The substance of the ideas expounded in \"Problems of Life\" is the following. The main and highest principles of our education are [totally] out of harmony with the prevailing trend in society. The result is that, on completing a course of education and on entering society, we find ourselves obliged either to renounce all that which we were taught in order to adjust ourselves to society, or else follow our own rules and convictions, and thus set ourselves in opposition to the social trend. To sacrifice sacred, higher convictions for the sake of mundane advantage, however, is too immoral and repugnant a step; but where shall we find the strength to go against falsehood Education does not in the least prepare us for this struggle against the false trend of society. It does not even take the slightest trouble to imbue us with loftier human convictions; all it is concerned with is to train us to become scientists, lawyers, physicians, soldiers, and so on and so forth. And yet, on entering life, a man wants to have certain convictions, he wants to define what he is, what his goal and mission are. Examining himself, he finds ready-made solutions for these problems as given by his education; but on examining society he perceives in it strivings which run counter to these solutions. He wants to, combat evil and falsehood, but here the utter unsoundness of his previous education comes to light: he is unfit for the struggle; he must first re-educate himself [in order to enter the arena of the struggle].... Meanwhile, the years fly,life goes on, it is necessary to act...and the man acts, at random, often falling under the burden of difficult problems, and he is swept by the swift current of the crowd, first to one side and then to another, because he cannot act independently; the inner man in him has not been developed; he lacks convictions; and convictions are not easily acquired:\"Only those can have convictions, who from their earliest years have been trained to look penetratingly into themselves, who from their earliest years have been trained to love truth sincerely, staunchly to stand up for it, and to be unconstrainedly frank--both with their teachers as well as with their fellows.\"
This is what Mr. Pirogov dwells on. He points to the evil in education and proves his propositions with relentless and irresistible logic. He helps us to understand and to discern the cause of the evil: the predominance of externals in education itself, neglect of the inner man. But how is the inner man killed in children How is it that externals are more developed What particular influences cause them to cross life's threshold unprepared and helpless Mr. Pirogov does not analyze these questions in detail, he leaves the answers to be conjectured. We shall take the liberty here of expressing a few thoughts that arose in our mind on reading \"Problems of Life.\"
[In treating of the problems of education from the lofty heights of present-day pedagogics, we have up till now behaved in a way that is strongly reminiscent of the fable in which wolves are appointed to supervise sheep. In that fable every circumstance was fully taken into consideration, every opinion was canvassed, but one thing was forgotten--the sheep were not consulted. Similarly,] most of our ideas on pedagogics, while fully taking into consideration the problems of higher philosophy and laying down true and useful rules from the religious, political, moral, general psychological, and so forth, aspect, lose sight of one very important circumstance, viz., the actual life and nature of children and, in general, of all those who are being educated...That is why the child is often sacrificed to pedagogical considerations. Mounted on his moral hobbyhorse, the teacher regards his pupil as his property, as a thing, to do with as he pleases. \"The child must not have a will of its own,\" the wise pedagogues say. \"It must blindly obey its parents, teachers, and seniors generally. its teacher'scommands must be the supreme law. and those commands be obeyed without the slightest argument. Absolute obedience--this is the main and sole condition of education. The ultimate object of education is to substitute the rational will of the teacher for the irrational will of the child.\"All this sounds very logical and correct, does it not But recalling thedescription of this rational education given in \"problems of Life,\" and with the impressions of our own upbringing and education still fresh in our minds, we cannot listen to logical arguments of this kind without a sceptical smile. All of them clearly reveal only one thing--the frightfully pedantic pride of the worthy pedagogues combined with contempt for the dignity of human nature in general. When saying that to the child the teacher is the personification of the moral law and rational conviction, they obviously place the teacher on an inaccessibly lofty pedestal as a model of infallible morality and wisdom. One would readily agree, of course, that if such an ideal teacher existed, absolute, blind obedience to his authority would not cause the child any particular harm (except the real harm of retarding the independent development of its individuality). But, firstly, the ideal teacher would not demand such absolute obedience: he would try to develop rational strivings and convictions in his pupil as quickly as possible. And secondly, to set out to find infallible and ideal teachers and educators in our times would be an exceedingly brave but utterly wasted effort. Too many conditions are needed for this. First of all, the moral rules of the educator must be absolutely correct, and they must be strictly applied in every contingency in life, however particular and petty. For him no question can be obscure and no situation doubtful, for what will the teacher do if such a situation arises and he mast order the child to do something The child must implicitly obey every command, and consequently, must never provoke argument or discussion. Moreover, it is assumed that the teacher is absolutely dispassionate: he must never be moved by anger or by love, he must never feel indolent or tired, good moods and bad must not exist for him, he cannot be an ordinary man, he must be a special type of machine, the strict embodiment of the moral law. As far as we know, however, no such machine has been invented yet, and if some announce that they have discovered the secret of such an invention, it isonly another expression of their contempt for human nature and of their desire at all costs to be as unlike a human being as possible. If, however, it is assumed that the teacher may be governed by passion, who can guarantee the absolute infallibility of his actions towards the child Would it not be better to train the child to reason rationally from its earliest years [so that it may, as soon as possible, acquire the ability and strength to disobey our commands when we order it to do something wrong]
But even if we assume that the teacher can always rise above the individuality of the pupil (which happens, although, of course, not always, not by any means) he, at all events, cannot rise above an entire generation. The child is preparing to live in new surroundings, his environment will not be that of twenty or thirty years ago, when his teacher received his education. And usually, a teacher not only fails to foresee, but he simply fails to understand the requirements of the new times and thinks they are absurd. He tries to keep his pupil to the concepts and rules to which he himself adheres: quite a natural and comprehensible striving, but, nevertheless, one that becomes exceedingly harmful as soon as it begins to restrict the child's will and mind. The result is that the development of the pupil's natural reasoning faculties is retarded, and his receptiveness to the phenomena and requirements of the of the life of the society in which he will have to act is sometimes entirely deadened by the old prejudices and opinions he accepted on faith from his teacher in his childhood. Such an education is undoubtedly the foe of all improvement and progress, and it leads to lifeless immobility and stagnation.... Its influence affects not only separate individuals, but the whole of society.
If the prejudices and errors of the old generation are forcibly implanted into the child's impressionable soul from its earliest years, then the enlightenment and improvement of an entire nation is long delayed by this unfortunate circumstance. True, the bitter experience of life convinces an entire generation that what it was told in childhood was false, and a man loses part of his childish enthusiasm for what he had been taught in the past and had been refuted by life; nevertheless, by force of habit, he clings to what he had been taught in the past and imparts it to his children, only with enthusiasm than it was imparted to him. The new generation loses a particle of the awe it felt for inculcated ideas; but, on theother hand, inborn habit is strengthened, and as time goes on the people cling more unconsciously and, for that very reason, the more tenaciously, to the traditions of their fathers. Life must make it impossible for these long moribund traditions to continue; a powerful thinker, a genius must arise to compel society to feel the need for and the possibility of change in the accepted, irrational principles. And after this discovery, how slowly and feebly the new idea takes root; how long it takes to penetrate the depths of men's souls and spread among the masses! Centuries have passed since it was proved that the earth moves, but to this day our common people, constantly hearing that the sun has risen and the sun has set, look upon it as an enormous lantern moving across the sky from east to west. The divine doctrines of Christianity have been preached in Russia for nine centuries already, but among the people belief in hobgoblins, water sprites and wood sprites is still