Leo Tolstoy: His Life and Work/Chapter 14
Tolstoy had several times started on educational work.
As far back as 1849, when he returned to Yasnaya Polyana from St. Petersburg, along with other institutions and reforms by means of which he tried to approach the people, he established a school for peasant children. From his "A Russian Proprietor" we know how unsuccessful these first attempts were. With his departure for the Caucasus, the school was closed. He reopened it on his return to Yasnaya Polyana after his resignation and his first journey abroad, as was mentioned in the proper place.
On recommencing his school work, Tolstoy soon realized his lack of theoretical knowledge and hastened to fill the void in his education by reading, foreign travel, personal relations with prominent educationists, and practical work in different schools. Feeling himself thus restored, he for the third time and with better zeal turned to his school and carried it up to a remarkably high level.
In one of his educational articles, he thus relates his endeavors and preparations to found a school:
[Tolstoy writes] Fifteen years ago, when I took up the matter of popular education without any preconceived theories or views on the subject, with the one desire to advance the matter in a direct and straightforward manner, I, as a teacher in my school, was at once confronted with two questions: (1) What must I teach? and (2) How must I teach it.?...
In the whole mass of people who are interested in education, there exists, as there has existed before, the greatest diversity of opinions. Formerly, just as now, some in reply to the question of what ought to be taught, said that outside the rudiments, the most useful information to give in a primary school is taken from the natural sciences; others, even as now, that this was not necessary, and was even injurious; while some, as now, proposed history or geography, and others denied their necessity; some proposed the Ecclesiastic-Slavonic language and grammar to be taken in connection with religion; others found that superfluous and ascribed a prime importance to "development". On the question of how to teach, there has always been a still greater diversity of answers. The most diversified methods of instructing in reading and arithmetic have been proposed...
When I encountered these questions and found no answer for them in Russian literature, I turned to the literature of Europe. After having read what had been written on the subject, and having made the personal acquaintance of the so-called best representatives of the science of education in Europe, I not only failed to find anywhere an answer to the question I was interested in, but I convinced myself that this question does not even exist in connection with any science of Education as such; as every educationist of every given school firmly believed that the methods he used were the best, because they were founded on absolute truth, and that it would be useless for him to look at them with a critical eye.
However, because, as I said, I took up the matter of popular education without any preconceived notions, or else because I took up the matter without getting hold of laws from a distance as to how I ought to teach, but became a schoolmaster in a village popular school in the backwoods -- I could not reject the idea that there must of necessity exist some criterion by means of which I could solve the question of what to teach and how to teach it. Should I teach by heart the psalter or the classification of the organisms? Should I teach according to the sound-alphabet, taken from the Germans, or simply use the prayer-book? In the solution of this question I was aided by a certain tact in teaching, with which I am gifted, and especially by that close and passionate interest which I took in the subject.
When I entered at once into the close and direct relations with those forty tiny peasants that formed by school (I call them peasants because I found in them the same characteristics of perspicacity, the same immense store of information from practical life, of jocularity, simplicity, and loathing for everything false, which distinguishes the Russian peasant), when I saw their susceptibility, their readiness to acquire the information which they needed, I felt at once that the antiquated church method of instruction had outlived its usefulness and was of no use to them. I began to experiment on other proposed methods of instruction; but because compulsion in education, both by my conviction and my character, are repulsive to me, I did not exercise any pressure, and the moment I noticed that something was not readily received, I did not put any compulsion on the pupils but looked for something else. From these experiments it appeared to me and to those teachers who gave instruction with me at Yasnaya Polyana and in other schools on the same principles of freedom, that nearly everything which in the educational world was written about schools was separated by an immeasurable abyss from the truth, and that many of the proposed methods, such as object-lessons, the teaching of natural sciences, the sound method, and others, called forth contempt and ridicule, and were not accepted by the pupils. We began to look for those contents and those methods which were readily taken up by the pupils and hit upon that which forms my method of instruction.
But this method stood in a line with all other methods, and the question why it was better than the rest remained unsolved as before....
