Key Pedagogic Thinkers Anton Makarenko

Terje Halvorsen, University of Nordland, Norway


This article gives an introduction to the life and work of the Ukrainian social pedagogue and educational theorist Anton Makarenko. In the early part of the 1920s, he formulated a theory that he further developed while helping orphans under the most difficult and dramatic conditions. When he died, aged only 51 years old, Makarenko left behind a multifaceted theory, or a system of theories, that deals with many aspects of social pedagogy. Unfortunately, this source is ignored by most professionals in the Western countries. Those embarking on this substantial body of work will experience exciting reading. Most likely they will also acquire new insights and perspectives, which may be useful when trying to help young people.

Makarenko's theory is directly inspired by his background and life experiences. In order to fully understand and thereby be able to assess his texts one needs thorough insight into the difficult political and social conditions  under which he lived. The initial part of this article describes some of the key events in his life and also provides an overview of his most important texts. The subsequent part describes the essence of the theory and links its different elements to contemporary professional discourse. In the concluding part the holism and dialectics in Makarenko's reasoning and his intellectual kinship with John Dewey are highlighted.



Anton Semyonovitch Makarenko was born in 1888 in the small Ukrainian railway town of Belopole. He grew up with three siblings in a working-class family. His father was the family's breadwinner and worked as a painter at railway workshops. When Makarenko was twelve years old, his family moved to Kruikov, a small town close to the city of Kremenchug. Here he completed his basic compulsory education. In 1904, at the age of sixteen, he was admitted to one year of teacher training in Kremenchug. In the autumn of 1905, he was appointed to a teaching post  in his home town of Kruikov. During the year when Makarenko completed his teacher training and started working, the so-called first revolution took place. There were riots in many cities and a huge number of people were arrested. According to Soviet biographers (Kumarin 1976), Makarenko became attracted to revolutionary ideas and strongly supported the rising against the Tsarist regime. After six years as a teacher at the school in Kruikov, Makarenko was transferred to a boarding school in South Dolinsk, a small town in the Khersonski province. His subversive opinions may have been the reason for the transfer. The authorities wanted to split up radical political circles. In South Dolinsk Makarenko was assigned two tasks. He was both a teacher and an overseer at the dormitory. Dealing with the latter task he proved to be most creative by providing a large number of leisure activities, among these an amateur theatre and an amateur ornithologist club.

In 1914, after three years in South Dolinsk, Makarenko applied for admission to the Poltava Educational Institute. He was accepted and in the spring of 1917 he graduated. For his thesis about the crisis in modern pedagogy, he was awarded a gold medal. For the next three years, he worked as a director of primary schools, first in Kruikov and later in Poltava.

Makarenko lived his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood in a period of political turmoil. In the late 17th century, the largest part of Ukraine was incorporated into the Great Russian Empire. Tsar Nicholas II became head of state in 1894. He tried to hold on to autocracy through surveillance and repressive measures. However, poor living conditions for ordinary people led to riots. The rising in 1905 was just a preliminary culmination in a series of revolts. During World War I, Russia was allied with the Western Powers. The Russian army was sent into combat inefficiently organized and poorly equipped, resulting in severe losses. This increased discontent among ordinary people. In February 1917, the Tsar had to abdicate and hand over power to a provisional government. This ruled a few months until the Bolsheviks took power through the October Revolution. Years of civil war followed the revolution. Counter-revolutionary groups, referred to as the White Army, fought against the new rulers and their followers. The White Army was poorly organized. However, support from Western countries made it possible to continue the resistance until 1922. In Ukraine ​​several attempts were made to establish a state independent from Russia during the years from 1917 to 1922. These initiatives did not succeed and in 1922 Ukraine became a part of the Soviet Union.

World War 1 and the civil war led to large numbers of orphans. In addition to those parents  killed during armed struggles, many perished in the severe famine that followed the wars. Probably more than seven million Soviet children lost or separated from their parents (Holowinsky 2008). Many of these so-called besprizornikis roamed the cities and countryside and made ​​their living by begging, theft, robbery, or prostitution.

