Ushinskii, Konstantin

Ushinskii, Konstantin Dmitrievich


Born Feb. 19 (Mar. 2), 1824, in Tula; died Dec. 22, 1870 (Jan. 3, 1871), in Odessa; buried in Kiev. Russian democratic educator; the founder of scientific pedagogy in Russia.

Ushinskii graduated from the faculty of law at Moscow University in 1844. From 1846 to 1849 he was a professor at the Demidov Lyceé in Yaroslavl, which he was forced to leave after being accused of political unreliability. He contributed to the journals Sovremennik (The Contemporary) from 1852 to 1854 and Biblioteka dlia chteniia (Library for Reading) in 1854 and 1855. In 1854 he became a teacher of Russian linguistics and jurisprudence at the Gatchina Orphans’ Institute. From 1855 to 1859 he was inspector of classes there, and beginning in 1859 he was inspector at the Smol’nyi Institute.

In 1860, Ushinskii became editor of the Zhurnal Ministerstva narodnogo prosveshcheniia (Journal of the Ministry of Public Education). When governmental reaction intensified he left the journal, and, after a secret report had been made on him, he was dismissed from the Smol’nyi Institute in 1862. From 1862 to 1867 he lived abroad and studied pedagogy.

Ushinskii was active during the crisis in the system of serfdom and during the emergence of the social democratic movement and its revolutionary democratic trend. His pedagogical system sought a democratization of education and instruction in Russia. Ushinskii understood the close relationship between pedagogy and philosophy. Pedagogy, in his view, was “fundamentally a philosophical study” (Sobr. soch., vol. 11, 1952, p. 182). He declared that skill in the upbringing of children was “particularly and to a high degree indebted precisely to the materialist approach” (ibid., vol. 3, 1948, p. 363). Ushinskii’s civic views were on the whole idealistic, but they reflected the progressive democratic idea of the gradual development of society, they attacked despotism, and they recognized that man is an active being and that work is the most important factor in life.

Ushinskii’s pedagogical theories were based on the idea that upbringing must be national in spirit. Ushinskii believed in the creative powers of the working people in the historical process and in their right to a complete education. Whereas official nationalism was linked to autocracy and serfdom, Ushinskii’s views became the foundation of progressive pedagogy in its efforts to reform public education. He opposed the slavish imitation of that which was foreign, praised the life of the common people, which was filled with labor and patriotism, and extolled the Russian language, Russian literature and history, and the Russian landscape.

Ushinskii’s concept of the Russian national spirit was free of Slavophile nationalist narrow-mindedness. He recognized that it was acceptable to utilize the achievements of other nations, but emphasized that this “is harmless only when the foundations of public education are firmly built by the people themselves” (ibid., vol. 2, 1948, p. 144). Ushinskii also attacked the bureaucratic ministerial administration of public education, sought to awaken public interest in educational issues, and attempted to acquaint “educated people with people of the working class” (ibid., p. 496). He strove to influence democratic public opinion to establish schools for the people, including schools operating on Sundays, and to end the jurisdiction of the clergy over the schools. Finally, Ushinskii demanded universal compulsory education for children of both sexes, to be conducted in the native language.

Ushinskii regarded upbringing as a social phenomenon determined by history; this shaped his view of pedagogy and the school. The object of upbringing is the individual, and “if pedagogy seeks to educate a person in all respects it must first know him in all respects” (ibid., vol. 8, 1950, p. 23). For Ushinskii, knowing a person “in all respects” meant studying his physical and psychological characteristics and the influences of “unpremeditated education”—the social environment and the spirit of the times—as well as his level of culture and his civic ideals. In organizing purposeful (“premeditated”) upbringing, pedagogy utilizes the achievements of the “anthropological” sciences: philosophy, political economy, history, literature, psychology, anatomy, and physiology.

Ushinskii’s materialist views on physiology and psychology enabled him to conduct research on pedagogy at an advanced level, particularly in didactics. The relationship between pedagogy and the “anthropological” sciences, “in which the bodily and spiritual nature of man are studied” (ibid., p. 22), is most fully elucidated in Ushinskii’s major work, Man as the Object of Education: An Attempt at a Pedagogical Anthropology (1868–69).

Ushinskii believed that the main factor in the development of the individual was the historical succession of the generations of mankind. Upbringing advances the new generations along the road to the future “by acting as one with other social forces” (Sobr. soch., vol. 2, 1948, p. 165). The improvement of upbringing, in Ushinskii’s view, “can extensively broaden the limits of man’s physical, intellectual, and moral powers” (ibid., vol. 8, 1950, p. 24). The purpose of upbringing—the formation of an active and creative individual—also presupposes preparation for intellectual and physical work, the highest form of human activity. Ushinskii regarded the work of pupils in school as the most important factor in upbringing and education. His theory of creative work as a major factor of life and upbringing was an important contribution to Russian pedagogical thought and was further developed in Soviet pedagogical studies.

