Volume:6, Issue: 2

Sep. 1, 2014

Pyotr Kapterev as a Pioneer of Russian Education
Boguslavsky, Mikhail V. [about]

KEY WORDS: Pyotr Kapterev, educational theory, teachers’ training education, the autonomy of the educational process.

ABSTRACT: The paper, written by our permanent author, professor Mikhail Boguslavsky, introduces one more unknown name from the history of Russian education – Pyotr Kapterev, whose 165-th birthday the country celebrated this year. The ideas of this great thinker are presented and analyzed together with showing his role in the past and current professional development of teachers and training of parents.


When I reflect on the development of higher Russian education and the type of people who    made it happen, I clearly understand that there was one among many who could be called, with all rights, the Father of the Russian Higher Teachers’ Training Education. The name of this person is Pyotr Fedorovich Kapterev (1849-1922). His educational activities, which lasted for over half a century represent an example of remarkable service towards one’s Fatherland - Russia, towards its professional education, its teachers, and children.

Kapterev was the type of person who would do everything very substantially and with the highest results possible. We have all the reasons to assume that he was a creator of the Russian Theory of Education. This assumption becomes clear after reading his fundamental works such as, “Educational Psychology” (2), “Educational Process” (7), “Didactic Essays” (3), and “History of Russian Education” (8). These books – innovative for their time – remain to this day the educational treasures created by this Russian thinker; they remain in demand among current professors of education and educational psychology. It is amazing how many topics he would cover in his works. Let me mention just the titles of some of them: “The Meaning of Christianity in the Formation of Elementary Education”, “Characteristic Features of Secondary Education in England”, “The Tragedy of Gogol’s Life”, “About Children’s Lies”, “Parents’ Responsibility to Their Children.”

About Kapterev’s Life – In Short

Pyotr Fedorovich Kapterev was born on the 20th of July 1849. His father was a local priest in the village of Klenovo, in the Podolsk district of Moscow region. The family had many children, and unfortunately lost their father very early. Although they were eligible for receiving a small stipend from the local diocese, their life conditions were pretty harsh. Children had to work hard in the fields and in the vegetable garden. Pyotr, as any other son of a priest, was allowed to receive free education in any theological institution in the country. It is for this reason that after graduating from the Podolsk Theological College, he immediately entered Theological Seminary in 1862. And finally, as one of the best graduates, he became a student at the Moscow Theological Academy which main mission was to train future high religious officials, scholarly theologians, and faculty for theological colleges and seminaries.

Upon graduation, and because he did not choose to become an active priest or a monk, Kapterev had to work as a faculty member at one of the Russian higher or secondary theological institutions for six years. Being bright and talented, Kapterev was invited as a teacher of different philosophical doctrines (logic, psychology, didactics, and education) at the St. Petersburg Theological seminary in 1872. In very little time Kapterev gained respect of both – faculty and students. He was appointed a principal of their Sunday school, and elected a member of the executive seminary board. No one would remain indifferent to Pyotr’s personality, his intellect, his encyclopedic knowledge, and a talent to lecture clearly and in plain Russian.

At this same time Kapterev developed an interest in public activities and became a member of the St. Petersburg Pedagogical Society. In 1874, Pyotr was invited to join the board of the Froebel Society in St. Petersburg, and began lecturing in education and psychology to the Society’s students – future kindergarten teachers. This work lasted for over a quarter of a century.

While still at the St. Petersburg seminary, Pyotr started writing papers which were quite successful and were accepted for publications in different educational journals. At the same time he began working on the most important book of his life – “Educational Psychology for public teachers and kindergarten teachers” which was published in 1876 as a set of separate but interconnected articles in the journal “Public School”. But within a year the book was republished as a separate volume (2), and some time later – in 1883 and 1914, Kapterev revised and published it again under the title “Educational Psychology”.

Gradually research interests of the thinker became conflicted with the code of the theological institution – he did not feel himself there but could leave it only in 1878 after fully “paying back” for his free education at the Moscow Theological Academy. It was easy to leave the job but more difficult to find a new one with stable financial support. Only after a year of an active search Kapterev was accepted as a faculty member at the Women’s Educational Classes” (created by the Queen’s Maria Agency, famous for its philanthropic activities). In this position he worked for the next six years.