In 1920, Makarenko was requested by the Ukraine authorities to undertake the directorship of a new institution for homeless and delinquent youth, the Poltava Labour Colony. He accepted the position and decided that the name of the institution should be changed to the Gorky Colony. The motive for this was his literary interest and fascination for the writings of Maxim Gorky.

An old agricultural estate was placed at Makarenko's disposal. Here was a sufficient number of buildings and enough outdoor space. However, the buildings on the estate had not been kept in repair. Furthermore, neighbours had carried out a series of thefts. Windows, doors, and stoves had been dismantled and stolen. Even fruit trees had been dug up and removed. Initially Makarenko hired a few employees and together with them he made efforts to restore the buildings. However, poor financial resources limited what could be accomplished.

After a few weeks, the first juveniles arrived. All of them had serious criminal backgrounds, and none of them were willing to adapt to the expectations forwarded by their new caregivers. To avoid hunger and cold, it was necessary to utilize the fields and woods on the estate. However, the juveniles were reluctant to participate in that kind of work. Rather,they  wanted to obtain food and other necessities in the way they knew best, by stealing. The first chapter in the history of the new institution deals primarily with trial and error. The Gorky Colony became a base for a growing band of young criminals. The juveniles often acted threateningly and were involved in serious violent incidents.

In spite of the difficulties and hardship, Makarenko worked steadily dealing with consecutive challenges and trying to formulate an efficient pedagogical approach. After much strain, the results came. Together with his colleagues, he managed to bring most of the juveniles away from a destructive trajectory. Gradually the young people participated in productive work, in education, and in organized leisure activities. The fields were utilized for food production under the guidance of a trained agronomist. They also built workshops and hired craftsmen to train the juveniles.

After meeting the most basic needs for food, clothing and firewood, initiatives were made to beautify the colony. Rooms were cleaned, walls were painted, and a garden was landscaped. The flowerbeds were filled with flowers from the colony's own greenhouse. Music instruments were bought and a band was established. A library was also provided. Concerts, plays, processions, and celebrations became traditions at the institution. Many evenings Makarenko read aloud while the herd of young colonists listened attentively. One of the books that fascinated the juveniles was My Childhood by Maxim Gorky (1915). This is an autobiographical text  in which Gorky describes growing up in poverty. The fact that a celebrity such as Gorky had a difficult start in life made ​​a strong impression on the young ones.

The Gorky Colony was organized in an unusual manner. The juveniles were divided into detachments consisting of ten to twelve persons. Each detachment was headed by one of the juveniles chosen by his or her peers. These leaders were named commanders. The commanders attended a council that made ​​decisions on important matters. Some decisions were taken at a general meeting where all the inmates could meet. Even though Makarenko was the director of the colony, he had to act in accordance with the decisions made ​​at these meetings. Through this system the juveniles became genuinely interested in the general running of the colony.

The use of military terms like commander and detachment was deliberate. These terms were associated with the revolutionary struggle and therefore had positive connotations for the juveniles.

Makarenko's achievements attracted attention and several delegations holding scholars, bureaucrats, and politicians visited the Gorky Colony to study the methods applied there. Some of the delegations came from abroad. In the summer of 1928, Maxim Gorky came and stayed a few days. Afterwards he described Makarenko in high terms: 'The organiser and man in charge of this colony is Anton Makarenko, undoubtedly a great teacher. The boys and girls in the colony clearly love him and talk about him in tones of such pride as if they themselves had created him' (Gorky 1976:112).

After gaining success, Makarenko described his approach in seminars and articles. Here he also put forward harsh critique towards pedology, a prevailing paradigm in the Soviet Union at that time. The term pedology is seldom used in contemporary academic discourse on child development. At that time, pedology was defined as the empirical study of all aspects of child development (Bowen 1965; Holowinsky 2008). Dialectical materialism, a central element in Marxism-Leninism, provided an intellectual climate in the Soviet Union for pure scientific inquiries and descriptions. In Europe and in the USA, pedologists investigated both social and biological factors. However, in the early post-revolutionary period prominent Soviet scholars focused primarily on biological factors and turned pedology into 'a genetic science of the growth of the child' (Luria 1928:350). The Soviet version of pedology can be designated with modern terms like nativism and maturationism. In the 1930s the support for pedology led to an extensive testing practice where children were categorised as gifted, normal or incapable. Many were sent to special schools (Krupskaya 1957).

