Janusz Korczak was a Polish-Jewish educator, children’s author, and pediatrician. He also was a director of two orphanages. Mariola – the founder of the Janusz Korczak Association of the USA, brought to my attention that Korczak had a Montessori corner in the orphanage in Warsaw. After the Nazis took control of Poland Janusz Korczak received an offer of refuge but refused to leave his young children who were forced into a Jewish ghetto. And when those 200 children were rounded up for deportation to the concentration camp, Korczak famously accompanied them in a dignified march to the train station, later they parishes in the Treblinka extermination camp. Author of an incredible children’s book he also shared his parenting advice.
Janusz Korczak and Maria Montessori were two exceptional individuals who dedicated their lives to the empowerment and well-being of children. Although coming from different backgrounds and working in different regions, their educational philosophies remarkably converged. This blog post will delve into the life and work of Janusz Korczak and highlight the alignment between his philosophy and that of Maria Montessori.
The Child as an Individual:
Just like Maria Montessori, Korczak recognized the uniqueness of every child. His pedagogical approach focused on valuing the individuality of each child, acknowledging their autonomy, and embracing their diverse needs, talents, and perspectives. Korczak believed that children should be involved in decision-making processes and have the opportunity to shape their own learning experiences.
The Role of the Adult:
Both Korczak and Montessori emphasized the importance of the adult’s role in creating a conducive environment for children’s growth. They believed in the educator as a guide who should observe, analyze, and adapt their approach based on the individual needs of the child. This included providing a constructive space where children could explore, discover, and learn independently.
Education as Freedom and Preparation for Life:
For Korczak and Montessori, education was not limited to transferring knowledge but was a means to empower children for life. They aimed to develop children who were confident, responsible, compassionate, and capable of critical thinking. Both educators believed that education should nurture children’s desire to learn and encourage their innate curiosity about the world.
Emphasis on Practical Life Skills:
Montessori education emphasized the development of practical life skills, such as self-care, social skills, and problem-solving abilities. Similarly, Korczak insisted on providing children with practical knowledge and preparing them for responsible citizenship. He emphasized the importance of teaching children useful skills that would help them become independent and resilient adults.
The Role of the Community:
Both Korczak and Montessori recognized that children are not separate entities but rather members of a larger community. They believed that education should focus on developing social competence, empathy, and a sense of responsibility towards others. Both educators aimed to create learning environments that fostered collaboration, respect for diversity, and a sense of belonging.
By celebrating the alignment between Korczak and Montessori, we can continue the enduring legacy of these two trailblazers and work towards creating educational environments that prioritize the holistic development of children worldwide.
The Orphanage and Children’s Republic:
Korczak ran an orphanage in Warsaw, Poland, where he implemented his revolutionary principles of child-centered education. The orphanage, known as the Dom Sierot, or the House of Orphans, served as a haven for hundreds of children. He created the “Children’s Republic” within the orphanage, a microcosm of society in which children had a say in decision-making and self-governance.
Korczak’s unwavering commitment to the rights and dignity of children was rooted in his deep-seated belief in humanitarianism. He saw children as individuals deserving of respect, autonomy, and love. He advocated for their right to education, healthcare, and protection from abuse.
The Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust:
With the outbreak of World War II, the Warsaw Ghetto was established, confining Polish Jews, including Korczak and the orphanage’s children, to a small, overcrowded area. Despite the atrocities of the Holocaust, Korczak refused to abandon the children or compromise his principles.
The Last Walk:
In 1942, when the Nazis ordered the deportation of the orphanage’s children, Korczak was given the opportunity to save himself. Yet, he chose to accompany the children to the trains bound for the Treblinka extermination camp. He believed that his place was with the children, regardless of their imminent fate.
The Ultimate Sacrifice:
On August 6, 1942, Janusz Korczak, along with the children and his dedicated staff, met their tragic end in the gas chambers of Treblinka. In his final act, he displayed immense courage, empathy, and self-sacrifice, exemplifying his lifelong dedication to the well-being of children.
Legacy and Inspiration:
Janusz Korczak’s sacrifice serves as a profound reminder of the lengths to which some individuals will go to protect and advocate for children’s rights. His bravery and unwavering commitment continue to inspire countless educators and activists worldwide.
You can find out more about Janusz Korczak’s life and work by visiting the Janusz Korczak Association of the USA website.
Here are some of his books:
This moving fable follows the adventures of Matt who becomes king when just a child and decides to reform his country according to his own priorities. Ignoring his grown-up ministers, he builds the best zoo in the world and decrees that children should be given chocolate every day. He fights in battles, braves the jungle, and crosses the desert, but perhaps the most life-altering thing of all is that the lonely boy king finds true friends. This timeless book shows us not only what children’s literature can be, but what children can be.
Kaytek, a mischievous schoolboy who wants to become a wizard, is surprised to discover that he is able to perform magic spells and change reality. He begins to lead a double life: a powerful wizard in the dress of an ordinary boy. It’s all great fun using magic to cause strange incidents in his school and neighborhood, but soon Kaytek’s increasing powers cause major chaos around the city of Warsaw. Disillusioned, he leaves the country and wanders the world in search of the meaning of his good intentions, his unique abilities, and their consequences. Revolving around the notion that power is not without responsibility, nor without repercussions, this story speaks to every child’s dream of freeing themselves from the endless control of adults and shaping the world to their own designs.
Wisdom for ParentsThis collection of one hundred quotations and passages from legendary educator Janusz Korczak offers valuable advice and observations on how to take care of, respect, and love every child – from understanding a newborn’s mysterious behavior to answering the outrageous questions kids ask to confront the conundrum that is adolescence. In an inviting gift book format, which also includes a short chapter on Korczak’s life, this is a heartfelt and helpful reminder of who we were as children and who we might become as parents.
10 COMMANDMENTS FOR PARENTS OF JANUSZ KORCZAK
- Do not expect that your child will be just like you, or the way you want him to be. Help him to become not you, but himself.
- Do not expect your child to return everything you invested in him. You gave him his life, how he can repay you? He will give life to another, and this is an irreversible law of gratitude.
- Do not vent your resentments on the child and avoid disappointment later on in life. For what you sow, is what you reap.
- Do not look down on your child’s problems. Everything in life is given according to what one can handle. Remember, a child’s life is just as challenging, it might be even more challenging than yours since he lacks life experience.
- Do not disgrace!
- Don’t forget that the most important encounters in life are encounters with children. Pay more attention to them – we can never know whom we encounter in the face of the child.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you cannot do something for your child. Simply remember, you haven’t done enough until you’ve done all you can.
- The child is not a tyrant who takes possession of your whole life, nor it is merely the fruit of the flesh and blood. This is a precious cup that God gave you to keep and develop in a creative fire.
- Learn to love the other person’s child. Never do to them what you wouldn’t have done to your child.
- Love your child no matter what he is – not talented, unsuccessful, or grown-up. When spending time with him rejoice because the child is a celebration that is still with you.