When these Classes were reformed and converted into the first Teachers’ Training Institute for Women in 1903, Kapterev was invited to lecture there in psychology, didactics, education, world and Russian history of education. In 1912, he was granted “as an exception” an academic title of a professor at the literature-history department of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

During all those years Kapterev was actively involved in different scholastic and educational activities. He kept writing and publishing papers in children’s psychology, education, didactics, logic, and even in Russian literature. In 1879, his lectures in education and logic were published and immediately became bestsellers among teachers all over Russia. At the same time he organized many new societies that united psychologists, educators, and medical doctors within the St. Petersburg museum of urban military-educational institutions (a special interest group for educators, Comenius department, and later on, Ushinsky’s department and a Parents’ club), actively participated in putting together a number of congresses in family education, educational psychology, clinical psychology, and public education.

By the 1890s, Kapterev became one of the most popular authors, whose books were read and studied not only by educators but also by parents and everybody else who was interested in lifelong learning.

It truly feels that Kapterev remained a child of fortune for quite a long while, and the fate itself presented him with a very special place in the development of teachers’ training education and in the Russian educational theory. His debut in this area happened in 1877 when Kapterev’s book “Educational Psychology” was published. Just to clarify the situation – by that time most famous Russian educators from former decades became either too old or passed away (Pirogov, Ushinsky) though the new thinkers of the same level were not born yet. This translates into the idea that Kapterev, almost by himself, had been developing Russian educational theory and practice for nearly thirty years. His narrow circle of prominent educators was comprised of Konstantin Ventsel, Vasily Vakhterov, and Vasily Rosanov.

I am literally in awe thinking of the amount of work Kapterev managed to realize in the short three years – from 1877 to 1880. That was the time when he composed his fundamental papers and books in education, didactics, history of education, and educational psychology, and in this way he created a very stable foundation for the higher teachers’ training education in Russia.

To celebrate his 65-th birthday, most of those books were republished while previously revised by the author. It is important to note that theoretical issues of education Kapterev managed to address together with working on such vital issues as public orientation of the educational process, relationship of common human and national values and different strategies of creating public schools for the poor. By the way, the terms  “educational psychology” and “an educational process” which are so common today, he “invented” as well.

No doubt, Kapterev should be assigned a very special place in the history of education. Apart of anything else, he was the first professional researcher of education in Russia who was doing it as a professional job and not as a hobby. Though Kapterev was by all means a secular researcher who gave secular answers to such important questions of how to develop one’s worldview, one’s mind, character and willpower, he still remained a spiritual person who was impacted by his education received at the Theological Academy. This is especially clear after analyzing the style of his publications, (resembling the one of preaching and parsonage), the scope of his plans and designs, and a very close attention to a wide spectrum of spiritual-moral education questions.

Among many problems which Kapterev was interested in as a researcher, there was one, probably most dear to his heart – family education. Being part of the Parents’ Club helped him to realize the variety and depth of problems in this field. Starting from 1884 and for a long period of time, he would present papers on how to develop and raise a child in the family. Later on, from 1898 Kapterev started publishing short brochures under the umbrella title “The Encyclopedia of Family Education and Teaching” (6). The articles there were written by such famous Russian educators, psychologists, doctors and writers as A. Ostrogorsky, I.Sikorsky, P. Lesgaft, P. Kovalevsky, A. Koni and many others.

As a result, the country received about 60 brochures, 60-70 pages each, devoted to the issues of raising and teaching children, mostly of the preschool age. In other words, the Encyclopedia was about home education, physical development and health preservation for babies and children under 8 years old.

The main purpose of these activities was to involve parents into a humanistic education of their children, to provide them with necessary knowledge of psychology, to explain and clarify what were the true reasons of children’s lies, fears, courage, irritation, joy and sadness, games and entertainment.

By the way, the research produced by the Parents’ Club was met with admiration by Western public as well. At the Liège (Belgium) exhibition of the works of the similar clubs from France, United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, etc., this St. Petersburg Club received the first prize.