Among the bureaucrats superior to Makarenko, opinions on his work differed. Some were impressed by how the juveniles improved after attending the colony. The achievements in agricultural production and in building renovation were also recognized. However, several superiors were critical of Makarenko and his methods. Makarenko was criticized for being authoritarian, for using military symbols, and for letting the juveniles influence important decisions through the commander council and the general meeting. In addition, Makarenko's critique of pedology provoked some of his superiors.

One person who changed her judgement of Makarenko was Galina Salko. In 1927 she visited the Gorky Colony in the capacity of inspector from the Ukrainian authorities. According to Salko, she arrived on the site 'in a mood of cool scepticism' (Makarenko 1976:130). However, what she heard and saw made her reconsider her judgement. In an article she describes well-maintained buildings and well-dressed youths who were both disciplined and happy. The latter she exemplifies with an observation made in the refectory: 'Gay laughter rang out, lively conversation and jokes could be heard, but there was no real noise as such. The young people had obviously mastered the art of adapting their voices to the numbers present and the occasion' (Makarenko 1976:133). The continuation of this part of this history is that Salko and Makarenko  married. They also became colleagues.

In September 1928 Makarenko was dismissed from his post. However, he was wanted elsewhere. After leaving the Gorky Colony he immediately undertook the directorship of another orphanage, the Dzerzhinsky Commune.  Here also, the inmates participated in job training through productive work. The tasks were not of an agricultural kind as they had been in the Corky colony. Initially the Dzerzhinsky Commune had three workshops, one for shoemaking, one for tailoring, and one for cabinetmaking. These units were led by highly qualified professionals. After a few years, the work activities at the institution changed from craftsmanship to industrial production. First, a factory for the production of electric drills was built. Several engineers and highly skilled technicians were hired to organize the production and to train the juveniles in handling advanced instruments and machines. After a challenging start-up, the factory became a success. High quality drills were produced in large numbers and the juveniles expressed pride by becoming qualified workers. The next step in the industrial expansion at the Dzerzhinsky Commune was to build a factory for the production of photo cameras. The prototype that was developed was inspired by the famous Leica camera. The camera production also became a success, both commercially and from an educational perspective.

In 1930 the income from production made the Dzerzhinsky Commune a self-financing enterprise. In addition to covering expenses for wages, food, clothes, school material, leisure activities, and investments, it was possible to allocate scholarships to former inmates who had become students at universities or technical colleges.

As in the Gorky Colony, the juveniles in the Dzerzhinsky Commune were part time workers. Every day they attended a number of lessons and did homework. The institution had a ten-year mandatory school programme that all the inmates completed. In addition, there were several so-called Rabfak classes available for the eldest juveniles. These were classes that prepared for higher education.

In contrast to the years in the Gorky Colony, at the Dzerzhinsky Commune Makarenko had to report to a board appointed by the authorities. Except from this, the new institution was organized in much the same way as the Gorky Colony. The juveniles were divided in detachments led by elected commanders, and important decisions were made in the commander council and the general meeting. The detachments in the Dzerzhinsky Commune were less age homogeneous than was the case at the Gorky Colony. Several detachments in the Dzerzhinsky Commune contained both juveniles and children. Here the eldest acted as caregivers, supervisors and role models. They also stood up for the younger ones in cases of bullying.

Also at the Dzerzhinsky Commune the facilitating of cultural activities, sports, and travels was strongly prioritized. Makarenko negotiated a special agreement with the theatre in Kharkov which stated that professional actors would come to the Dzerzhinsky Commune to instruct drama activities, and that the Dzerzhinsky Commune got tickets to all productions at the theatre. Several bands were established. These were led by highly qualified musicians. The library held a large number of titles and was managed by a professional librarian. Sports grounds for bandy, volleyball and other team sports were built. During summer Makarenko and his colleagues organized journeys that gave the juveniles both recreation and new insights. The longest journey taken was a tour to Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, Sochi, Odessa, and Kiev. This tour lasted six weeks.