At that time I found no sympathy in all the educational literature, indeed not even any contradiction, but simply complete indifference in regard to the question which I put. There were some favorable criticisms of certain trifling details, but the question itself evidently did not interest any one. I was young then, and this indifference grieved me. I did not understand that with my question "How do you know what to teach and how to teach?" I was like a man who, let us say, in a gathering of Turkish pashas who were discussing the question in what manner they could collect the greatest amount of revenue from the people, should make them the following proposition: "Gentlemen, before considering how much revenue to collect from each, we must first analyze the question on what your right to exact that revenue is based." Obviously, all the pashas would continue their discussion of the measures of extortion, and would reply only with silence to his irrelevant remark.
Tolstoy's letters from abroad show the interest which he took in the school while he was away. During the whole of the time the teaching in the school went on without ceasing. It continued with greater regularity after his return to Yasnaya Polyana in the spring of 1861, and in 1862, as Tolstoy says in his article on Education:
[Tolstoy writes] Fourteen schools were opened in a district containing ten thousand souls when I was a rural judge, besides which there existed about ten schools in the district among the clericals and on the manors among the servants. In the three remaining districts of the county there were fifteen large and thirty small schools among the clericals and manorial servants....
Everybody will agree that, leaving aside the question of the quality of instruction, such a relation of the teacher to the parents and peasants is most just, natural and desirable.
Finally, we may mention the names of the teachers of the schools under Tolstoy's jurisdiction where his views on the education of the people were supported. In the Golovenkovskiy school, the teacher was one Aleksandr Serdobolskiy, a pupil of the Kazan gymnasium; in the Trasnenskiy school, Ivan Aksentev, a pupil of the Penza gymnasium; in Lomintsevok, Aleksey Shumilin, a pupil of the Kaluga gymnasium; in the Bagucharov school, Boris Golovin, a pupil of the tula theological seminary; in the Baburino school, Alfonse Erlenwein, a pupil of the Kishinev gymnasium; and in Yassenki, Mitrofan Butovich, a pupil of the Kishinev gymnasium; in the Kolpeno school, Anatoliy Tomashevskiy, who finished his studies in the Saratov gymnasium; in the Gorodnya, Vladimir Tokaschevich, who finished his studies in the Penza gymnasium; in the Plekhanovo school, Nikolay Peterson, who finished his studies in the Penza gymnasium for the nobles; the Bogucharov village community chose Sergey Gudim, an ex-student of the Kazan University, in the place of its former teacher, Morozov. 
Perhaps some of these men may come across this biography and its perusal may induce them to write down memories of their collaboration with the great teacher.
In one of his articles on education, Tolstoy himself sets forth in detail the organization of the school at Yasnaya Polyana:
[Tolstoy writes] The school is held in a two-storied stone building. Two rooms are given up to the school, one is a cabinet of physical curiosities, and two are occupied by the teachers. Under the roof of the porch hangs a bell with a rope attached to the clapper; in the vestibule downstairs stand parallel and horizontal bars, while in the vestibule upstairs there is a joiner's bench. The staircase and the floor of the vestibule are covered with snow or mud; here also hangs the program.
The order of instruction is as follows: at about eight o'clock, the teacher living in the school, a lover of external order and the administrator of the school, sends one of the boys, who nearly always stay overnight with him, to ring the bell.
In the village people rise with the fires. From the school the fires have long been observed in the windows, and half an hour after the ringing of the bell, there appear in the mist, in the rain, or in the oblique rays of the autumnal sun, dark figures by twos, threes, or singly on the mounds (the village is separated from the school by a ravine). The necessity of herding together has long disappeared for the pupils. A pupil no longer requires to wait and shout: "Oh boys, let's go to school. She has begun." He knows by this time that "school" is neuter and he knows a few other things, and strange to say, for that very reason, has no longer any need of a crowd...
The children have nothing with them -- neither reading books nor copy books. No lessons are given to take home.
Not only do they carry nothing in their hands, but they have nothing to carry even in their heads. They are not obliged to remember any lesson or anything that they were doing the day before. They are not vexed by the thought of the impending lesson. They bring with them nothing but their impressionable natures and their convictions that today it will be as jolly in school as it was yesterday. They do not think of their classes until they have begun.
No one is ever rebuked for being late, and they never are late, except in the case of some of the older ones, whose fathers now and then keep them back to do some work. In such cases they come running to school at full speed, and all out of breath.
