New Humanitarian School
The History of the School
Version One: The history as seen by its headmaster and constitutor
Several approaches to description of the history of foundation of the New Humanitarian School
Approach One: Ideological
The New Humanitarian School (NHS) was set up with some reference to the principle of Moses, who was leading the Hebrews around the desert for forty years so that all those born in slavery died. Therefore, in the beginning, in the 1991-1992 academic year, there was only the first grade at school, and in 1992-1993 there were only two grades: the first and the second (previously the first).
In the NHS there was not a single pupil who was sophisticated enough to know for sure that studying is boring and is worth doing only for getting grades (rather than becoming cleverer), that if you do not know something, it is better to keep silent, or else you will get into trouble, that it is much easier to cheat than to understand, and that teachers are not the people to trust because they are too prone to do something mean, and that the main rule in this life is that you cannot live without lying.
The pupils of our school did not know all these blessings, and so they lived according to different rules.
And in the next few years the standards and values formed at the NHS were conceptually different from those accepted in the Russian educational system in general.
But that is not all. Teachers at the NHS were selected in the same way. From the very start there was not a single Maria Ivanovna (a well-known character of Soviet children’s jokes about school: a stupid but pompous and arrogant bluestocking – translator’s note). A Maria Ivanovna is a teacher who bases their work on the following notorious principles:
1. I am older, and so I know better.
2. I have a higher education (versions: vast teaching experience, PhD degree, etc.), hence I know everything.
3. If a pupil has a different opinion, it is wrong.
4. If a pupil does not want to do what I want him to, he must be forced to do it.
5. If a pupil wants something, it must be something mean.
6. Yesterday, I failed to explain to the husband (versions: a neighbor, a co-worker) who is the boss here, but now I shall explain it to you.
7. Pupils can be incapable (those who cannot be taught) and capable, who can sometimes learn something.
8. Don’t dare to annoy me!
9. And so on, and so forth.
Later, if the authorities of the school happened to lose circumspection and a Maria Ivanovna happened to get into the school, she could not last long because the very atmosphere that had got established in the school was not favorable for her existence here.
And if a talented teacher with innovative pedagogical ideas came here, they could usually find a way of implementing them.
Approach Two: Scientific Pedagogical
In the 1985-86 academic year, when I was working as a teacher in a state-run school, the new headmistress started to oppress me for diverging from the schooling standards of that time (the headmistress termed it as “pedagogical and political illiteracy”). I took to heart pills and started thinking of leaving the school. However, the situation was exacerbated when my nine-graders started to defend me and appealed to Uchitelskaya Gazeta and Moskovsky Komsomolets (the former is the leading newspaper for teachers, and the latter was the most advanced and broad-minded newspaper of that time – translator’s note), so I could not leave at that moment. So I decided to become a postgraduate at the Scientific Research Institute for Theory and History of Pedagogy, a subdivision of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR, and my research supervisor was Academician I.Ya. Lerner. So I became an official member of this extremely authoritative organization, and my “pedagogical illiteracy” immediately acquired a status of research work, which helped me teach my class until they graduated from school.
Being a postgraduate, I was to write a dissertation on the topic “Teaching reflectivity as a condition of forming a creative personality”, which reflected the essence of what I had been doing at school. I took the dissertation seriously and read lots of books sitting in libraries. Besides, my father, who knew and highly estimated Georgy Petrovich Shchedrovitsky, advised me to attend a session of the Moscow Methodological Club (these meetings were then conducted in the Institute of Psychology). After my first meeting I understood that what was going on there was the cutting edge of development of human thought at the time, and after that I apparently did not miss a single seminar of the club up until Georgy Petrovich’s death in 1994.
Therefore, it is fair to state that the NHS stands on three whales.
1. Studying various pieces of research in pedagogy it dawned on me to my surprise that the discrepancy between achievements of the world pedagogy and the reality of the Soviet school was much broader than I had thought. I learnt that modern researchers, such as Edward de Bono, Barry K. Beyer, Robert J. Sternberg, Matthew Lipman, Arthur L. Costa, Selma Wassermann, and many others have elaborated a great number of technologies and methods of development of children’s capabilities, teaching them thinking, understanding and reflectivity, which had been unheard of for the Soviet school. Moreover, even Jan Amos Komenski, back in the 17th century, wrote something different from what the Soviet pedagogy once attributed to him and later copied in one article after another. Thus, the first “whale” of the NHS was the entire observable arsenal of the world’s pedagogical advances.