Unfortunately Makarenko became a victim of his own success. The Dzerzhinsky Commune grew into an industrial enterprise of significance. When the institution was established, the first five-year plan for the national economy of the Soviet Union had been launched. This held explicit ambitions for modernization of the country in terms of industrialization. The board at the Dzerzhinsky Commune held against Makarenko that the decision-making system with a commander council and general meetings was time-consuming and often led to erroneous decisions. The board also wanted to prioritize production by reducing the number of hours spent at school. For some time four hours in production work and four hours at school was a compromise between Makarenko and the board. In 1935 the board decided that full-time production work should be an option for the eldest inmates. When Makarenko protested vehemently, he was transferred.

The conflict between Makarenko and the board must be viewed in the light of the rise of fascism in Europe and consequently a fear of a new war. The electric drills produced by the young colonists were of utmost importance when tanks and warplanes were put together. Undoubtedly the board was subjected to strong pressure from the political authorities to comply with determined production quantities.

When Makarenko left the Dzerzhinsky Commune, he moved to Kiev where he had been offered a position as assistant director of the Ukrainian Department of Labour Colonies. The appointment looked like a promotion. However, the authorities' intention was to neutralize a troublesome employee, an employee of such merit that he had to be neutralized in a gentle way.

In February 1937 several colleagues and friends of Makarenko were arrested and prosecuted for counter-revolutionary activity. Makarenko realised that he and his family were in danger. He resigned his position and left Kiev and Ukraine in a hurry. He went to Moscow where he settled in as an author, speaker and commentator. In spite of a cardiac disease he continued to work hard. On the first day of April in 1939 he collapsed and died in a railway carriage at a suburban station outside Moscow. He had then been at a recreation home run by the Union of Soviet Writers, an association where he was a member. Two months before he died Makarenko was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour for his literary achievements.

After his death he was assigned status as the most prominent Soviet educational theorist. This may have caused a loss of credibility in many academic quarters in the West. It certainly resulted in a loss of support from many countrymen after the disruption of the Soviet Union.


Makarenko was active as a writer for several years before moving to Moscow. Most of his texts deal with pedagogical issues. However, he also wrote theatre scripts and screenplays. The most important educational texts are The Road to Life, Flags on the Battlements, Problems of Soviet School Education, and A Book for Parents (Makarenko 1951, 2005a, 2005b, 2002).

The Road to Life holds the course of events from when the Gorky Colony was established till Makarenko had to leave. Makarenko himself appears as the narrator and protagonist in the story. He describes how in the first year, employees and juveniles suffered hardship and a lack of material necessities, and how educational challenges were dealt with. In addition, his judgement of educational theorists and representatives from the authorities are described in depth.

Flags on the Battlements holds the story of the first years of the Dzerzhinsky Commune. The title refers to flags which were raised on the towers of the institution buildings when the determined quantities of production were reached. The omniscient narrator follows Vanya, Igor, Vanda and several other juveniles from a life as vagabonds and thieves till they become leading colonists helping other young people. Problems of Soviet School Education is a collection of lectures for educators. A Book for Parents is a guide in the upbringing of children and juveniles. Makarenko's wife Galina Salko is a co-author of this book, which was planned as the first volume of a series. Because of Makarenko's sudden passing, this plan was never realized.

Only parts of Makarenko's texts are worded in a traditional academic style. He mainly uses an epic form and imparts pedagogical insights through storytelling. To some extent his texts are representative of Soviet aesthetics of that period. Several of the passages dealing with the efforts and achievements of the young people have a heroic, romantic pathos.

If one compares the earliest and the latest texts, one can identify a major shift. In his earliest texts, Makarenko is first and foremost a scholar. In the later texts, he appears in some passages as an enthusiastic communist and a supporter of the regime. He strongly criticizes bourgeois individualism, and also contrasts the New Soviet person to personality archetypes realized through Western forms of upbringing. In some texts there are references to Stalin. Among commentators, there is disagreement about how to interpret some of the most radical statements. Undoubtedly Makarenko was a supporter of socialism. He was also an utopian, believing that a better society could be realized through upbringing. However, a thorough scrutiny of his literary work as a whole can hardly conclude with Makarenko being an orthodox Marxist-Leninist. Neither do the testimonies from juveniles that he helped and his colleagues, support such a conclusion (see Fere 1976; Kalabalin 1976; Stepanchenko 1976).

