Volume: 7, Issue: 2


Stanislav Shatsky: social and personality-centered education
Богуславский М.В. [about]

KEYWORDS: extracurricular education, system of education, self-realization, labor education, children’s development planning, school-colony.

ABSTRACT: It is impossible to imagine the 20th century theory of education in Russia without the name and work of Stanislav Teofilovich Shatsky (1878-1934), who is rightfully ranked among its most prominent leaders. This paper describes the life, professional activities, and ideas of this noted educator.

It would be no exaggeration to admit that Stanislav Shatsky represents the conscience of all Russian teachers, being a keeper and a follower of their best traditions.

Stanislav Teofilovich Shatsky was born on June 13, 1878 in the family of a low-level military official in the village of Voronino, Dukhovshchinsky district, Smolenskaya province. In 1881 the family moved to Moscow. Stanislav graduated from a Moscow gymnasium in 1896 (1; 117). Being one of its best students, Stanislav Shatsky would always whole-heartedly reject education which was formal, removed from reality, and characterized by detached student-teacher relations. Through his whole life Shatsky was haunted by the memory of his fellow student who was weeping and kissing the math teacher’s sleeve begging for a better (not failing) grade. “My pedagogical faith grew out of rejection of the way I was educated and brought up,” – Shatsky would write later. As a result of his own schooling experience, Shatsky was determined “never to learn or teach like that” (1; 118).

Here is how Simon Soloveychik described Shatsky’s biography in his book An hour of traineeship: “First, Shatsky learned to learn. He was a typical “everlasting student”. He studied at the Moscow State University (School of Sciences), then at the Moscow Conservatoire, and finally at Petrovskaya (currently, Timiryazev) Agricultural Academy where he became Kliment Timiryazev’s favorite student.

Shatsky worked as an actor, director, agronomist, and an excellent singer with a very impressive repertoire: 300 romances and songs, and 10 opera parts. After Shatsky’s successful tour around Russia as a heroic tenor he was offered a debut in the Bolshoy Theater! He was destined for glory, success, respect, and money. But Shatsky turned down the offer which could have opened him doors to each and every Russian opera house” (2).

He spent ten years in search for his professional career but still remained dissatisfied and frustrated. Through all those years of uneasy and painful uncertainty Stanislav Shatsky could not help thinking about education, pedagogy, and work with children. Shatsky was greatly impressed with Leo Tolstoy’s works in philosophy and education as well as his educational activities at Yasnaya Polyana school. The image of a rural school as an agricultural commune, which Shatsky wanted to create, was gradually getting into a good shape. That was actually the reason he became a student at Timiryazev Agricultural Academy (1; 118).

Then there was a seminal meeting with architect Alexander Zelenko, who had just returned from the United States. Zelenko was well acquainted with the US schools and suggested to set up an original American-type “settlement” of educated people to promote public education and culture to the local population. Zelenko believed that the rapidly growing industrial economy in Russia needed a new type of a worker: creative, well educated, and ready to participate in cooperative activities. Shatsky became fascinated with the idea.

The first attempt to carry out those plans shaped itself into a small agricultural commune, which was created by Shatsky and Zelenko and opened its doors in 1905 for 14 boys from an orphanage. Later on, it grew into Shyolkovskaya Labor and Arts Commune run by children. The success of the first summer inspired the commune’s organizers (3).

Indeed, the formation of the first institutions that were supposed to unite children and youth in after-schools’ activities could be credited to Stanislav Shatsky and Alexander Zelenko. The so-called “Pedagogical Robinsonade” was a strong motivation for Shatsky and Zelenko to start a regular educational activity. Youth clubs and a preschool known as “the Day Shelter for children” were opened in Moscow (in the districts of Butyrskaya Sloboda and Maryina Roshcha). About 150 children attended the Shelter in the autumn of 1906. The Shelter could boast its locksmith, carpenter, and tailor workshops. The existing youth clubs in Mariinskaya Roshcha merged into the cultural and educational Settlement. A number of major companies donated money to build a separate building for the first Russian youth club, the design by Alexander Zelenko. That was the beginning of an intensive search for various forms of educational and developmental activities (3).