So long as the teacher has not yet arrived, they gather near the porch, pushing each other off the steps, or sliding on the frozen crust of the smooth road, while some go to the school rooms. If it is cold, they read, write, or play, waiting for the teacher.
The girls do not mix with the boys. When the boys have anything to do with the girls, they never address anyone in particular but always all collectively: "Oh, girls, why don't you skate?" or "I guess the girls are frozen," or "Now girls, all of you against me!" There is only one girl, from the manor, with very great general ability, about ten years of age, who is beginning to make herself conspicuous among the herd. This girl alone the boys treat as their equal and as a boy, except for a delicate shade of politeness, condescension, and reserve.
Popular education has always and everywhere been to me an incomprehensible phenomenon. The people want education, and every separate individual unconsciously seeks education. The more highly cultured class of people -- society, the officers of the Government -- strive to transmit their knowledge and to educate the less educated masses. One would think that such a coincidence of necessities would lead to satisfaction being given to both the class which furnishes the education and the one that receives it. But the very opposite takes place. The masses continually counteract the efforts made for their education by society or by the Government, as the representatives of a more highly cultured class, so that these efforts are frequently frustrated.
As with every conflict, so also here, it was necessary to solve the question: Which is more lawful, the resistance or the action itself? Must the resistance be broken, or the action be changed?
The question has been somehow always settled in favor of violence. But some sound reasons ought to be produced for the use of such violence. What are they? To this question Tolstoy gives the following answer. The arguments may be religious, philosophical, experimental, and historical, and then he discusses each of these kinds of arguments separately:
[Tolstoy writes] But in our time, when religious education forms but a small part of education, the question what good ground the school has for compelling the young generation to receive religious instruction in a certain fashion remains unanswered from the religious point of view.
The philosophical arguments cannot afford a reason for coercion.
All the philosophers, beginning with Plato and ending with Kant, tend to this one thing, the liberation of the school from the traditional fetters which weigh heavily upon it. They wish to discover what it is that man needs, and on these more or less correctly divined needs they build up their new school.
Luther wants people to study Holy Writ in the original, and not according to the commentaries of the holy fathers. Bacon enjoins the study of Nature from Nature, and not from the books of Aristotle. Rousseau wants to teach life from life itself, as he understands it, and not from previous experiments. Every step forward taken by the philosophy of history consists only in freeing the school from the idea of instructing the younger generation in that which the elder generations considered to be science, in favor of the idea of instructing them in what they themselves need. This one common and, at the same time, self-contradictory idea is felt in the whole history of educational theories: it is common, because all demand a greater measure of freedom for the school; contradictory, because everybody prescribes laws based on his own theory, and by that very act that freedom is curtailed.
The educational experiments tend still less to convince us of the lawfulness of compulsory education. Not only is the experiment sad in itself, but the school stupefies the children by distorting their mental faculties; it tears them away from the family during the most precious time of their development, deprives them of the happiness of freedom, and converts the child into a jaded, crushed being, wearing an expression of fatigue, fear, and ennui, repeating with its lips strange words in a strange language; and in reality the experience of school work gives nothing besides these, for it takes place amid conditions destroying any possible value in the experiments.
School, so it would appear to us, ought to be a means of education and at the same time, an experiment on the young generation, constantly giving new results. Only when experiment is at the foundation of school-work, and every school is, so to speak, an educational laboratory, will the school keep pace with the universal progress and experiment will be able to lay firm foundations for the science of education.
The historical arguments are as feeble as the philosophical. This progress of life, of technical knowledge, of science, proceeds faster that the progress of the school, and the school therefore remains more and more behind the social life, and becomes ever worse and worse.
The argument that as schools have existed and are existing, therefore they are good, Tolstoy meets by describing his personal experience of schools in Marseilles, Paris and other towns in Western Europe, which brought him to the conclusion that the greater part of the people's education is acquired not at school but in life, and that free, open instruction by means of public lectures, sights, meetings, books, exhibitions, and so on, quite surpasses all school tuition.
Finally, Tolstoy addresses himself especially to Russian educationists, saying that if we are, for example, to acknowledge the existence of German schools as desirable, in spite of their defects, on the ground of historic experiment, still the question remains: On what grounds are we Russians to defend the school for the people, when no such schools yet exist with us? What historic reasons have we to declare that our schools must be the same as those of the rest of Europe?
