Sunday, August 2, 2009

Janusz Korczak The Children's Republic

The child's disguises are like no other of a professional actor and can beguile the most astute of observers who are thrown off guard by the masks the child wears.The children were in temporary quarters until October 1912 and were in the countryside where their lively imagination of wild animals was given full reign. Children's' imaginations are much more supple and fertile than ours grown frigid and partially sterile with age and insensitivity. The description of the Krochmalna street orphanage widely contrasts with the rat infested environment of these children of the slums.Korczak and Stefa went from bed to bed comforting the children and all that mattered in the world is that this experiment not fail. Never ending were the surprises from the children and they resisted the advantages of the orphanage ,the orphanage itself ,with "absolute resistance and resentment."

  • they were dwarfed by routine and impersonal necessity.

  • they were unmoved by Korczak's ' dignity of work'

  • His restraint paid off and the children eventually flocked around him.

The Children´s Republic The child-a skilled actor with a hundred masks: a
different one for his mother, father, grandmother or grandfather, for a stern or
lenient teacher, for the cook or maid, for his own friends, for the rich and
poor. Naive and cunning, humble and haughty, gentle and vengeful, well behaved
and willful, he disguises himself so well that he can lead us by the nose.-
to love a Child

Because the orphanage wasn´t completed on schedule, the children were unable to move in until October of 1912. They had already vacated their former shelter and were forced to wait in temporary quarters in the countryside long after it had been deserted by summer vacationers. Used to the bustle of the crowded city slums, they were filled with anxiety, imagining the surrounding woods to be full of cannibals and wild animals. When "those noisy, frozen, excited, impudent" boys and girls finally arrived at 92 Krochmalna one rainy afternoon, they were still carrying sticks and clubs from their woodland games and looked a little wild themselves.
The four-storied white house, one of the first in Warsaw to have central heating and electricity, loomed before the orphans like something out of a fairy tale. They wandered breathlessly through the huge first floor room, with its tall windows and two-story cathedral ceiling, that was to serve as a dining hall, study, and play area, and stared in disbelief at the tiled bathrooms with toilets that flushed, and with gleaming porcelain sinks equipped with both hot and cold running water, all so unlike the foul, rat-infested outhouses they had known. Everything, even the tiled kitchen, was clean and beautiful, as if designed for very important people. After dinner, the children were bathed in the large porcelain tubs.
Then, dressed in warm nightclothes, they were shown to their assigned beds in the boys´ and girls´ dormitories, which were separated by a small glassed-in room from which Korczak planned to observe and reassure them.
The smallest children were given iron cots separated by wooden partitions, which Korczak had designed with a wide hole in the middle in case they woke in the night and needed to reach out for someone. But still they were scared, large and small alike. One of the girls, who had never slept without her two sisters huddled against her on their dirty straw pallet, burst into tears. And a boy who had never seen a bed with white sheets before crawled under it. Korczak and Stefa went from cot to cot, touching the children, kissing them, comforting them, until everyone was asleep. Setting up their little republic was to prove a sixteen-hour-a-day job-without breaks, holidays, or weekends, Korczak would say. And Stefa would recall that for the first few years she was so busy she couldn´t take part in the real life of Warsaw. she might as well have been living, in a provincial town. But for both of them all that mattered was that this shared experiment not fail.
As it turned out, Korczak would refer to that first year of the Orphans Home as the worst year of his life. He had believed that after his camp experiences he could never again be taken by surprise, but he was wrong. Rather than appreciating their new accommodations and accepting the rules of communal life, the children had "declared war" even before he realized what was going on. For the second time he was confronted by a menacing community before whom he stood helpless. Overwhelmed by all his regulations, the children adopted a position ofabsolute resistance that no cajoling could overcome. Coercion produced resentment. The new home they had been waiting for so eagerly had become hateful.
Only later did Korczak realize how difficult it was for the children to give up their old way of life. Shabby and imperfect as their former shelter had been, lacking light and adequate furnishings, they actually missed it. They were "dwarfed by the magnificence´' of this new setting. The "impersonal necessity" of a regular routine seemed to "erase" them. Those children who had been leaders wilted and failed; those who had been cooperative now balked at every turn. They were unmoved by Korczak's lofty sentiments about the dignity of work. (" A clean polished table is as important as a neatly written page.") They watched skeptically as he placed the mop and broom, which he proclaimed noble works of art, in a place of honor by the dormitory door.
Refusing to bow down to a mop and a broom, they rebelled, became conspiratorial. They put pebbles down the washbasins, disconnected the bell, scribbled on the walls. They spread rumors at lunch that a worm had been found in the soup, and refused to eat. They took bread from the table, which was forbidden, and hid it under their pillows and mattresses. Things would get irretrievably lost or misplaced. Who did it? No one knew. Who spilled it? Who broke it? Silence.
Sometimes, when Korczak was shouting-"Stealing again! I´m not going to waste my energy on the education of crooks!"-he found his voice breaking and his eyes smarting with tears offrustration. He consoled himself that every new teacher must experience this difficult testing hour. But he knew that, no matter how harassed he felt, he had to give the impression that he was in control of the community. He learned not to "fly off the handle, " even when one of the biggest rascals broke an expensive china urinal while cleaning it, and not long after a jar containing more than a gallon of cod-liver oil. His restraint paid off; it won him "an ally " Slowly the "collective conscience" was aroused. Day by day a few more children came over to his side.
After six months, when everyone was finally beginning to settle in, fifty new children were admitted. Once again the little community was in turmoil as the newcomers rebelled and defied authority. The new staff also caused problems. A school had been organized in the home by the philanthropists, but the teachers they hired walked about like "aristocrats, " creating an "abyss" between themselves and the cook, janitor, and washerwoman, to whom they felt superior. Hating pedantry of any kind (he often said he would rather leave a child in the care of an old woman who had bred chickens for five years than with a newly graduated nurse), Korczak dismissed the teachers, who he truly did believe were less essential than the menial workers who kept the orphanage functioning. He sent the children off to schools in the area, retaining only one instructor to help with homework.

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