Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Janusz Korczak: Legacy of a Practitioner-Researcher

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Janusz Korczak: Legacy of a Practitioner-Researcher

Article excerpt

   You are not working for your homeland, the community
   of the future unless you are working toward enriching
   your own soul. Only by getting can you give,
   only by growing in one's own spirit can one collaborate
   in the development of others.

      Korczak (1919/1967, p. 5)

This call for nurturing self-development in the practice of teaching was expressed by Janusz Korczak (1878-1942), an educator, a humanist, a reformer, a gifted author, and a pediatrician. The Korczak legend was born in August 1942 when he accompanied the 200 children of the Jewish orphanage of Warsaw to a death camp in Poland. His death, often compared to that of Socrates and Martin Luther King, was a moral declaration, as were his life work and his educational vision. At the age of 33, already a literary and medical success, Korczak left his clinical practice and devoted his life to work for the benefit of orphans. For more than 30 years, Janusz Korczak directed two orphanages: The Children's Home for Jewish Children (1911-1942) and its Christian counterpart, Our Home (1919-1939). The institutions became model democratic communities based on children's self-rule; they had their own parliament, court, and newspaper. Throughout these years, Korczak dedicated his life to the orphaned children, from poor and broken families, aged 7 to 14. He lived with them, worked with them, taught them, and learned from them. He listened to their stories, observed them in their moments of sorrow and joy, and was with them, and for them, until his and their last days. After Nazi Germany conquered Poland, friends offered him asylum and were able to arrange his escape, but Korczak refused and stayed with the children to the end.

Korczak's life and ideas have inspired educators throughout the world. His educational experience, thoughts, and insights are revealed in his pedagogical and literary writings, letters, lectures, radio conversations, and his ghetto diary, most of which have been translated into many languages. (1) Books and articles have been written about his life and educational ideas. (2) Most of these writings are focused on Korczak's life story, his struggle for children's rights, and the self-governing children's communities he formed in the orphanages. The purpose of this article is to highlight a facet of Korczak's work that is less familiar--Korczak as a researcher and as a proponent of teacher research.

In his teaching and writing, Korczak encouraged teachers to become autonomous knowledge producers by questioning and interrogating their work. Korczak not only conceptualized this role but also embodied it throughout his work as an educator. He was a pioneer in recognizing the contributions of teacher research to serving the students' interests and to the teacher's own sense of empowerment. His educational knowledge was formed, tested, and shaped in his daily practice. He used numerous systematic inquiry methods to increase his understanding of the children in his charge, recognizing the value of specificity and particularity in the formulation of theory. He respected science and objective measurement but at the same time appreciated that the uniqueness and mysterious nature of the human soul requires subjective, context-related, and intuitive perspective (Arnon, 1971). Korczak's ideas are still relevant to the current educational discourse and may stimulate new insights into the role of the educator as a researcher and knowledge producer who is an active advocate of change and reform. Although in Europe and in Israel Korczak's work is studied in universities and many symposia are dedicated to his pedagogical and literary writings, Korczak's ideas are less known to American educators. I hope that this article will introduce educators to Korczak's far-sighted vision of educational research and his inspiring and enlightening educational thoughts.

This article discusses Korczak's views and actions with regard to (a) the role of practice and theory in teachers' professional development; (b) teacher self-development through self-knowledge and research; (c) Korczak's own voyage as a practitioner-researcher; and (d) Korczak's research as a precursor to contemporary action research and practitioner research. …

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