Volume:9, Issue: 2

Sep. 30, 2017

Review of the new book (2016) by Sergey D. Polyakov “From the Past to the Future. Psychological-educational essays about the -cultural context of the development of our national schools”
Maksakova, Valentina I. [about] , Radionova, Nina F. [about]

In 2016, the Federal Institute for the Development of Education published a book by Sergey Polyakov, “From Past to the Future. Psychological-educational essays about the socio-cultural context of the development of our national schools.” This author is well known to everyone who is interested in education of our children and in the ways to improve our schools. His work is always oriented towards self-consciousness of teachers, supporting their humanistic orientation and desire for professional improvement. In his books Polyakov describes pedagogy as a modern, lively, and complex reality while the author himself is ‘an experienced optimist’, capable to tell an interesting story of our reality and reflect on it in a deep and profound way. The author has always represented himself as a follower of the research school of the late Ludmilla Nowikova, the school that for many years was orientated towards the analysis of education in various types of children’s collectives. Different postulates, principles, and positions of this school were born in the process of integrating the knowledge from philosophy, education, and psychology together with the objective analysis of the innovative educational practice. Polyakov is also following this approach in his research and his literary style. In this regard this new book is no exception — the above mentioned is present in it.

The reader is introduced to “a set of research and fictional essays, which together represent his vision of the past, present, and future of the Russian school” (p. 7) and show the potential resources of the development of our national education.

The research position of the author is clearly defined in the first sections of the book “From the Author” and “Introduction” and characterized by:

  • The orientation towards the analysis of the Russian school “in the context of the changing world, changing social and cultural conditions” (p. 6).
  • Understanding of the socio-cultural situation of the development of the child as a specific situation that distinguishes one age from another, expressing the relationship between the child and his/her social reality, which supports his/her growth and reflects in the experiences and joint activities of the child (p.14);
  • Differentiating the socio-cultural situation of the development of the child and the socio-cultural context of this situation (p. 17).
  • The intention to analyze how cultural and sociocultural components of education at different levels penetrate into education as a system, as an institution, and as a situation of interaction between teachers and children (p. 17-26).
  • An attempt to comprehensively examine the relationship between psychological science and pedagogical practice as a reserve of influence on the development of education (p. 26-35).
  • A deep understanding of sociocultural challenges to our schools, channels, and agents of these challenges (p. 36-44).
  • Defining different stages of changes in the recent past of the Russian schools as follows: 1975-2009 — past, 2010-2021—present, 2022-2035—future.
  • Courageous suggestions, which explain different scenarios of the development of national schools (p. 148-150).

In the first part of the book, while describing the system of Soviet education, Polyakov is reflecting on what kind of heritage we should be afraid of, what remains to be discussed, and what we should bring back and preserve in the future. He emphasizes such values as self-realization, voluntary participation in social actions, collective unity, mutual creativity, and care about the people around us. These values were characteristic of the most effective educational systems of the past, the author believes, (and we agree with him) that these values remain timely and important for the holistic education and development of our children.

The second part of the book is comprised of two independent but logically connected essays: “Public Teacher”, “The Scenarios of 2009”, and “About New Interventions in Education”. The author is known for his multi-sided (from the point of view of teachers, students, and researchers) research of the consciousness of educators-practitioners and their methods of work. Polyakov’s research showed a very disturbing fact that most teachers relied on a passive position of their students and supported this passivity. This attitude contradicts a number of recent tendencies of supporting children’s activity in modern Russian secondary education as well as different prognoses of the development of national schools, made in 1997, 2000, 2008, and 2011. The analysis of these attitudes allows the author to introduce three different scenarios of the development of Russian secondary education for the next five-ten years: innovative radical, innovative conservative, and “in between”.

Finally, the third part of the book is about the perspectives of social education in our country. Here the author suggests different scenarios of the development of our schools for 2016-2035: rearguard, synergistic, avant-garde, countercultural, and "orientated towards spontaneity." For this reason the author defines technological and economic foundations of the sociocultural transformations for the next 20 years, he also describes cultural, social, political, and psychological consequences of these transformations and introduces new challenges for the pedagogical sciences.

While analyzing different situations, contexts, components, and factors which characterize Russian schools in the past and today, future perspectives and scenarios, the author keeps emphasizing that any education, be it preschool, school, or social, should be first and most for the child. In this case, a child for Polyakov is a developing person, an integral system, an individuality in which both bodily, psychological, and social characteristics are equally important. The most interesting for the author is social education as the meaning and purpose of education. He is also interested in those interventions that allow the creation of such a child-adult community in which interaction, cooperation, "recognition and understanding" of people with different individual characteristics, of different ages, different life experience, different value orientations. The author proves the importance of such communities and their objective historical-cultural significance for the future.

One of the important concepts brought up by the author is the concept of culture. There is a long-standing tradition in science to define culture as space, factor, and condition of education. In this situation the most interesting is the analysis of the interconnection of conservative and innovative functions of culture as a factor which in many ways preserves traditions in education together with innovative processes in it.

This book will be interesting to a variety of readers, and this is one the positive features of the book. Researchers will find a number of questions, answers to which might advance our educational practice, theory of education, and psychology. For example, the author states that a school is changing under the influence of socio-cultural processes. But can (and should) the school itself influence these processes? The author describes in detail how the socio-cultural situation of the development of children has been changing. But what is happening with teachers in this new situation? How much and in which way can teachers influence the choice of the scenarios for the future development of our schools? What are the boundaries of using today’s educational interventions in future schools? Could “the double world”, in which today’s children live, be a positive factor of their development? And the list of these questions could be continued.

Researchers will appreciate the way Polyakov describes new knowledge, very innovative and interesting. First, the author introduces his values, then the results of his longitudinal research (theoretical and empirical), and only then he describes his vision of the future changes in Russian schools.

This book will also be interesting for the practitioners as it is a collection of rich empirical materials, which allow the description of the different sides of national schools. Especially useful for the practitioners could be the following:

  • Characteristics of modern children, their development, and educational consciousness of modern teachers (idealistic in their nature).
  • Detailed descriptions of how to create different situations and inclusive education.
  • The author’s reflections about different scenarios of the development of our school and social education.
  • The rationale for the assertion that the teacher does not need to specifically engaged in educational activities (it is enough to be fascinated by his/her own subject and science and see "accomplices" in the schoolchildren), etc.

In conclusion, we have all the reasons to say that the book written by Polyakov is very timely and prominent, and it clearly represents the research position of the author, who is very respectful about modern schools and who is professionally reflecting on their future.

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