The core faculty were alumni of the Moscow State University and included E.A. Kazimirova, A.A. Fortunatov, L.K. Shleger, and N.O. Massalitinova. All of them were outstanding and gifted people, who made a significant contribution to the theory and practice of education.

One of the most prominent educators of the Settlement was Valentina Demyanova, who graduated Moscow Conservatoire (majoring in piano) with honors. In 1906, she became a wife of Stanislav Shatsky and also his most faithful companion through all the years of “his search” (1, 119).

The work with children was based on the concept developed by the Settlement members. It defined the necessary conditions for a child to live a rich and wholesome emotional and intellectual life. The idea of “the children’s kingdom” was the epicenter of the Settlement education system, which meant each child would receive an opportunity for a comprehensive development. Children attended various clubs: carpentering, shoemaking, singing, astronomy, theater, and biology. Each club bore its own name and regulations, developed by children and strictly followed by them and the adult leaders. The decisions, made by the club and general meetings, were mandatory.

All structural elements of the Settlement education system complied with the goal to provide children with the most favorable conditions for personal self-expression and self-realization. Hardly any of the staff members was a licensed teacher, but lack of expertise and experience was compensated by an enormous energy and enthusiasm. The primary emphasis was put on children’s social education.

The instruction was primarily oriented towards practical knowledge. Relationships between teachers and children were similar to those of between older and younger friends. Attention was paid to teaching the notions of friendship, solidarity, and collectivism. The idea of children’s self-governance was very new for educational practice of the time (3).

Here is how Shatsky later formulated his teaching credo in the memoirs Years of search:

There must be no bias – let us just live and bring about everything that will best create a living atmosphere of childhood, let us consider the reality rather than our imagination. All of us are friends with the children. We must do everything what our children do; we must not suppress the children with our authority. We must fully obey the rules developed by the children. The more our children will see us as the participants of their life, zealously fulfilling their shared responsibilities, the better. Let them see our errors – and then we will really establish sincere relationships (5).

In spite of the enormous interest of radical intellectuals to Shatsky’s innovations and also a received silver medal for children’s arts and crafts at the Industrial Fair in St. Petersburg, the Settlement was shut down for… “an attempt to promote socialism among children.”

Nevertheless, due to the persistence of Shatsky and his friends, a new society, “Children’s labor and leisure”, was established in the same year of 1908. In fact, it continued and developed the previous traditions based on manual labor: cooking, self-service, household improvement, gardening, crop and animal farming. Leisure time was devoted to games, reading, talks, improvised dramatization, music, and singing. Later Shatsky came to the conclusion that manual labor has the consolidating influence on the life of a children’s community. Besides, classes of manual labor had educational value as children acquired knowledge and practical skills related to nature and agriculture.

In 1911, a member of the aforementioned society, M.K. Morozova allowed Shatsky and his colleagues to use her vacant plot of land in Kaluga Province and set up the children’s colony named “A Cheerful Life” (1, 119) with the major goal to arrange for summer vacations for Mariinsky Club’s members and to continue work in creating a close-knit children’s community, as well as to prepare children for labor, implement children’s self-governance, and develop their creative abilities. The colony turned out to serve as an experimental ground for Shatsky’s ideas of close interrelation between labor, aesthetic and intellectual activities, interaction between teachers and children, and development of a children’s community.

The “Cheerful Life” as an institution for children, later became a role model for similar type communes while they were rapidly spreading during the next decade, and especially during the Civil War in Russia. It comes as no surprise as Stanislav Shatsky offered a model of self-reliant educational institution which survived due to intensive agricultural labor of children and adults. However, though labor occupied an important place in the life of the colony, its aim remained primarily educational. The colonists understood the practical value of their activities and tried to make their lives more beautiful and pleasant. Thus, the colonists found joy in labor [7; 8].

