Fascinating lessons: how Alexander Barkov wrote adventure textbooks
He began teaching immediately after graduating from Moscow University and chose the method not of a stick, but of a carrot, in order to put the wisdom of science into the heads of the underage. Together with friends, he created fascinating anthologies, and after them other teaching aids. It is no coincidence that in the Geographical Society he headed the department of school geography.
Alexander Barkov was born into the family of a landless peasant in the Tula province. His father, a retired non-commissioned officer, a war invalid, was a clerk in the Karkadinovsky volost government, which gave the family the opportunity to somehow exist and even save something. He did everything to provide his son with a good education, especially since the boy was clearly very capable of learning.
At the age of four, Sasha already knew how to read, and at the parochial school, where he began to receive an education, he was one of the first students. At the age of nine he graduated from an educational institution, by this time transformed into a zemstvo school, and thought about what to do next. With fellow peasants, he was not very interested, Barkov preferred to explore the vegetation of the surrounding meadows and the forest adjacent to the village of Karkadinovo with giant oaks. The second passion was reading – according to his own father, he literally “swallowed” books, for which he constantly ran to the local priest, Father Ivan.
Without a doubt, the talented boy needed to be taught further, and his father decided to send him to the Epifan Zemstvo School. A case helped with accommodation and meals – the burnt-out merchant owed something to the clerk, who provided the younger Barkov with a room and a table for 3 rubles. per month – this amount was feasible for the family. From class to class, Alexander invariably passed with commendable sheets and awards of the 1st degree. When he graduated from college at the age of 12, the question arose again of what to do next.
To enter the gymnasium, it was necessary to move to Tula, where for 3 rubles. you won’t settle down anymore. In addition, among the exams was Latin, which was not taught at the school. The situation was complicated by the fact that just at that moment a decree was adopted “on the cook’s children” by Minister Delyanov, according to which the offspring of insolvent parents could not be admitted to the gymnasium.
However, the Barkovs coped with all the difficulties. Alexander memorized Latin over the summer from a textbook and a collection of exercises – he did not succeed in understanding science, so he simply memorized books. This was enough to enter the second grade. The father was determined to do everything possible to give him an education – all the money he had accumulated, 200 rubles, he gave to Alexander’s education.
“More recently, my friend from the Tula gymnasium, Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences Torichan Pavlovich Kravets, recalled the effect I had on my appearance: an overgrown tall, when everyone is 10-11 years old, badly dressed, timid”– Barkov wrote in his memoirs. However, the constraint on funds did not prevent the young man from successfully studying. Many teachers did everything to captivate the wards. Evgeny Tomashevich invited them to visit him in order to show Jupiter and Saturn through a telescope, and also took them on botanical excursions. Peter Nikolsky tried to diversify Latin by adding interesting stories from various areas related to the studied texts to the lessons. And the stern Greek teacher Nikanor Belorussov, who kept all the students in awe, gave Barkov the opportunity to complete his studies: when he ran out of money, he recommended a capable young man as a tutor for a first grade student. Since then, Alexander regularly gave lessons and no longer expected money from his father, but, on the contrary, he himself helped the family. Ahead was studying at the university.
“Already on the second day after receiving the matriculation certificate, many of us put on student caps! We arranged a boat trip on the Upa River. It was a lot of fun. We sang Gaudeamus in chorus. Everything went well, said goodbye. then go to the Efremov district to the Arsenievs. I don’t know on what occasion I saw the constable. In a conversation, he mysteriously said that he was instructed to keep an eye on me, because, “you see, during the walk on the river Upa you sang some then unlawful songs.
Alexander Barkov “From my life”
From study to teaching
Barkov entered the natural faculty of Moscow University, from which, by his own admission, “he was crazy.” He fell into a brilliant period in the history of the university, among his teachers were Kliment Timiryazev, Ivan Sechenov and other famous scientists. Alexander did not change himself, surrendering to learning with true passion, and after the very first exams he received the highest scholarship.
He was always fond of botany, geography was gradually added to it, which was read by the founder of the Russian university geographical school Dmitry Anuchin. “He read simply, but it was worth asking him a question, and you could be convinced of his deep knowledge, Barkov recalled. — He was an amazing connoisseur of literature! Archaeologist, ethnographer, historian – what only he did not know! We called it the “mine of wisdom”. There were no practical lessons at that time. You could only read something or look at photo albums”.