[Tolstoy writes] What are we Russians to do at the present moment? Shall we all come to some agreement and take as our basis the English, French, German, or North American view of education and any one of their methods? Or shall we, by closely examining philosophy and psychology discover what in general is necessary for the development of a human soul, and for making out of the younger generation the best men possible according to our conception? Or shall we make use of the experience of history -- not in imitating those forms which history has evolved, but in comprehending those laws which humanity has worked out through suffering? Shall we say frankly and honestly to ourselves that we do not know and cannot know what future generations may need but that we feel ourselves obliged to study this need, and that we wish to do so; that we do not wish to accuse the people of ignorance for not accepting our education, but that we shall accuse ourselves of ignorance and self-conceit if we persist in educating the people according to our ideas?
Let us cease looking upon the people's resistance to our education as upon a hostile element, but let us rather see in it an expression of the people's will, which alone ought to guide us. Let us finally adopt the view which we are so plainly told, both by the history of educational methods and the whole history of education, that if the educating class is to know what is good and what is bad, the classes which receive the education must have full power to express their dissatisfaction, or, at least, to swerve from the education which instinctively does not satisfy them -- that the only criterion of educational methods is liberty.
The article ends in the following avowal:
We know that our arguments will not convince many. We know that our fundamental convictions that the only method of education is experiment, and its only criterion freedom, will sound to some like trite commonplace, to some like an indistinct abstraction, to others again like a visionary dream. We should not have dared to disturb the repose of the theoretical pedagogues and to express these convictions, which are contrary to all experience, if we had to confine ourselves to the reflections made in this article; but we feel ourselves able to prove step by step, and taking one fact after another, the applicability and propriety of our convictions however wild they may appear, and to this end alone do we devote the publication of the periodical "Yasnaya Polyana".
The magazine "Yasnaya Polyana", which was in fact itself an interesting educational experiment, lasted for one year. Twelve numbers were issued.
The first issue began with the following appeal to the public:
[Tolstoy writes in "Yasnaya Polyana" No. 1] Entering on a new work, I am under some fear, both for myself and for those thoughts which have been for years developing in me, and which I regard as true. I am certain beforehand that many of these thoughts will turn out to be mistaken. However carefully I have endeavored to study the subject and have involuntarily looked upon it from one side, I hope that my thoughts will call forth the expression of a contrary opinion. I shall be glad to afford room for all opinions in my magazine. Of one thing only am I afraid -- that these opinions may be expressed with acridity, and that the discussion of a subject so dear and important to all as that of national education may degenerate into sarcasms, personalities, and journalistic polemics; and I will not say that sarcasms and personalities could not affect me, or that I hope to be above them. On the contrary, I confess that I fear as much for myself as for the cause itself; I fear being carried away by personal polemics instead of quietly and persistently working at my subject.
I therefore beg all future opponents of my views to express their thoughts so that I may explain myself and substantiate my statements in those cases in which our disagreement is caused by our not understanding one another, and might agree with my opponents when the error of my view is proved. Count L. N. Tolstoy
Each issue contained one or two theoretical articles, then reports of the progress of the schools under the management of Tolstoy, bibliography, description of school libraries, accounts of donations, and a supplement in the shape of a book for reading.
The motto of the magazine was the saying: Glaubst zu schieben und wirst geschoben, that is to say, "You mean to push, but in reality it is you who are pushed."
This magazine has become a bibliographical rarity. True, Tolstoy's own principal articles have been included in the fourth volume of the full edition of his works, but besides those articles, there appeared in the magazine many different short notices, descriptions and reports of great interest for teachers in a theoretical as well as in a practical sense.
In his article "On methods of teaching to read and write," Tolstoy tries in the first place to prove that reading is not the first step in instruction, but only an intervening one.
[Tolstoy writes] Since it is not the first, then it is not the principal one.
If we want to find the foundation, the first step in education, why should we look for it perforce in the rudiments instead of much deeper? Why should we stop at one of the endless number of the instruments of education and see in it the alpha and the omega of education, when it is only one of the incidental, unimportant circumstances of education?
By "Education" we do not mean merely a knowledge of "Reading and Writing."