The core element of the colony was the consolidated community of children and adults based on the principles of self-governance. The children became real, not would-be, masters of the “Cheerful Life”. And, of course, just like in all other Shatsky’s communities, the colony was ruled by Her Majesty Creativity. Adults and children published bulletins, staged drama performances, held concerts, listened to and performed music. The orchestras, choir and theater went along with labor in the fields, workshops and various games (4).

While the 1917 February Revolution inspired Shatsky and opened new perspectives in his work and creative activity, the educator did not accept the October Revolution. He was among organizers of the teachers’ strike held by the All-Russian Teachers’ Union and aimed against the power of the Bolsheviks. Being one of the leaders of the All-Russian Teachers’ Union and a member of the Moscow Town Council, where he was in charge of public education, Shatsky indignantly turned down the proposal to serve at Narkompros (People's Commissariat for education). Later, however, Shatsky accepted Nadezhda Krupskaya’s offer to cooperate. In 1919, he created the First Public Education Experimental Station (supervised by the RSFSR Narkompros), which he administered until its shutdown in 1932 (1, 120).

This experimental institution occupied a whole district in Kaluga Province and had, in fact, two stations: an urban office in Moscow and a rural station in the countryside, in Kaluga Province. The rural station contained 4 preschools, 15 elementary schools, one middle school, the “Cheerful Life” colony, a reading club, a regional ethnography club, teacher training courses, and a pedagogical center that studied the schooling experience. The Moscow station had its own preschool, kindergarten, and a school as well as an exhibition devoted to kindergartens and schools. The Station was actively involved in educational research, ran a teacher training school and summer courses.

The primary objective of the Station was to research the influences of the social environment on the child’s growth and development; methods of education based on valuable cultural opportunities, and an active inclusion of parents into the process of social education. By far, the Station was considered the best experimental institution in the sphere of education. In the 1920s, it made a great contribution to the concept of the Unified Labor School (1, 120).

The first and foremost, which the First Public Education Experimental Station gave to education, was the practical implementation of the school as a set of institutions realizing continuity and integrity in education. It was a unique project both in terms of its idea and scale. Shatsky’s concept, the center of education in the social environment, made the transformative activity to be the primary source in the development of children’s cognitive, value-oriented, and emotional spheres.

The key problem though was the interaction between the school and the environment. The Station worked in two directions: 1) to study the environment and adjust educational programs to peasants’ mentality, and 2) to transform the environment based on new principles. Local peasants were actively involved in the schools’ activities: they were offered lectures, provided with rear and valuable seeds, and helped with their household chores. Thus, the Station became closely related with the environment, which made a positive influence on continuity and integrity of education. As a result, Shatsky was successful in achieving his ultimate goal – “to provide everything for the child’s life”.

Stanislav Shatsky considered it his main objective to prepare children for cultural achievements of the humanity. He was convinced that education must be aimed at the development of the people who would become able to improve themselves, rationalize their labor, intellectual and aesthetic activity, as well as to cooperate their efforts in order to achieve the common goal.

Child-adult cooperation, an established trust among them, the desire of the society for innovations, positive attitude to criticism, the ability to develop and overcome inevitable challenges – all that contributed to the favorable moral and psychological atmosphere of children and adults in the First Public Education Experimental Station. Educational goals of schooling in its broad sense – including clubs, libraries and playgrounds – were realized in a deep and thorough study of positive and negative aspects of children’s subculture (9).

Consequently, according to Shatsky’s concept, the goal of education always correlates with the needs of the social environment where the process of education takes place. The positive aspects of children’s subculture should be used as building blocks in education.

Shatsky opined that a true school should provide an individual wholesome and all-rounded development focusing on labor, aesthetic, intellectual, physical and social activities. The synthesis and interrelation of these activities result in the development of a versatile personality. Shatsky saw the most crucial goal of education in planning the process of an individual development. He paid a special attention to offering schoolchildren new and more difficult tasks while teaching them to formulate those tasks and challenge their minds while solving problems. Shatsky built his educational activities on studying backgrounds and experiences of schoolchildren of various age groups in order to determine what the school must do in each particular area for the child’s life to become healthier, more wholesome, and interesting.

