Volume:9, Issue: 1

May. 15, 2017

A Pedagogy of Humanist Moral Education by Marc Silverman (2017): A brief review
Tsyrlina-Spady, Tatyana [about]

It is my distinct honor and pleasure to present to our readers a new book by Professor Marc Silverman not only because it is so timely and important but also because one of the first articles on Korczak, published in our journal, was also written by Marc (2013), Janusz Korczak’s Road to Moral Education (http://www.rus-ameeduforum.com/content/en/?task=art&article=1000989&iid=16), and generated a lot of readers’ traffic and interest.

Any academic who has ever put him/herself into the business of composing a book knows how tiring, stressful, and time-consuming it is, and how joyful and relieved one feels to finally see this product out of press. In Dr. Silverman’s case, it is not only a relief but also a good reason to receive congratulations for an outstanding accomplishment. In one of the reviews of the book a famous moral philosopher Dwight Boyd states,

For anyone who believes in the importance of respecting children and promoting their moral development in schools today, this is a must-read book. Silverman’s synthesis and interpretation of Korczak’s contributions is both masterful and eminently readable (http://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137560674#reviews).

Due to the journal format and online design, I will neither have a chance to pay tribute to all valuable features of this book nor provide the reader with its detailed description and full-scaled analysis. Instead, I would like to highlight just a few of its significant characteristics.

To start with, I will mention Silverman’s interpretation of Korczak’s humanism and the cultural sources that inspired it. As is well explained in chapter 2, neither Poles nor Jews ‘own’ Korczak, and as a result, his radical humanism is a product of the hybrid nature of his cultural identity. This chapter closes with the invitation to read a number of materials, either written by Korczak’s biographer Betty Lifton, or by Korczak himself – some rare publications like his Curriculum Vita and a new polished translation of his three short stories (in relation to the issue of anti-Semitism).

The reader will find even more impressive references at the end of Chapter 3. Literally, my worldview was transformed after studying Korczak’s Alone with God: Prayers of those who do not pray. It was translated into English directly from the original publication in Polish and published here for the first time but I had a chance to read it over twenty years ago in Russian due to the excellent work of a famous Korczak’s researcher Dr. Olga Medvedeva (Korczak, 1994).

All the aforementioned sources, logically and graciously interwoven into the fabric of the book, provide wonderful insights and better knowledge of the cultural context, and enrich our understanding of Korczak’s concept of humanism and his overall philosophy of life.

Another important feature of the book is the analysis of Korczak’s dual national identity and its influence on his understanding of fundamental values. Eloquently, Silverman summarizes it in the following conclusion, “Korczak’s firm commitment to democracy and democratic-socialism always outweighed his Polish patriotism and nationalism.” Thus, the book displays the all-embracing nature of Korczak’s ideas that “prioritizes the universal, egalitarian dimensions of the human over particularistic ethnic-national concerns” (Silverman, 2017, Kindle Locations 3593-3596). 

One more crucial characteristic of the book is the results of an in-depth study of the implications of Korczak’s theory for our modern understanding of religious, moral, and civic education. As the author states,

The hallmark of Korczak’s brand of humanism is respect for all others: human, animate, and even inanimate. Korczak’s humanism respected real persons, with all their concrete, physical, and mental particularities, not just people who are easy to love (Silverman, 2017, Kindle Locations 3588-3590).

It is practically the first book in English that presents Korczak as a progressive moral philosopher whose ideas did not only outlive his time but also preserved their significance for many years ahead. The term ‘moral education’ has a few different and often misleading interpretations, and it is due to Silverman’s close examination and meticulous attention to every detail that the reader receives a clear understanding of how Korczak’s rich practice has been translated into a discerning and profound theory of moral education. The author manages to go beyond Korczak’s unsurprising aversion to dry and formal theoretical constructions of his time and unveils a number of provocative ideas that would certainly complement our current educational theory and practice.

In this regard, the book presents a successful attempt to place Korczak’s theory of education into embedded-in-practice theories of education (e.g., John Dewey). Korczak’s practices are thoroughly examined and interpreted in terms of modern rational reflective justice-seeking (Lawrence Kohlberg’s just communities’ approach) and care-oriented theories of education (Carol Gilligan, Nel Noddings). The author argues convincingly that Korczak managed to achieve a compelling synthesis between these two often-opposing schools of thought.

As Korczak once wrote, “the lives of great men are like legends – difficult but beautiful,” and this can be fully applied to his own life and legacy. That is why I can’t agree more with Silverman’s conclusion that “… Korczak’s life and work should be taught as a model of humanity at its best, a demonstration of the principle that our humanity is constituted by what we give to others and not what we get from them” (Silverman, 2017, Kindle Locations 3602-3604).

Do these words sound familiar to you? Do you want to learn more how to become a committed and caring educator, teacher, parent, social worker and beyond, then put this book on your reading list and prioritize it. You won’t be disappointed!


  1. Korczak, J. (1994). Naedine s Gospodom Bogom. Molitvy tekh, kto ne molitsya (Alone with God. Prayers of those who do not pray). Translation and Afterward by Olga Medvedeva. Moscow: Rossiiskoye Obschestvo Janysha Korczaka.
  2. Silverman, M. (2017). A Pedagogy of Humanist Moral Education: The educational thought of Janusz Korczak, New York:  Palgrave Macmillan US. Kindle Edition.

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