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Soviet Education for the Deaf

Hugh Dominic WStiles26 January 2018

Half a century ago the Mayor of Moscow called deaf mutes “living creatures who cannot properly be called human beings, but who only bear an outer resemblance to them.”

Five years later, in 1917, the workers and peasants assumed power in Russia.

The new social system accepted the deaf as useful citizens, and erased the brand that made them outcasts.

The Soviet Government not only recognised the legal rights of deaf mutes, but also provided all the conditions for those rights to be realised. (Pavel Sutyagin, Of those who cannot hear, 1962)

I cannot vouch for the source of Sutyagin’s quotation, but the official was likely to have been Alexander Adrianov, Governor-General of Moscow (1908–1915).  This booklet was produced in 1962, after a vistit to the U.S.S.R. by the World Federation for the Deaf.

After the revolution, all schools came under state control, and a Decree of 10th of December, 1919, ‘the Commisariat of Education was given responsibility for deaf mutes, blind and mentally retarded children.’  The Soviet Education Bulletin continues,

In 1926 and 1927 the Council for People’s Commisars laid down statues for establishments where deaf, dumb, blind and retarded children were educated and called for an improvement in this field, particularly in the training of such young people for socially useful work. Recognising the difficulty of this work, the Soviet Government instituted various incentives to induce teachers to qualify for it (higher saleries, pensions and so on).

Further decrees were issued in 1931 and 1936.  That of 1936 criticised the application of bourgeois “theories which were holding back the correct development of special schools.  This decree abandoned pedology and distributed most children classed as “difficult to educate” among ordinary schools.

In the post-war period special attention has been paid to children needing special education.  New types of vocational schools have been built for the further education of deaf-mutes. (p2)

I suppose ‘pedology’ is an error for pedagogy.  We have a collection of Russian language books, most of which are about to be catalogued by a colleague from the UCL SSEES Library.  I think they were donated by Russian visitors in the 1950s, and 1960s, while I expect some came from visits of groups to the U.S.S.R. by people like our former Librarian, Pierre Gorman.  Most seem to be oral in approach.

Below are some examples from beautifully illustrated books for teaching.  First, a 1965 book with a chapter on space and Yuri Gagarin, the classic soviet hero.

Next a reader for the second class, with gorgeous animal and bird pictures. Note the story of the crane and the fox.

Finally a book that looked to me to be from the 1950s, but is in fact from 1987, again with really good illustrations.

Lenin appears again, as do lots of nature pictures.

After writing this, we came across yet another publication, Overcoming the Silence Barrier by Ilya Gitlits, (1975).  It includes photos by the Deaf Russian photographer, Yuri Polkhovski.

Gitlits, Ilya, Overcoming the Silence Barrier, Novosti (1975).

Vartanyan, Eduard and Gitlits, Ilya (introduction by Sutyagin), Of those who cannot hear, 1962

SCR, Soviet Education Bulletin, 1955 vol 2 (1)

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/deaf-hear-russia-like-it-really-is-sign-language-moves-with-times-1427249.html