Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Great Russian writer

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself"

Leo Tolstoy’s pedagogical teachings

Tolstoy’s moral and religious doctrine was based on the idea of non-resistance to evil by violence, the desire to spread good in the world by every man. He proposed the idea of moral revolution, based on the thesis of free self-improvement of personality. He proved that spiritual non-violent upheaval may take place in a human being with the speed of revolutionary upheaval. The task of pedagogical science, he argued, should be to study the conditions of coincidence between teacher and pupil on the way to a common goal, and those conditions that might hinder such a coincidence.

Conditions of moral education:

  • development of observation;
  • development of the ability to think and feel deeply and independently;
  • freedom of children’s activity and creativity;
  • respect for the child as an individual;
  • protest against the oppression of children;
  • respect for children’s shortcomings;
  • children’s embrace of the “religious element”.

Theory of free upbringing

Drawing on Jacques Rousseau’s idea of the ideal nature of the child, which is spoiled by imperfect society and adults with their “false” culture, Tolstoy argued that teachers have no right to forcibly educate children in the spirit of accepted principles. Education should be based on students’ freedom to choose what and how they want to learn. The teacher’s job is to follow and develop the child’s nature. This idea is reflected in Tolstoy’s pedagogical articles and his primary school textbooks.

The Yasnaya Polyana School

The Yasnaya Polyana School belongs to the list of original pedagogical attempts: in an era of boundless admiration for the latest German pedagogy. Tolstoy resolutely rebelled against all regulation and discipline in school. Everything in teaching should be individual – both teacher and pupil, and their mutual relationship.

In yasnopolyanskaya school children sat whichever way they wanted. There was no definite teaching programme. The teacher’s only job was to get the class interested. Classes went perfectly. They were Tolstoy himself with the help of some permanent teachers and some occasional, from the closest friends and strangers.


Education – a free ratio of people, of which one communicates a known amount of knowledge, and the other freely perceives it. As the main task of education and upbringing Tolstoy put forward the development of creative thinking, asserted the need for a complete scientific education. He defended the thesis of the unity of education and training: not to educate, not passing knowledge, all the knowledge acts educationally, he believed. Tolstoy wrote:

“It is important not the amount of knowledge, but the quality of knowledge. You can know a lot, not knowing the most important”.

But the most important thing in education, according to Tolstoy, is to observe the condition of freedom of education and training based on religious and moral teachings. Education, in his view, should be fruitful, that is to contribute to the movement of man and humanity to the greater good. This movement is only possible with the freedom of the students. However, in order for this freedom not to become chaos in teaching, common grounds are needed. Religion and morality are such foundations. A special role was given to such teaching methods as the teacher’s word (storytelling, conversation). Development of children’s creativity: independent work, essays. Conscious assimilation of knowledge. Teaching pupils to be observant. Extensive use of excursions, experiments, tables and pictures, observation of authentic objects. Critical attitude to the sound method of teaching literacy.

Tolstoy wrote:

“When I enter a school and see the crowd of ragged, dirty, thin children with their bright eyes and so often angelic expressions, I get anxiety, horror, like the one I would experience at the sight of drowning people … And drowning here is the most precious, namely the spiritual, which is so obviously apparent in children. I want education for the people only to save the Pushkins, the Ostrogradskys, the Lomonosovs that are drowning there. And they are swarming in every school.”

Thoughts on the work of a teacher

Tolstoy wrote:

“It is not the teacher who is educated and trained as a teacher, but the one who has the inner confidence that he is, must be and cannot be otherwise. This confidence is rare, and can only be proved by the sacrifices one makes to his recognition.”

“If a teacher has only love for a cause, he will be a good teacher. If a teacher has only love for the student, like a father, a mother – he will be better than that teacher who has read all the books but has no love for either the cause or the students. If a teacher combines love of work and love of pupils, he is a perfect teacher”.

Advice for teachers:

  1. The harder it is for the teacher, the easier it is for the student.
  2. It is necessary that the pupil should not be ashamed of the teacher and his fellows.
  3. What is taught to the pupil should be understandable and entertaining.
  4. Give the pupil such work that every lesson feels like a step forward in learning.
  5. It is very important that the pupil should not fear punishment for bad teaching.
  6. The lesson should be commensurate with the strength of the pupil.

Contribution to pedagogy He developed the open education theory of school of Jacques Rousseau in national pedagogy. Wrote one of the first educational books for public school. Created original pedagogical system based on his own religious-philosophical ideas. He wrote fundamental works in the field of education: “The ABC book” (1872), “The New ABC book” and four “Books for reading” (1875), “On Public Education” (1874). Tolstoy’s ideas were further developed in the activities of Wentzel, and many other educators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.