Monday, April 27, 2009

Henryk (Janus Korczak) and Flying University

By attending "Flying" ,Henryk was perfectly in sync wit the lifelong temperament he always maintained of the socialist reformer/revolutionary(?) The two socialist factions kept alive Polish history and culture ,and these were the two factions of the intelligentsia (students and professors) who attended the school. The "caught" were sent to Siberia or imprisoned or worse.The Czar was determined to stamp them out. Note the atmosphere as he attended his first lecture.The school was an underground clandestine venture,and by the mid 1880's there were over 1000 students in attendance.The secret gatherings provided social and academic opportunities. Zofia Nalkowska the well known later novelist attended these.Note Dawid's studies in Leipzig with Wilhelm Wundt and laid the foundations later espoused by Korczak for liberating the child from conventional restraints, ideas of the natural development of the child earlier by Rousseau, and Pestalozzi's theories of "Progressive Education". Dawid's experiments with the psychological responses of children embedded in Korczak's mind the preeminence of complete and uncompromising objectivity of the scientific research engaged in the study of the child. "observing clearly in order to think clearly" was an emblazoned Korczak precept.

Henryk's character is describably dichotomous. The scientist is suspicious of the artist.

Note the following influences on Henryk's emerging social consciousness:

  • Waclaw Nalkowski a social activist developing modern geography (Zofia's father)

  • Pestalozzi

  • Dawid's experiments measuring psychological responses of children (Child development)

  • Stefania Sempolowska (free lending library)

  • Henryk's ideals were being formed -democratic socialism without class or ethnic divisions-no compromise of principles irrespective of consequences

  • modesty without affectation.

Henryk had met the editor of Voice, Jan Wladyslaw Dawid, Poland´s first
experimental psychologist, when he attended his course at the Flying University.
This underground college, so named because students and professors had to keep
moving from one location to another to escape surveillance by the police,
attracted the finest minds in the country.
Though divided into two socialist
factions-one advocating national independence and the other an international
socialist alliance within the Russian empire-they were united in their
determination to keep alive Polish history and culture,
which the Czar was
determined to stamp out. Those who were caught spent a few weeks, months, or
even years in a prison cell, or in exile in Siberia.
Henryk had been taken
to his first lecture in Dawid´s apartment by his friend Leon Rygier. There were
so many coats in the entrance hall they had trouble finding hooks for their own.
Once inside the candlelit living room, whose shades were drawn to avoid
detection by the police, he was introduced to other students and accepted tea
from Dawid´s wife, Jadwiga Szczawinska, who presided over the samovar with the
same energy she expended on all the projects in which she and her husband were
It was Jadwiga, a woman of formidable organizational ability, who,
while still single, had started the Flying University in her small apartment to
provide education for young women in Polish language and literature. When word
spread about this remarkable clandestine venture, men clamored to be included;
and by the mid-1880s there were over a thousand young students of both sexes
enrolled in courses at various underground locations in Warsaw.
Jadwiga even
managed to set up an extensive scientific library for the university, but her
domineering personality alienated many of the faculty. Her husband, who was
known to "fight like David with Goliath" over issues he believed in, was said to
be powerless when it came to Jadwiga.
The secret gatherings of the Flying U
niversity provided social as well as academic opportunities. Zofia Nalkowska, a
precocious fifteen-year-old who wanted to be an emancipated woman (and who would
become a wellknown novelist), kept a diary of the sessions at the Dawids
apartment during the time that Korczak was there. in one entry she notes that
the girls were really dressed up, but that she looked as attractive as any of
them in her brown dress, which gave her a good figure. She tried to concentrate
on what Dawid was saying, but sometimes found herself glancing over at the boy
with the nice smile who had asked to borrow her notes.
Zofia was not alone
in her criticism of the "wise and clever" professor´s dry , factual delivery,
yet Dawid's reputation as a mumbler who wrote much better than he spoke did not
prevent students from flocking to his courses. He had studied in Leipzig with
the founder of experimental psychology, Wilhelm Wundt, and his lectures were
filled with the radical ideas in education that were sweeping both sides of the
Atlantic at the time: ideas that called for liberating the child from the
conventional restraints of the past.
Rousseau had paved the way for this
pedagogical breakthrough in 1762 with his fictional Emile, a boy who was
encouraged to grow and develop naturally.
And Johann Pestalozzi, working with
real children in his famous boarding school set up in 1805 in Yverdon, laid the
foundation for progressive education.
Korczak considered Pestalozzi one of
the greatest scientists of the nineteenth century. Many of his later ideas on
education, the dignity of work, and the importance of observing clearly in order
to think clearly, reflect the influence of that dedicated Swiss educator. But it
was Dawid´s experiments with measuring the psychological responses of children
at different ages-work that anticipated the field of child development- that
made Henryk decide to do scientific research on the child that would exclude
everything that "smacked of subjectivity."
Already the two sides of Henryk´s
character were jockeying for position: the scientist would always be suspicious
of the artist, keeping him in check by compiling height and weight
charts-material that the artist would seldom find time to correlate.
strong influence on the young medical student was Zofia´s father, Waclaw
Nalkowski, a fiercely outspoken social activist, who developed the field of
modern geography.
" Who knows famous Poles? " Korczak would ask when writing of
Nalkowski. He saw the geographer as a "blazing star in a small firmament," who,
had he been born in a country where there was no Russian censor, would have been
internationally famous.
Henryk also became a lifelong friend of the imposing
Stefania Sempolowska (her trademark a broad-brimmed hat with two ostrich
feathers, and a long black dress with a stylish train), who wrote on natural
history and supported the rights of Jews, peasants, and workers.
Her concern
about educating the illiterate masses led her to become a driving force behind
the Free Lending Library, where Henryk gave his Saturdays to inspiring unruly
children to read.
The Russian authorities, convinced that the library was
spreading atheism and other subversive ideas, conducted constant roundups.
Between raids on the Flying University and the library, Henryk spent "enough
time in the cooler" to have his "rough edges" taken off.
liberals like the Dawids, Nalkowski, and Sempolowska -who stood for a democratic
socialism that refused to recognize class or ethnic divisions
-set the moral
standards of their time; one did not compromise one´s principles no matter the
consequences. Living modestly, without affectation or false ambition, they
became Henryk´s "tutors in the social sphere." Much of the strength he needed to
draw on in later life can be traced to their uncompromising ethical character.
The Poland he felt part of was the one they represented.

No comments:

Post a Comment