One possible interpretation is that some striking statements were the results of a survival strategy. Stalin's takeover had major consequences for the rule of law in the Soviet Union. Civil rights were radically weakened and for those who did not adapt to the regime, execution or a stay in one of the many Gulag camps were likely outcomes (Conquest 2008). Makarenko was said to be a courageous man with integrity. However, he may have considered it necessary to adapt.

Another interpretation is that Makarenko was unable to fully grasp a complicated political situation. In favour of this interpretation one may point to the fact that Maxim Gorky in 1932 returned from his exile in Italy after invitation from Stalin, and that Gorky acclaimed the Cheka men, members of the organization that became the GPU and later the KGB (Morgan 2003). Also, several Western intellectuals supported the regime, among them the famous Norwegian author Nordahl Grieg (de Francesco 1990). A third interpretation deals with the authenticity of the later texts. As described above, Makarenko was canonized after his death. Efforts were made to portray him as an active participator in the revolutionary struggle and as a dedicated communist. As part of these efforts, some paragraphs in his books may have been rewritten and brought in concordance with the prevailing politics. These days there is ongoing research to restore some of his texts.

Makarenko's books were printed in large numbers and sold all over the Soviet Union and in other communist countries. The Road to Life became particularly popular reading. Several texts were also made available to a Western audience through translations into English and other languages. The famous psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner (1970) who in the 1960s carried out a comparative study of upbringing in the Soviet Union and the USA described the work of Makarenko in a flattering way. However, in the field of social pedagogy, Makarenko does not seem to be well-known in Western countries. If one explores readers, academic textbooks and journals, and tries to trace texts dealing with his theory one will make very few discoveries.

Some texts describing the alternative form of residential care - often referred to as Hassela pedagogy -  comprise an exception (Andersson 2007). During the 1960s and 1970s the Western countries experienced a dramatic increase in the number of young drug abusers. Ordinary psychiatric institutions and welfare institutions were often unable to provide adequate help to these juveniles. The poor results inspired residential care workers in Sweden and Norway to examine alternatives. Some of these launched an approach that to a large extent was derived from the writings of Makarenko.

Central elements in the pedagogy of Makarenko

Grown-ups as guides

Makarenko explicitly addresses the still ongoing nature versus nurture controversy; the debate concerning to which extent environmental and biological factors influence child development. He fully realizes that development is also biogenetically determined. However, he assigns priority to the influence of environmental factors and therefore cautions against the popular flower metaphor, that of the developing child as organically unfolding like a flower. This metaphor brings notions of grown-ups as gardeners whose only tasks are to add physical nourishment and to protect. Makarenko argues that parents and professionals must realize the importance of pedagogical efforts. They must see themselves as guides and show young people the way to important knowledge about natural, phenomena, society, and artifacts.

The collective and the individual

'Collective' is a central concept in Makarenko's pedagogy. He claims that social pedagogues must try to turn groups of young people into collectives, integrated social units that hold joint goals and loyalty among members. According to Makarenko, a collective makes up a link between the individual and society. He describes how discussions, practical work, and some leisure activities can transform a group of young individualists into socially oriented beings and thereby form a collective.

According to Makarenko, to emphasize the individual's subordination to the common good does not imply ignoring individuality. He sees no contrast here but regards the collective as the best place for individual growth. In a well-functioning collective each person is seen and understood as an individual and special needs are taken into account. The latter implies that the professional must be able to apply several methods.

Group work represents a broad domain in contemporary social pedagogy. Parallels can be drawn between Makarenko's pedagogy and several currently active writers with their descriptions of group work.

Model learning

When addressing the phenomenon that individuals observe and imitate the behaviours of significant others, professionals often refer to the works of the American psychologist Albert Bandura (1977). However, several decades before Bandura became a scholar Makarenko gave extensive descriptions of how juveniles, parents and professionals can be positive models. He describes how the elder colonists made a decisive impact on the younger ones. To realize this potential he had to consider thoroughly how to compose the detachments. When it comes to parents and professionals, he argues that the way these grown-ups live their own private lives is more important than their use of educational methods. According to Makarenko, a dubious person will never be able to influence young people in a positive direction.