Ushinskii’s concept of morality and moral upbringing reflected his antiserfdom orientation and his democratic view of the Russian national spirit. He believed that religion played a positive role in the development of morality, but he also supported the separation of education and the schools from religion and disapproved of the leading role played by the clergy in school affairs. Ushinskii believed that the chief factors in the moral development of the individual were social and historical factors. Of major importance in moral upbringing was patriotism, which in Ushinskii’s view was manifested among the people with “true lion’s strength” in the defense of the motherland from foreign enemies. True patriotism precludes chauvinism and requires that citizens be taught “to speak the bold word of truth” against oppression and violence, which did not disappear from Russia with the abolition of serfdom. Ushinskii’s system for the moral, upbringing of children excluded authoritarianism and was based on the power of positive examples, the moral influence of the teacher, and the “rational activity of the child.” His system sought to develop an active love of mankind and to create an atmosphere of comradeship.

Ushinskii developed an integrated system of didactics that presented principles for selecting the content of education and adapting it to the needs of children. His elucidation of the intellectual development of the child was based on materialist gnoseology and the findings of psychology and physiology. Ushinskii studied the psychophysical aspects of instruction and analyzed the psychological mechanisms for attention, interest, memory, imagination, emotion, will, and thinking. He proved that these mechanisms needed to be acknowledged and developed during the process of instruction. To Ushinskii, the chief element in the psychology of children was the fact that “a child requires constant activity and becomes fatigued not from activity as such but from its monotony and one-sidedness.” He concluded: “The younger the age, the greater the necessity for diversified activity” (ibid., vol. 3, 1948, p. 147).

Ushinskii’s system of didactics enabled teachers to organize the cognitive activity of children. Ushinskii devoted particular attention to developing in children a love of work and an interest in learning and physical work; his aim was to stimulate the child’s activity and independence during the learning process. The task of the teacher was to “teach how to learn” and to help the pupil find his place in life. Ushinskii stressed that “it is necessary not only to convey this or that knowledge to the pupil but to develop in him the desire and ability to acquire new knowledge independently, without a teacher” (ibid., vol. 2, 1948, p. 500).

Ushinskii emphasized the importance of a knowledge of the natural sciences and opposed focusing on the classics in the teaching of the humanities. He had a high regard for Darwin’s theories and wrote that they “give a living meaning to all natural science and can make it the most influential subject of study for children and youth” (ibid., vol. 9, 1950, p. 378).

Ushinskii stressed that the native language should be used in schools, since it “inspires the entire people and their motherland” (ibid., vol. 2, 1948, p. 557). In his primers The Children’s World and Anthology (1861) and Our Native Language (1864), Ushinskii included selections of high aesthetic value from Russian literature and oral folk literature, as well as articles on nature study, geography, and Russian history. The high level of the material in the primers was combined with simplicity of style and clarity of presentation, and the primers thus served as means for moral and aesthetic upbringing. Ushinskii’s primers provided abundant material for stimulating independent thought, as well as a well-planned system of exercises.

Ushinskii’s methodological manuals for teachers focused on primary education. He made a major contribution to Russian pedagogy by introducing a new analytic and synthetic phonetic method for teaching reading that is still used in Soviet schools.

Ushinskii established the principle of integrated instruction in Russian didactics, that is, the unity of instruction and upbringing. “Education,” he affirmed, “must not only increase a person’s store of knowledge but must also influence his convictions” (Arkhiv Ushinskogo, vol. 4, 1962, p. 592). The leading role in this process is played by the teacher, who is “a living link between the past and the future, a mighty warrior for truth and good . . . his work, which outwardly seems modest, is one of the greatest deeds of history” (Sobr. soch., vol. 2, 1948, p. 32). Ushinskii stressed the importance of specialized training and of works on pedagogy in the formation of the schoolteacher’s personality.

Ushinskii exerted a great influence on the development of progressive pedagogy among the peoples of Russia and the Slavic countries. His pedagogical theories were ahead of their time in many ways and are used in Soviet pedagogy. In 1945 the Council of People’s Commissars established a medal named for K. D. Ushinskii, which is awarded to particularly outstanding teachers and specialists in pedagogy in the RSFSR.


Sobr. soch., vols. 1–11. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948–52.
Arkhiv K. D. Ushinskogo, vols. 1–4. Moscow, 1959–62.
Izbr. pedagogicheskie soch., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1974.


Lordkipanidze, D. O. Pedagogicheskoe uchenie K. D. Ushinskogo, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1954.
Danilov, M. A. Didaktika K. D. Ushinskogo. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948.
Struminskii, V. la. Osnovy i sistema didaktiki K. D. Ushinskogo. Moscow, 1957.
Struminskii, V. la. Ocherki zhizni i pedagogicheskoi deiatel’nosti K. D. Ushinskogo. Moscow, 1960.
Goncharov, N. K. Pedagogicheskaia sistema K. D. Ushinskogo. Moscow, 1974.
Sovetskaia pedagogika, 1974, no. 2. (Issue devoted to Ushinskii.)
Ocherki istorii shkoly i pedagogicheskoi mysli narodov SSSR: Vtoraia polovina XIX v. Edited by A. I. Piskunov. Moscow, 1976. Chapter 12.