Kapterev’s constant concern was about the difficult state of Russian teachers and public schools. Kapterev was one of the founders of the public-educational movement, was an editor and editorial board member of many educational journals, an active member of numerous conferences in education, and a presenter at many teachers’ gatherings. For many years his opinions were never taken into consideration by the educational authorities. But in 1915, the situation changed, and Minister of Education Pyotr Ignatiev appointed Kapterev as Head of the brainstorming group which was working at the papers for the coming reforms in education. As a result, the group prepared the best in Russian history materials of how to modify Russian schools, and the country in many ways owes Kapterev the exceptional quality of these reform documents.

Kapterev was overjoyed with the February revolution but was reserved in welcoming the October revolution after which he stayed in Petrograd for just a short while and then moved to a small town Ostrogozhsk in the Voronezh region in the fall of 1918. This move happened because of his long disease and the food shortages in big cities. Regardless of his living conditions in a small town, Kapterev kept serving his main passion in life, he became an inspector of the local School committee and made a tremendous impact on reforming urban and village schools in the Ostrogozhsk district.

In 1919, regardless of his declining health and age he started teaching in three local educational institutions – two schools and a teachers’ seminary that he soon headed. In 1921, Kapterev moved to a larger city – Voronezh, and became professor at the Voronezh University and at the same time a founder of the teachers’ training college. During his last year of life Kapterev was extremely active and productive in developing teachers’ training in this city. While constantly improving the conditions at the college, he also founded precollege classes, an educational museum, and an exemplary preschool. Kapterev was also granted two public schools to become college laboratory schools. Best university professors would be invited to lecture at the college.

“Education and Politics” or, Instead of the conclusion

In 1921, Kapterev published an exceptional article called “Education and Politics” (9). This was a courageous and passionate appeal to the authorities to never transform teachers and students into token money in any political game, and to never use schools as tools of establishing an ideological dictatorship. This last article (almost his last will) presents Kapterev’s unique credo – an educational process should be always autonomous, no external influence on education should be ever allowed.

The Soviet power could never forgive Kapterev this particular paper, and since that time until 1980-s his works were never republished, and if someone was mentioning his ideas, then only in passing, without details but never forgetting to underline the fact that, “Kapterev was expressing well-known and typical for the bourgeois education anti-science theories of apolitical education” (1; 83).

Fortunately, today we have all the opportunities to fully appreciate Kapterev’s works and the influence he produced on the development of Russian teachers’ training education.


  1. Boguslavsky, M.V. (2005).  Pyotr Fedorovich Kapterev// Podvizhniki i reformatory rossiiskogo obrazovaniya. М.: Prosveschenie. Pp. 79-83.
  2. Kapterev, P.F. (1876). Pedagogicheskaya Psikhologiya dlya narodnykh uchitelej, vospitatelej i vospitatelnits (Educational Psychology for Public Teachers and Kindergarten Teachers). St. Petersburg.
  3. Kapterev, P.F. (1885). Didakticheskie Ocherki (Didactic Essays). St. Petersburg.
  4. Kapterev, P.F. (1897). Novaya Russkaya Pedagogiya, Yoyo glavneishiye idei, napravleniya i deyateli (New Russian Pedagogy, its Primary Ideas, Trends and Activists). St. Petersburg.
  5. Kapterev, P.F. (1898). Zadachi i osnovy semeinogo vospitaniya (Tasks and Foundations of the Family Education). St. Petersburg.
  6. Entsyclopedia Semeinogo Vospitaniya I obucheniya (1898). The Encyclopedia of Family Education and Teaching. Ed. 4. St. Petersburg.
  7. Kapterev, P.F. (1905). Pedagogicheski Protsess (Educational Process). St. Petersburg.
  8. Kapterev, P.F. (1909; 1915). Istoriya Russkoy Pedagogii (History of Russian Pedagogy). St. Petersburg; 2nd ed., 1915.
  9. Kapterev, P.F. (1921). Pedagogika i Politika (Education and Politics) // Pedagogicheskaya Mysl. ## 9—12.
  10. Kapterev, P.F. (1982). Izbrannye Pedagogicheskiye Proizvedeniya (Selected Educational Works). Moscow.


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