Sukhomlinsky and Steiner: A Comparison

Alan Cockerill


Vasily Sukhomlinsky (1918-1970) was the most widely read and influential Soviet educator of the post-war period. He rose to prominence during the 1950s and 1960s as a principal in a rural school who wrote authentically about his educational experience and reflected deeply on its significance. His influence continued to grow after his death, as many of his most significant works were published posthumously. He continues to be widely read throughout the former republics of the Soviet Union, and in China, where much of his work was published during the 1980s and 1990s. Although he does not refer to Rudolf Steiner in any of his works, and his philosophical background as an atheist and communist was very different to Steiner’s, his holistic educational practices bear some striking similarities to those of Waldorf schools. He wrote extensively of the need to educate the heart and hands as well as the head, and demonstrated how this might be done. He was very concerned that children should be emotionally engaged in learning, and that learning should proceed from a sense of wonder. He gave a high priority to aesthetic and moral education, providing opportunities for his students to form close bonds with the natural environment that surrounded them, and fostering qualities such as empathy, curiosity and creativity. He emphasised the importance of physical work, and of practical activities through which students’ knowledge and concern for others could find expression. These and other similarities are explored in this paper.

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