Shatsky’s theory of using socializing factors in education was new and original not only for Russia (6). The Station became well known in the world. John Dewey, for example, was very impressed with the First Public Education Experimental Station during his visit there in the late 1920s. Dewey wrote that he knew nothing in the world that could compare with that colony (1,121).

However, while implementing his ideas Shatsky was hampered by the social environment and political situation in the country. The Station stayed in a constant threat of being closed. Shatsky’s education and scale of thought put him high above the general crowd of education officials. Thus, finally, in 1932, the Party officials closed the Experimental Station. As Shatsky wrote, he was torn away with his heart bleeding from the work he loved most.

In 1932-1934 Stanislav Shatsky headed the Central experimental laboratory of the RSFSR Narkompros. In those years he often visited Kaluga and Maloyaroslavets where he actively promoted his daring ideas of school improvement. In 1933 Stanislav Shatsky participated in the International Educational Congress in Paris, where he made a speech. As Shatsky’s works were steadily gaining recognition in the world, the Soviet press, on the contrary, started pressuring him. That was the beginning of an endless political ostracism – he was accused for being either a representative of the right-wing Moscow educators or a follower of Tolstoy’s ideas.

In 1932 Shatsky was appointed head of the Moscow Conservatoire. But he did not feel at ease there without a degree in music or profound knowledge in the theory of music while all prominent musicians of the Conservatoire reported to him. Nevertheless, even there he tried to marry his educational ideas to practice. He initiated the establishment of a music boarding school for gifted children, and it made a significant contribution to the outstanding achievements of Soviet musicians at world contests in the 1930-50s.

Lack of satisfaction from his work, constant ostracism in the Soviet press and loss of the meaning in life seriously undermined Shatsky’s health. On October 30, 1934 Shatsky died suddenly during the preparation of the Conservatoire for the Day of Revolution (1, 121).

Stanislav Shatsky could be merited, first and most, for a holistic approach to the influence of the environment on children’s socialization. Along with that he consistently supported an individuality-oriented approach to the personality formation. In Russia, Shatsky pioneered a number of vital educational innovations: school self-governance as a tool for self-actualization and self-regulation of children’s life activities, character education provided via specific ways of organizing children’s social and life activities, and leadership in children’s communities.


  1. Boguslavsky M.V. (2005).  Podvizhniki i reformatory rossijskogo obrazovanija (Pioneers and reformers of the Russian education). Moscow: Prosveshcheniie.
  2. Soloveychik S.L. (1972). Chas uchenichestva (An hour of traineeship). Moscow: Detskaya Literature, 1972.
  3. Etapy novoj shkoly. Sbornik statej i dokladov (Stages of a new school. Collection of papers and reports) (1923).S.T. Shatsky (Ed.). Moscow: Rabotnik Prosveshcheniya. 
  4. Shatskaya V.N., Shatsky S.T. (1924). Bodraja zhizn'. Iz opyta detskoj trudovoj kolonii (Cheerful life. From the experience of a juvenile labor colony). Moscow: Gosizdat. 
  5. Shatsky S.T (1924). Gody iskanij (Years of searching). Moscow: Mir.
  6. Shatsky S.T. (1958). Izbrannye pedagogicheskie sochinenija (Selected works in education). Moscow: Uchpegdiz. 
  7. Shatsky S.T. (1980). Izbrannye pedagogicheskie sochinenija v 2-h tomah (Selected pedagogical works in 2 volumes). Moscow: Pedagogika, Vol. 1. 
  8. Shatsky S.T. (1980). Izbrannye pedagogicheskie sochinenija v 2-h tomah (Selected pedagogical works in 2 volumes). Moscow: Pedagogika, Vol. 2.
  9. Shatsky S.T. (1989). Rabota dlja budushhego (Work for the future). Compiled by V.I. Malinin & F.A. Fradkin. Moscow: Prosveshcheniye. 


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