We see people who are well acquainted with all the facts necessary to know for the purpose of farming, and with a large number of interrelations of these facts, though they can neither read nor write; or excellent military commanders, excellent merchants, managers, superintendents of work, master mechanics, artisans, contractors, and people simply educated by life, who possess a great store of information and of sound reasoning based on that information, who can neither read nor write. On the other hand we see those who can read and write, and who have acquired no new information by means of those accomplishments.
Among the reasons which cause a contradiction between the real needs of the people and the tuition imposed upon the people by the cultured classes, Tolstoy points out certain features in the historic development of educational institutions.
[Tolstoy writes] First were founded, not the lower, but the higher schools: at first the monastic, then the secondary, then the primary schools....The rudiments are in this organized hierarchy of institutions the last step, or the first from the end, and therefore the lower school is to respond only to the exigencies of the higher schools.
But there is also another point of view, from which the popular school appears as an independent institution, which is not obliged to perpetuate the imperfections of the higher institution of learning, but which has an aim of its own, viz., that of supplying popular education.
The school for reading and writing exists among the people in the shape of the workshop, and, as such, satisfies the need for those accomplishments, and reading and writing are for the people a certain kind of art or craft.
Having made clear the gist of this matter of writing and reading, and pointed out its place in the life of the people, Tolstoy goes on further to investigate different methods of teaching to read and write.
After having examined the defects and merits of the old fashioned methods of teaching to read letter by letter, and the method of learning by sound; after having further discussed the comical and pedantic German Lautieranschauungsunterrichtsmethode, he came to the conclusion that all methods are good and all are bad, that the talent and ability of the teacher are at the foundation of any method, and he finally addresses to the teacher the following advice:
[Tolstoy writes] Every teacher of reading must be well grounded in the one method which has been evolved by the people, and must further verify it by his own experience; he must endeavor to find out the greatest number of methods, employing them as auxiliary means; must, by regarding every imperfection in the pupil's comprehension, not as showing a defect in the pupil, but a defect in his own instruction, endeavor to develop in himself the ability of discovering new methods. Every teacher must know that every method invented is only a step, on which he must stand in order to go farther; he must know that if he himself will not do it, another will adopt that method, and will, on its basis, go farther, and that, as the business of teaching is an art, completeness and perfection are not obtainable, while development and improvement are endless.
With still greater detail and clearness does Tolstoy present his educational ideas in his article "Education and Instruction".
In the first place, he states the fact that the majority of educationists, Russian and European, confuse these two ideas. Then he tries to restate the distinction between these conceptions, giving his own definitions to the three principal educational terms -- Education, Training, and Instruction..
[Tolstoy writes] Education in the broad sense of the term is, according to our conviction, the sum total of all those influences which develop man, give him a broader outlook and new knowledge, children's games and their sufferings, punishments inflicted by their parents, books, work, study, whether compulsory or free, art, science, life -- all these educate.
Training is the influence exercised by one man on another for the purpose of making him adopt certain moral habits.
Instruction is the transmission of knowledge from one man to another (one can be instructed in chess, or history, or boot-making). Teaching, an aspect of instruction, is the influence exercised by one man upon another for the purpose of leading him to acquire certain accomplishments (to sing, to do carpentering, to dance, to row, to recite). Instruction and teaching are means of education when they are exercised without compulsion, and means of training when teaching is compulsory, and when instruction is directed in an exclusive way, i.e., when only those subjects are given which the teacher regards as necessary.
There are no rights of education. I do not acknowledge such, nor have they been acknowledged, nor will they ever be, by the young generation under education, which always and everywhere is set against compulsion in education.
Education is compulsory, instruction is free. Where lies to right to compulsion?
Where do we find the justification of any compulsion by humanity? [To this question Tolstoy gives the following answer:]
If such an abnormal condition as the use of force in culture -- education -- has existed for ages, the causes of this phenomenon must be rooted in human nature. I see these causes -- (1) in the family, (2) in religion, (3) in the State, and (4) in society (in the narrower sense, which in our country embraces only the official circles and the gentry).
While not approving of the influence of the first three sources of compulsion, Tolstoy admitted that it was intelligible.