Heinz Kohut (1977), Donald Winnicott (1965), and John Bowlby (2005) are exponents of a radical relation perspective within the psychodynamic paradigm. The essence of this perspective is that accepting and supportive responses from caregivers are of utmost importance for the child's personal and social development. Corresponding descriptions can be found in Makarenko's texts. He strongly emphasizes the vulnerability of young people and the importance of a caring environment. When recruiting new employees, an important criterion for Makarenko was their ability to provide care.

Expectations, normality and respect

The fact that expectations can promote both deviance and normality is widely recognized in the field of social pedagogy. Professionals know that expectations that are forwarded can work as self-fulfilling predictions. Erving Goffman (1963), Thomas Szasz (1974), and Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968) are among the researchers that are often referred to when these insights are described.

Makarenko may also be a reference here. He strongly emphasizes the relationship between expectations and behaviour:'It is my profound conviction that boys and girls become delinquents or 'not normal' because they are treated as delinquents or 'not normal' children' (2005b:54). According to Makarenko, to express expectations of the juveniles, i.e. that they should comply to ordinary social norms and master age-adequate tasks imply showing them respect.


Makarenko is a prominent exponent for polytechnicalism, i.e. a tradition in pedagogy and social science where the need to provide humans with some kind of professional competence is emphasized. For the individual qualifications imply access to paid work, which in turn brings self-confidence and social integration. For the state a competent labour force implies efficient production and the possibility to offer social welfare.

Before Makarenko, writers like Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1977), Leo Tolstoy (1967), and John Dewey (1900) had described polytechnicalism. However, Makarenko put the idea into practice and further developed a system  in which formal teaching and job training were combined, where the teachers and job instructors were highly qualified, and where the juveniles were given scholarships so that they could attend further education after leaving the institution.

Makarenko can be seen as a precursor to the British researchers Sonia Jackson and Jane Aldgate. Three decades ago they and colleagues revealed that education was a neglected priority within the child welfare system in the UK (Aldgate et al 1993; Jackson 1994). They also called attention to the fact that educational failure predicts unemployment and social maladjustment. Their findings have brought forth improvement. Today more efforts are made to promote looked-after children's ability to cope with academic challenges and thereby gain a professional competence.

Architecture psychology

Architecture psychology is a research field dealing with how humans are affected by physical environments. The actual researchers seek to uncover inborn aesthetic preferences that are universal or highly frequent in order to optimize the design of homes, city centres, schools, institutions, and other workplaces (Bechtel & Churchman 2002; Gifford 2002). When establishing and running institutions for young people, many child welfare professionals have realized the importance of utilizing the insights from architecture psychology.

Most of the research about how the physical environment affects humans have been carried out from the mid 20th century. This research confirms claims made by Makarenko in his works on the Gorky Colony and the Dzerzhinsky Commune.


Makarenko argues that institutions for young people must have a time structure in the form of day schedules and semester plans. Such structure ensures that work and training is carried through, that there is enough time for rest, that there are amusements to look forward to, that willpower is strengthened, and that monotony is avoided. In the contemporary field of social pedagogy, these insights are widely recognized. Much of the specialist literature holds descriptions of time organizing as a fundamental aspect in residential care.

Music, drama, literature, sports, and travelling

In many institutions today,  juveniles are given the opportunity to play music instruments and practice singing. Such activities imply joy and diversion. In addition, these activities may influence the development of identity. This is because cultural beliefs and preferences are often embedded in song texts and pieces of music. Taking part in drama activities can also bring joy and sometimes influence the development of identity. Through drama juveniles are given the opportunity to express thoughts and feelings, and to discuss roles and identities.

Reading fiction, attending team sports, and travelling to foreign regions or countries may be said to have similar functions. Several contemporary textbooks hold instructions about how social pedagogues can initiate leisure activities and utilize the potential in such activities. In Makarenko's texts, professionals can find extensive descriptions about how the young colonists enjoyed and learned from such activities.

