation.”

It is apparent from the examples cited that deviations in the molding and development of the personality do not arise, and under our conditions cannot arise, in the form of a direct aspiration for a parasitic way of life, for alien views, rejecting socially useful work. They are always the result of the individual’s having fallen outside the system of normal relationships with the collective, and consequently, also with society, the result of the destruction of an explicit system of behavior characterized by a coincidence of social and individual motivations, the result of the assimilation of other forms of behavior the acquisition of another experience, in the course of which negative personal qualities emerge.

What are the real pedagogical means of averting this kind of deviation in the development of the personality?

We have already stated that one such means is strict adherence to an individual approach to the pupils. But it goes without saying that the primary question is the organization of the collective in the school. This problem is far from being a new one, and yet its importance must be emphasized again and again since familiarity with what is being done in the schools reveals that genuine student collectives by no means exist everywhere. And yet it is precisely the collective which is that basic form of organization of educational influences within whose framework there occurs the gradual balancing of social and individual aims, social and individual motives. It is namely in the collective where the desired coordination of these interests and motives is established. ‘Problems involve conflict between individual and collective aims and problems in harmonizing these aims arise at every step in the activity of the collective,” A. B. Makarenko has written. “If this contradiction between social and private, personal aims is felt in the collective, it means that this is not a Soviet collective, it means that it has been organized incorrectly. And only where individual and social aims coincide, where there is no ‘disharmony’ at all, is there a Soviet collective.”

It is quite evident that it is precisely the collective which can and must assimilate the diverse private, personal aims, inclinations and individual expectations give them a socially useful character and find a proper relationship between them and the common aims of the collective.

However the success of this process depends, among other things, on two conditions which are often the most vulnerable phases in the educational work of the school. We have in mind first, that style of pedagogical work and, consequently, also that atmosphere in the collective which Makarenko imaginatively called the “work enthusiasm of constant accumulation,” and, second, the independent activity of the collective.

The creation of a cheerful atmosphere in the collective, full of constant work enthusiasm and of that “major key,” the necessity of which Makarenko persistently emphasized, has enormous psychological significance. All school. life must be filled with emotional attractiveness, satiated with optimism, permeated with a clear realization of immediate and long-range perspectives – both individual and social. But this can be achieved only by skillful combination of the forms of intra- school and out-of- school work, demanding genuine pedagogical creativity from the entire teaching staff.

Within the limits of the present article, we cannot subject to analysis the concrete, extremely interesting experience in the organization of educational work which has been accumulated, in particular, in Moscow schools numbers 174, 182, 1109 9611, 605, 248 and several others, and in School No. 210 of Leningrad. Let us only say that in these schools, as well as in a number of other schools of the country,. an atmosphere of genuine enthusiasm has been created, which is supported by the skillful utilization of school traditions, by the correct application of emotionally attractive forms of out-of-class work, and what is most important – by a strict observance of the principle of independent activity in the children’s organizations. Meanwhile a great many teachers are still not resolved. in practice to give the children’s or young people’s collective definite independence, to organize its activity as independent activity.

Here is what the well-known Moscow educator, T. A. Panfilova, Director of Secondary School No. 248, says on this matter: “The School Law has brought into the life of the child and the teacher much that is new and fresh. And yet old forms and methods, based only on the indisputable authority of the teacher, often still predominate in educational work. This hinders the development of activeness and independence in the children very much. As before, we watch over our young people too much, we are- afraid of giving them independence. A Komsomol or class meeting without the class teacher or the director is a rarity in the schools. The debates, talks and discussions often possess an excessively ‘prepared’ character and proceed under the aegis of the teacher. This restricts the children and deprives them of initiative.” And V. I. Lenin in his time clearly indicated that “without complete independence the youth are unable to produce good socialists from their midst or to prepare themselves for carrying socialism forward.” V. I. Lenin’s point has exceptionally important significance.

The Young Pioneer and Komsomol organizations are primarily political organizations. However the characteristic development of these organizations (we have in mind the Komsomol organization in the school) does not permit using only reports, lectures and talks to introduce political aims in their activities. The introduction of these aims can be achieved only through such an organization of work with children and adolescents in which the activity of the pupils is converted into independent activity really determined by a social need experienced by them and not on instructions from outside.

The achievement of such activity is required for the -realization of those needs and aims of the collective, as the nucleus of society, which are real and common. Only in such activity is genuine communist conviction formed; only on the basis of such activity does that creation of “good socialists” from the youth take place which V. I. Lenin spoke about. Correctly organized independent activity leads to the accumulation of the most important moral and political experience of behavior, and strengthens the stable social modes. of behavior, which lead to the molding of the necessary qualities of personality.

Thus a strictly differentiated individual approach to the pupils, organization of a completely valuable collective of the class, and of the school, living a full-blooded and emotionally attractive life, and capable of assimilating and directing any of the schoolchildren’s interests, and the skillful organization of the independent activity of the children’s and youth organizations – here are the most important, although not the only conditions, which must be strictly observed to prevent deviations in the development of the. schoolchild’s personality.

Source: Fred Ablin, ed., Education in the USSR; a collection of readings from Soviet journals. New York: International Arts & Sciences Press, 1963.

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