It is difficult to hinder parents from bringing up their children to be different from what they are themselves; it is difficult for a believer not to strive to bring up his child in his own faith; finally, it is difficult to claim that Governments should not educate the officials whom they require
But by what right does the privileged, progressive society educate by its own standard the people alien to itself? this can be explained by nothing but gross egotistical error.
What is the reason of this error?
I think it is that we do not hear the voice of those who attack us; we do not hear it, because it does not speak in print or down from the professor's chair. But it is the mighty voice of the people, which one must listen to carefully in order to hear it.
Tolstoy then began the examination of the methods of this educational compulsion, i.e., those practiced in the schools from the lowest to the highest, and he found nothing cheering in them. He criticized especially the organization of our universities.
Without rejecting university instruction on principle, Tolstoy declared:
[Tolstoy writes] I can understand a university, corresponding to its name and its fundamental idea, as a collection of men for the purpose of their mutual culture. Such universities, unknown to us, spring up and exist in various corners of Russia; in the universities themselves, in the students' clubs, people come together, read and discuss, until at last rules establish themselves when to meet and how to discuss. There you have real universities! But our universities, in spite of all the empty talk about the seeming freedom of their structure, are institutions which, by their organization, in no way differ from female boarding schools and cadet academies.
Besides the absence of freedom, of independence, one of the chief defects of our university life is its aloofness from real life.
See how the son of a peasant learns to become a farmer; how the sexton's son, reading in the choir, learns to be a sexton; how the son of a Kirgiz cattle dealer becomes a herder; he enters very early into direct relations with life, with Nature, and with men; he learns early, while working, to make his work productive; and he learns, being secure on the material side of life, that is, so far as to be sure of a piece of bread, of clothes to wear, and of a lodging. Now look at a student, who is torn away from home, from the family, cast into a strange city, full of temptations for his youth, without means of support (because the parents provide means only for bare necessities, while all is spent on frivolity), in a circle of companions who by their society only intensify his defects; without guides, without an aim, having pushed off from the old and having not yet landed at the new. Such, with rare exceptions, is the position of a student. From this results that which alone can result; you have officials who are fit only for Government posts; or professional officials, fit for society, or people aimlessly torn away from their former surroundings, with a spoiled youth, and finding no place for themselves in life, so-called people with university culture -- advanced, that is, irritable, sickly Liberals.
The university is our first and our chief educational institution. It is the first to arrogate to itself the right of education, and it is the first, so far as the results which it obtains indicate, to prove the impropriety and impossibility of university education. Only from the social point of view is it possible to justify the fruits of the university. The university trains not such men as humanity needs, but such as corrupt society needs.
Tolstoy foresaw the timid objections to his radical solution of the question on the part of those fearing a change, and he answered these at once, concluding his answer with the following reply:
[Tolstoy writes] "What are we to do then? shall there, really, be no county schools, no gymnasia, no chairs of the history of Roman law? What will become of humanity?" I hear.
There certainly shall be none, if the pupils do not need them, and you are not able to make them good.
"But children do not always know what they need; children are mistaken," and so forth, I hear.
I will not enter into this discussion. this discussion would lead us to the question: Can man's nature be judged by a tribunal of men? and so forth. I do not know that, and do not take that stand; all I can say is that if we know what to teach, you must not keep me from teaching Russian children by force, French, medieval genealogy, and the art of stealing. I can prove everything as you do.
"So there will be no gymnasia and no Latin? Then what am I going to do?" I again hear.
Don't be afraid! There will be Latin and rhetoric, and they will exist another hundred years, simply because the medicine is bought, so we must drink it (as a patient said). I doubt whether the thought, which I have expressed, perhaps indistinctly, awkwardly, inconclusively, will become a common possession in another hundred years; it is not likely that within a hundred years will die those ready-made institutions, schools, gymnasia, universities, and that within that time will grow up freely formed institutions, having for their basis the freedom of the learning generation.
Of course, such audacious ideas could not be accepted by educationists, who during the 1860s have been at the head of national instruction in russia. Offended science did not even deign to take such ideas seriously. In "The Collection of Criticisms Upon Tolstoy" by Zelinskiy, a book very carefully composed, there are only two serious articles devoted to the magazine "Yasnaya Polyana", and to the school of the same name. The are printed in "The Contemporary" of 1862.