2. Seminars guided by G.P. Shchedrovitsky were devoted to the system thinking activity methodology. The principles and methods I had managed to master started to be introduced into school activities as a mighty means of organization and development of thinking, activity, understanding and reflectivity of both pupils and teachers. Hence, another “whale” of the NHS was the Moscow Methodological Club and the system thinking activity methodology.
3. My father, G.I. Bogin, devoted the last few decades of his life to research into philological hermeneutics (interpretation and understanding of texts). Developments in the fields of philological hermeneutics can also be called a “whale” of the school.
Approach Three: Phenomenological
As has already been said, only one class, the first grade, has been accepted in the NHS since the very start. There was only one exception in 1998, which will be described later. Furthermore, for some reasons (in particular, insufficient human resources), there were two “gaps”.
in 1991-92 the NHS had one class: the first grade;
in 1992-93 the NHS had two classes: the first and the second grades;
in 1993-94 the NHS had three classes: the first, the second and the third grades;
in 1994-95 the NHS had four classes: the first, the second, the third and the fifth grades;
in 1995-96 the NHS had four classes: the second, the third, the fifth and the sixth grades;
in 1996-97 the NHS had four classes: the third, the fifth, the sixth and the seventh grades;
in 1997-98 the NHS had five classes: the first, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh and the eighth grades;
in 1998-99 the NHS had eight classes: the first, the second, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth grades and two classes (the seventh and eleventh grades) from a private school that had been closed;
in 1999-2000 the NHS had eight classes: the first, the second, the seventh, the eighth (two classes), the ninth and the tenth grades;
in 2000-01 the NHS had nine classes (the first grade was accepted and the eleventh grade left); there were the following grades: I, II, III, V, VIII, IX, IX, X and XI;
in 2001-02 the NHS had nine classes (the first grade was accepted and the eleventh grade left); there were the following grades: I, II, III, V, VI, IX, X, X and XI;
in 2002-03 the NHS had nine classes (the first grade was accepted and the eleventh grade left); there were the following grades: I, II, III, IV, VI, VII, X, XI and XI;
in 2003-04 the NHS had eight classes (the first grade was accepted and the eleventh grade left); there were the following grades: I, II, III, IV, V, VII, VIII and XI…
Approach Four: Economic
There was a good person, banker Viktor Pavlov, whom I met at the organizational activity games. At that time I was on the team of game technologists led by A.E. Levintov, while Viktor was a manager (these games were initially designed for managers) and later an active participant and sponsor of these games. Being aware of my fanatic belief that only education can save this country, he called me once and asked if 300,000-500,000 rubles would be enough for me to start my own school. This was either late 1990 or early 1991, and so this money was enough. Thus, the school was free of charge at the start. Viktor Pavlov regularly gave money for the school saying: “This is the real thing, and all the other things are vanity.” But then he went bust, and the school started to charge the money from parents.
Approach Five: Hermeneutical
The NHS was set up to some extent as an alternative to the traditional Soviet school, which largely explains its name. First, the traditional Soviet school also had its name (which was official for many years): “the Uniform Polytechnic Comprehensive Labour Secondary School”. Thus, the epithet “humanitarian” was coined as the opposition to it. Second, in the traditional school, subjects have been divided into sciences and humanities on a hardly understandable basis: Geography and the Russian Language have been viewed as humanities, while biology and mathematics as sciences. Hence the word “new”, although it should have been named “the Old Humanitarian School”, since it treats humanities in their initial meaning, as disciplines aimed at making someone a human rather than an appendix to a machine or a mega-machine. From the very start, the NHS has not had a division into sciences and humanities, since school subjects proper do not have such features as being humane or inhumane. Literature, for instance, can be taught in such a way that it cannot be called humanitarian (and sometimes may well be viewed as anti-humanitarian). As for Physics and Geometry, they may well be taught as humanitarian disciplines, since they develop thinking, which is one of the key human features. Archimedes and Pythagoras, incidentally, can hardly be called technicians, while what most Soviet people experienced at their lessons of Russian at school can hardly be called “humanitarian education.”