In the Memory of the Teacher...
Miloslav Balaban was born in 1927 in Odessa. His mother started the
first school in the Ukranian language in Odessa at the age of 18 and in 1930’s moved to
Gorky (nowadays Nizhniy Novgorod), where Miloslav graduated from the Institute of foreign
languages in 1949 as a specialist in English and French. He worked as school director in
the Far East (Amurskaya Oblast’), then left for Gor’kovskaya Oblast’ (Kulebaky),
where he taught English at Metallurgical technical college.
In 1957 he became a post-graduate student of Moscow 1st Foreign
Languages Institute, got a position of interpreter with UNESCO in Paris and published a
textbook English for Metallurgical Colleges. From 1959 until 1966 he held the chair
of foreign languages at the Zaporozhye Pedagogical Institute, for around a year worked as
docent at Dnepropetrovsk University and in 1967 got a position of a docent at Foreign
Languages Department at Orechovo-Zuyev Pedagogical Institute.
In 1977 Balaban started working as a senior researcher at Moscow State
Lomonosov University and worked there until the end of his days. He was author of no less
than a hundred articles; of books, deposited at the library of the Academy of Social
Sciences and published by Moscow State Lomonosov University. His last book (Park-School:
How to Create a School Without Forms and Classes) appeared in 2003.
In 1990 he was invited to the OECD countries conference on education in
Lisbon (Portugal) as an expert in education. He specialized in the field of philosophy and
the psychology of education and, assisted by his daughter Olga Leontyeva, developed an
alternative system of secondary education called “Park School”.
His major contribution to pedagogical science consisted in refutation
of traditional authoritative “class-hour schooling” and proposal to substitute it with
a liberal “park-school” system.
My dad, Miloslav Balaban, held at that time the chair of Foreign
Languages at Zapozhye Pedagogical Institute (Ukraine) and conducted experiments in
teaching English in pairs. Students were supposed to come to classes having read as many
pages from some book in English, as it would be necessary in order to be able to retell to
the “pair-mate” for 45 minutes the essence of what they had read.
Dad used the same method teaching me and my brother Pavel English at
home. Once he complained to mom and us, his sons, of not having “enough guts” to solve
the following problem. The students were not interested in listening attentively to what
their partner was telling them. Instead they were preparing for their turn of retelling.
“How might it be possible to make them interested in listening to the story of their
‘pair-mate’?” – dad asked all of us. Actually a similar problem existed during our
home English-learning hours. Therefore I started reflecting on this subject: what would
make me personally listen attentively to the story of my pair-mate?
It occurred to me that the problem could be resolved by introduction of
“back-retelling”: after having listened for 37–40 minutes the student would be
obliged to retell back during 5–8 minutes what they have heard from the other student
and vice versa.
Dad liked this idea and later said that it worked. He wanted to know
what I would like to have as a sort of reward for a good idea. “Roller blades” –
without any hesitation said I, being proud of having helped my dad.
Being a man of one idea (that Jan Amos Komenskiy’s class-hour school
system had outlived its usefulness), dad felt that “traditionalists” in pedagogics
considered him to be marginal. This fact made him active with developing his ideas into
something constructively-positive. As a result his ideas attained the form of a
“park-school” system, which was primarily devised as an alternative to traditional
“schooling” system. His only goal in life was to make this “park school” system
technologically plausible and accepted by the pedagogical community not as some curiosity,
but as real alternative to contemporary class-hour school system. My sister Olga helped
him a lot with this task. I wished I could do as much, for I also had a pedagogical
education (teacher of English and German). Unfortunately, I changed my specialty from
linguistics to law and from 1980’s was in the field of law practice. But now that I’m
of mature age I understand the depth of dad’s primary idea, should I continue pursuing
task of reforming education left unfinished by him?
Maybe that is something I have to devote my life to – in higher
education if not in secondary education. In law education if not in foreign language
teaching. Maybe thus I’ll be able to pay my dad the debt of a son.
By Andrey Balaban