To one of these, the article of E. Markov, Tolstoy replied in his magazine by an article, "the Progress and Definition of Instruction."
The gist of markov's argument, given in a resume at the end of his article, consists in an open acknowledgment of the right of compulsory education on the part of society, and its right of rejecting free instruction, after making which he proceeds to express his approval of contemporary systems of instruction. As to the school in Yasnaya Polyana, he speaks with enthusiasm of its practice but holds that it is inconsistent with the theories of its founder and guide, L.N. Tolstoy.
In his reply to Markov, Tolstoy repeats and explains what has been said by him in his preceding articles, and he comes to the conclusion that their principal difference is the fact that Markov believes in progress and he does not.
In explanation of his want of belief in progress, he says:
[Tolstoy writes] The process of progress has taken place in all humanity from time immemorial, says the historian who believes in progress, and he proves this assertion by comparing, let us say, England of the year 1685 with the England of our time. Even if it were possible to prove, by comparing Russia, france, and Italy of our time with ancient rome, Greece, Carthage, and so forth, that the prosperity of the modern nations is greater than that of antiquity, I am still struck by one incomprehensible phenomenon; they deduce a general law for all humanity from the comparison of one small part of European humanity in the present and the past. Progress is a common law of humanity, they say, except for Asia, Africa, America, and australia, except for one thousand mission people.
We have noticed the law of progress in the dukedom of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, with its three thousand inhabitants. We know China, with its two hundred million inhabitants, which overthrows our whole theory of progress, and we do not for a moment doubt that progress is the common law of all humanity, and that we, the believers in that progress, are right, and those who do not believe in it are wrong, and so we go with cannons and guns to impress the idea of progress upon the Chinese. Common sense, however, tells us that if the history of the greater part of humanity, the whole so- called East, does not confirm the law of progress, but on the contrary, overthrows it, that law does not exist for all humanity, but only as an article of faith for a certain part of it.
I, like all people who are free from the superstition of progress, observe only that humanity lives, that the memories of the past augment as much as they disappear; the labors of the past frequently serve as a basis for the labors of the present, and just as frequently as an impediment; that the well-being of people now increases in one place, in one stratum, and in one sense, and now diminishes; that, not matter how desirable it would be, I cannot find any common law in the life of humanity; and that it is as easy to subordinate history to the idea of progress as to any other idea or to any imaginable historical fancy.
I will say even more; I see no necessity for finding common laws for history, independently of the impossibility of finding them. The common eternal law is written in the soul of each man. The law of progress, or perfectibility, is written in the soul of each man, and is transferred to history only through error. As long as it remains personal, this law is fruitful and accessible to all; when it is transferred to history, it becomes an idle, empty prattle, leading to the justification of every insipidity and to fatalism. Progress in general in all humanity is an unproved fact, and does not exist for all the Eastern nations; therefore, it is as unfounded to say that progress is the law of humanity as it is to say that all people are fair except the dark-complexioned ones.
The propositions stated are developed in detail by Tolstoy in his article, but as this subject over steps the limits of our narrative, we will conclude by mentioning one more paper entitled "A Project For A General Plan of People's Schools Organization." This article contains some witty criticisms, and a readable review of the Government regulation concerning schools in 1862.
Tolstoy's general critical remarks on the regulation can be summed up thus: (1) The regulation is based upon the American system; the people are to pay school rates, and the schools are to be maintained by the Government with the sum collected. But what is good in a democratic republic may turn out very bad in a despotic state, where the law expressing the so-called "will of the people" becomes a gross invasion of the rights of the people. (2) The general inefficiency of the project follows from its inadaptability to the needs of the people, owing to entire ignorance of Russian life on the part of the author. (3) The control of popular education sanctioned by this regulation will prove an obstacle to the popular education already existing, which is freely spreading.
After having finished this brief summary of Tolstoy's opinions on education, we must give our own conclusion, which is in opposition to the conclusion of M. Markov and is this, that the practice of the school at Yasnaya Polyana does not in the least contradict Tolstoy's views, but, on the contrary, amounts to their direct application, which is accomplished with unique success.
- D.T. Uspenskiy, "Archive Materials for Tolstoy's Biography." "Russian Thought", 1903, vol. ix.