Volume:7, Issue: 2

Aug. 1, 2015

Teachers’ social education practice: Humanization of childhood
Demakova, Irina D. [about]

KEY WORDS: theory of social education; a school educational system; principles of humanization; an inherent value of childhood, the child’s rights and freedoms in the social education space.

ABSTRACT: Based on David Feldstein’s psychological concept of “the space-time of Childhood”, the author of this research discusses the term and the concept of “the space of childhood”, identifies the meaning of this sociocultural phenomenon and the basic principles of its humanization. “The space of childhood” is understood as a sociocultural phenomenon that produces a considerable influence on children’s development. The distinguishing characteristics of “the space of childhood” imply that it serves not as a “neutral container” for the child but rather as some kind of activity environment, which, on the one hand, is closely related to the adults’ space and, on the other hand, has a certain degree of autonomy. The paper emphasizes invariant characteristics of the social education practice including its values, goals, priorities, functions, content, effectiveness and success indices as well as the specific character of this practice in the present-day conditions.

The jubilee publication Institute of theory and history of education: 1944-2014 (Moscow, FGNU ITIP RAO, 2014) includes a paper entitled, “The system’ approach to education and socialization of children and young people. Lyudmilla I. Novikova’s scientific school”, which mentions five generations of researchers whose development in science, was supervised by this wonderful personality and a noted scholar. Under her direct guidance every new researchers’ generation, based on the fundamental principles laid down by Novikova’s school, developed new concepts, which were especially relevant for their time. In the 1980s Novikova supervised research in the new area of education known as the school educational system.

School educational system

The school educational system, as defined by Novikova, is a developing, in time and space, complex of interrelated components: the initial concept (a set of ideas to be realized; concept realization activity; subjects organizing this activity and taking part in it; relationships which integrate the subjects into a certain community; environment explored by the subjects; management, which makes it possible to integrate the system into some wholesome unit). An educational system is an open system that interacts with the social, natural, and cultural environment of the school. This system is not static: it develops in the past, present, and future. The system has tools of preservation and reproduction of the ways that allow sustaining its life activity as well as instruments of the system’s disorganization and renewal. The educational system is fuelled by conflicts between the system and an individual, traditions and innovations (Karakovsky, Novikova, & Selivanova, 2000). The educational system is primarily aimed at schoolchildren’s individual development (1, 16).

Teachers’ practice in the field of character and social education

This research was aimed at the specific subject of  “teachers’ practice in the field of character and social education.” I opined this subject to be among the primary elements of the school educational system. Just for the sake of its structure, this research could be split into three different time periods. During the first period, between 1960 and 1980, I mostly analyzed invariant characteristics of a homeroom teacher, after-hours teacher, coach or head of various after-school activities. From 1980 till 2000 I focused on the teacher’s social education practice as a factor of childhood space humanization. Since 2000, the research results have been enriched by the ideas of the outstanding educator Janusz Korczak.

Research approaches

The necessity of our research is determined by a number of increased oppositions in the education theory and practice. In fact, the situation has not radically changed during the last twenty years. So as before, there are following contradictions between:

  1. the declared necessity of humanization in social education of the youth and the traditional system of education when the child is traditionally viewed as an object of an educational intervention;
  2. growing social demands for teachers to implement a humanization paradigm in their professional practice and the reality of such educational practice oriented towards traditional values and goals in education;
  3. a social need in such system of education that would offer the child more dignity and freedom, and insufficiently developed methods of the teacher’s social education practice;
  4. the need for theoretical substantiation and scientific resources of humanization of education, and lack of thoroughly developed concepts characterizing this process, including such concepts as a space of childhood, which reveals the special character of the teacher’s humanistically-oriented social education practices (see: 3; 4).

Research methodology

This research general methodology is based on the axiological approach according to which a human being is considered the highest social value and the ultimate goal of social development. I have also used a system’s and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of different educational phenomena as well as child-oriented and activity-based approaches in the organization of social education.

Research methods

I used a number of theoretical research methods (systematization, classification, and comparative analysis), which made it possible to define approaches to the process of humanizing social education:

  1. an analysis of large-scale advanced practices of child communities management;
  2. theoretical modeling of the teacher’s social education practice and its subsequent experimental verification;
  3. sociological methods (surveys of the young participants, interviews, content analysis of children’s creative works, video and photo recordings of teacher-children’s interactions);
  4. experimental research conducted at the Korczak youth camps during 1993-2014 (8).

Main research results

Based on David Feldstein’s psychological concept of “the space-time of childhood”, I have coined the term and the concept of “the space of childhood” together with identifying the meaning of this sociocultural phenomenon and the basic principles of its humanization. I have come to the conclusion that “the space of childhood” should be understood as a sociocultural phenomenon that produces a considerable influence on children’s development. The distinguishing characteristics of “the space of childhood” imply that it serves not as a “neutral container” for the child but rather as some kind of activity environment, which, on the one hand, is closely related to the adults’ space and, on the other hand, has a certain degree of autonomy.

The analysis of previous research and different publications regarding this phenomenon makes it possible to pinpoint a number of basic ideas about it:

  1. Space is an explored environment (natural, cultural, social, and informational) adapted to achieve educational goals.
  2. The terms “environment” and “space” are not identical: “environment” implies something existing regardless of human beings and their activities while “space” is the result of an educational exploration of the environment.
  3. The space of social education does not develop on its own accord or as a result of some superior order – it is built within the educational reality by means of specially organized activity.
  4. The space of social education becomes a factor of humanizing a child’s life only when it serves as a space of the children’s community (the latter being filled with problems seen by children as real and vital, so that they must find answers), when children perceive it as their own territory, assume responsibility, preserve it and protect from damage.
  5. A creation of the space of social education involves processes related with the choice of priorities in the teacher’s practice and exploration of the environment by children and adults.