From object to subject

The schism between determinism and indeterminism is often discussed in the social sciences. The question to consider is whether humans are determined or autonomous, objects or subjects. Makarenko deals with this question in a dialectic manner and concludes that there is no contrast; humans are both objects and subjects. We are determined by our genes, and by our cultural and material surroundings. However, human beings hold a unique position as we can assess, criticise, and to some extent change reality. Furthermore, Makarenko argues that our understanding of the human condition has a self-fulfilling effect. Those who see themselves as objects are made passive by their fatalism. Those who believe that they can change their surroundings and influence their own lives become subjects that make a difference through judgements and actions. In other words: Autonomy is a potential we ourselves have to realize. This perspective is further developed in contemporary social pedagogy by those scholars oriented towards the paradigm referred to as humanistic pedagogy or existentialistic pedagogy (Schneider & Krug 2010).

Efforts beyond applied science

A fundamental question in social pedagogy is whether this enterprise should be solely a neutral application of science, similar to the work of agronomists, electricians and doctors. Those who answer this question confirmatory base their conclusion on scientism and meta-ethical non-cognitivism. Those who oppose argue that it is impossible to exclude moral and social-philosophical issues in the dialogues between juveniles and social pedagogues. They also claim that some answers to such questions have a kind of validity because of the better reasons that can be stated. Better reasons can be stated for anti-racism than for racism, better reasons can be stated for democracy than for autocracy and so on. These valid answers must be pointed out by the social pedagogue.

Makarenko is an exponent for the latter position. He argues that humans are both natural beings and cultural beings, and that we can transcend our nature by deciding on moral and social-philosophical issues.

Concluding remarks

As evident from the account above, Makarenko in his texts deals with many aspects of human life and social pedagogy. Most of the formal research in the special branches he discusses has been carried out after he passed away. However, as a pioneer he was able to give substantial theoretical descriptions that later research has confirmed.

In addition to being a pioneer in many special branches, Makarenko was also a pioneer by arguing in favour of holism. He starts from the premise that a human being is a complex being holding many potentials and needs. This obvious premise has been ignored by many. To some extent the field of social pedagogy has been characterised by mono-theoretical approaches and reductionism. Many professionals have based their work on one theory and ignored other theories. The followers of one particular theory have then made up a fellowship isolated from other fellowships. As an example of this, behaviourists have worked isolated from those oriented toward psychoanalysis. From time to time there have been paradigmatic turns or 'revolutions', where groups of professionals have left one paradigm and embarked on another. At times dominant theories have monopolized the field. A mono-theoretical position normally implies ontological reductionism because most theories focus on only a few aspects of a complex reality. For example, orthodox behaviourism deals with overt behaviour, whereas psychoanalysis deals with emotions and unconscious motives and nativism deals with inborn dispositions and maturation stages. In recent years the trend has changed and become more in accordance with Makarenko's claim. Several multi-modal approaches have been launched by researchers arguing that synergies are realized when methods from different paradigms are combined. As an example the ART-programme holds elements of behaviourism, Kohlbergian theory, existentialism, Vygotskian theory, information processing theory, and system theory (Glick & Gibbs 2011).

Makarenko was heavily influenced by Hegelian philosophy. He often tried to transform opposites on one level into a synthesis on a higher level, cf. description above. He shared this dialectical way of reasoning with his contemporary, the prominent theorist and Hull House activist,*[1]John Dewey. Throughout his professional life Dewey endeavoured to identify and transcend dichotomies. However, the intellectual kinship between Makarenko and Dewey goes further. In their texts on education and upbringing, they both deal with issues in aesthetics, epistemology, social philosophy, and philosophy of mind. Makarenko is often referred to as the John Dewey of the Soviet Union. Maxim Gorky, Makarenko's friend and literary mentor, was an acquaintance of Dewey, and, in fact, John Dewey visited the Soviet Union in 1928 (Dewey 1929; Martin 2003). In spite of this, Makarenko and Dewey never actually met.

Counterfactual history is an approach where the historian tries to answer what if-questions known to be counterfactual. An intriguing question is: what would have happened if Makarenko and Dewey had the chance to work together? My hypotheses are that these two would have made up a successful dyad enriching each other, and that Makarenko's work would have been valued by many scholars and professionals in the Western countries.


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[1] The Hull House was a settlement house in Chicago providing adult education, nursery school, cultural activities and social support. The house was headed by social work pioneer and Noble Peace Prize laureate Jane Adams. Dewey was one of many volunteers at the house.


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