The space of social education can be constructed in such places where children live together, for example, school educational space, school district, neighborhood, region, city, province, etc. An important feature of the space of social education is its unity and integrity. The conclusion that the wholesome space of social education space has been created can be done only if the educational community has managed to overcome its patchiness.

The most important part of my research is the analysis of the social education space of a particular child (the personality space). It is also interesting to mention that there are several smaller community spaces within one bigger social group. Quality characteristics of such a space of social education constituted the focal point of our research. I am convinced that an important task of a teacher is to provide all participants of this “educational territory” with a certain level of interaction, emotional and intellectual challenges, stimulate children’s inquisitive attitude to the world and encourage their creative search for answers to real life questions. Clearly, every participant of the social education process faces the problem of assessing his/her competence that is when a child, who finds himself/herself in a new situation (new activity, interaction, communication), wonders how well he/she is prepared for this communication or interaction. If s/he gives a positive answer to this question, this means that the space of social education plays a stabilizing role in the child’s development.

Teachers’ social education practice as an important factor to humanize childhood

Our research defines invariant characteristics (values, goals, priorities, functions, content, psychological features, effectiveness, and success indices) of a modern teacher’s social education practice as a factor of the childhood space humanization. I have suggested and grounded the idea of integrating children of various social groups into one community as one of the ways to humanize their lives. For the first time in the theory of social education a hermeneutic approach and evaluated hermeneutic methods have been employed in the teacher’s social education practice.

The renewed approach to the teacher’s social education practice, with its center in humanization of the childhood space, is based on the analysis of different ways social environment influences the child. I mean such, for example, as how to resist and compensate for the negative effects by creating the social education space which serves as a space for interaction and a child-teacher dialogue based on an unconditional educational acceptance of children.

The purpose of social education practice (when it serves as a factor to humanize childhood) is for the teacher to provide conditions for a successful development of a child’s personality, which replaces the autocratic paradigm with its domination of the teacher over a child in any kind of their relationships.

The success of social education depends on how thoroughly the teacher has managed to understand the complex nature of the child’s development as well as factors which contribute to this development (an emotional stability in the child’s life, educational environment variability providing choice to the child, a positive public opinion of the child, and protection of the child’s safety in the process of social education) or hamper it (fear, unfair guilt and shame, the child’s detachment from peers and adults, loneliness or the feeling of total failure) (5; 6; 7).

How to humanize the space of childhood

Based on the research by humanistic scholars, I have formulated basic principles that allow humanizing the space of childhood. They are the following: recognition of the inherent value of childhood, children’s rights (including the rights to have a higher social status and comfortable life conditions, and to be respected as a personality, Valeeva), the right for freedom in the social education process [this principle implies that the child is recognized not only as a natural (biological) and social (cultural) being but also as a existential (or free) human being (O. Gazman)]. While doing this our research I have done an extended analysis of the realization of these principles in the works by Janusz Korczak and other prominent humanist educators.

Recognition of the inherent value of childhood

This principle reflects Janusz Korczak’s belief in an absolute value of childhood. He believed that childhood  “is mountains where the river originates and where its direction is determined.” He repeatedly emphasized the significance of a happy, joyful childhood in the personality’s formation and opined that without a full and content childhood the whole life of a person would be maimed. Korczak wanted his students to experience the joy of childhood at least for several years. He wrote about the teacher’s responsibility for the child’s present day,

This present day should be clear, full of cheerful efforts, absolutely childish, careless with no responsibilities, which do not correspond to the child’s age and powers. I ought to provide for him an opportunity to use up his energy, I ought – regardless of the insulted written law’s rumble and its ferocious clauses – to give the child all the sun, all the air, all the benevolence that he deserves regardless of his merits or faults, his virtues or vices (9).

Recognition of child’s rights

Janusz Korczak offered a unique interpretation of the child’s rights. He believed that the child has the right for respect of his/her ignorance and cognitive labor; his/her failures and tears; mysteries and deviations of the hard labor of growth; the current hour and the present day; the mystery of correction; efforts and credulity; the child’s right to be what s/he is; to participate in discussions and judgments which concern him/her directly; experience considerate attitude towards his/her problems; express his/her ideas; organize his/her life independently; use his/her virtues and conceal the faults; to protest; to make mistakes; to have a mystery; to move; to possess property; to play, etc. Those were not just mere declarations – they were actively implemented in real practice.

Recognition of children’s freedom in the social education process

Janusz Korczak believed that freedom means choice and agreement rather than anarchy or permissiveness. “Does this mean that the child should be given a free hand?” Korczak asked himself and gave the following answer: “Never: that would be to turn a bored slave into a bored tyrant. After all, by our prescriptions we toughen the willpower if only in the direction of self-restraint and self-denial; we develop ingenuity in working within a limited field and ability to slip out from under the control of others, we awaken criticism. That is worth something, too, in the way of a one-sided preparation to life. Giving the child a free hand – beware! In gratifying whims, you may the more thoroughly suppress aspirations…” (10, Ch. 41).


The theory of education today offers three different interpretations of education: education as a sociocultural phenomenon, a pedagogical process, and a professional activity. The latter one was in the focus of our research: any teacher’s practice aimed at humanizing the space of the childhood I defined as the teacher’s professional activity and I also determined indicators of its success. Among them I consider children’s physical health, psychological balance, adequate self-assessment, and school graduate’s evaluation of their school years as important in their lives. In my opinion, the ultimate result of social education is the developed sense of dignity, yearning for freedom, and the ability to empathize with the people in general (in broader sense, the nation) and with those who constitute our close community.


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1 This publication was supported by the grant from the Russian Humanitarian Science Foundation, Project # 14-06-00089.

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