After graduating from the university, Barkov lived for about a year as private lessons. In 1899, he was offered to become a geography teacher at the Alexander Institute for Noble Maidens, headed by the niece of Minister Pyotr Stolypin. Education there was carried out according to a special program.
“The honorary guardian of the institute was Alexander Alexandrovich Pushkin (son of the poet), a retired general, who always appeared in a uniform with stripes. He was tall, gray-haired, had a bronze complexion, outwardly resembled his father, a poet, but wore a beard. All of his role in the institute was that he approved teachers, sometimes attended classes and always at exams, handed out awards, etc. A characteristic feature of him was exceptional modesty. shook the teacher’s hand, while saying only one word: “Thank you!” He said jokingly about himself: “I am the most unsuccessful work of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin.”
Alexander Barkov “From my life”
At the same time, the scientist taught at the Moscow Industrial School, which was very modernly equipped and had a large program in geography and natural history. Then followed the 5th gymnasium, the women’s gymnasium of A. S. Alferova, the women’s Pedagogical courses named after D. I. Tikhomirov. In 1931, Barkov returned to his native Moscow University, and since 1943 he has already headed the Department of Physical Geography of Foreign Countries. He did not leave his teaching activity even during the war – being in evacuation, he lectured at the Ashgabat State Pedagogical University.
It must be said that at the same time, Barkov managed to engage in scientific activities: in the 1920–1930s, he regularly traveled to the Crimea, abroad, in the Moscow and Arkhangelsk regions, studying karst phenomena.
Already at the dawn of teaching, Alexander Barkov and several colleagues thought about how to make their subject as exciting as possible for students. At that time, the situation was bad with interesting educational material. Somehow, the scientist discussed current issues at a meeting of the Society of Natural Science, Anthropology and Geography Lovers together with Sergey Chefranov, Alexander Kruber and Sergey Grigoriev, then the idea was born to publish anthologies in geography.
“For us, the flaws in the teaching of geography at school were clear. But we, in essence, did not know how they could be eliminated. Something had to be done. First of all, how to make geography lessons interesting? To do this, it was necessary to move away from dry textbooks … We decided to publish an anthology, choosing from the descriptions of travelers what seemed to us more typical of the country and more interesting.”
Alexander Barkov “From my life”
Work boiled over. In order to find material to “revive” the subject, they turned to Dmitry Anuchin, who blessed the four authors with the words: “It’s a good thing,” after which he allowed them to use the library, photographs, albums and other study aids. If there was not enough information, they went to libraries, mostly private ones, where they were allowed to take books home. We read everything in a row, the French textbooks were especially useful.
They decided to start with Asia, which was distributed among the regions by casting lots – this was called “in a hat.” They threw notes into Sergei Grigoriev’s hat, and then they dragged whoever gets what. Barkov pulled out Central Asia. I had to work in fits and starts, because all four gave lessons. Alexander taught geography and biology 26-30 hours a week, and in different educational institutions. There were only evenings left to look through the books and select the appropriate passages. On Saturdays, the four writers would get together in one of their apartments and have reading sessions, discussing each passage in detail. “Sometimes it went smoothly, but often there were heated arguments, reaching almost a fight. They also argued over dinner”– recalled Barkov.
Finally the manuscript was ready, it was time to look for a publisher. They were afraid to meddle in large ones, there was a high risk that the book would not be published there. As a result, they turned to a certain Baikov, who kept a small bookstore near the university. Tom liked the manuscript, and he published an anthology with a circulation of 2,000 copies. Those scattered almost instantly – geography teachers appreciated the new manual.
Inspired authors took up the next part of the world. From 1900 to 1904 they published seven anthologies: “Asia”, “America”, “Africa”, “Europe”, “Australia”, “Asiatic Russia”, “European Russia”. “In all suitable cases, we tried to take the travels and essays of Russian researchers and observers, finding that the Russian point of view is more valuable to us and that a foreigner can pass by what can attract the attention of a Russian observer, Barkov wrote. — The reader, despite the high price, was taken by buyers and schools”.
Anuchin followed the activities of his proteges with approval, and at some point noticed that it was time for them to take up textbooks. This required lengthy discussions and meetings – the concept of the program adopted at that time did not suit the authors, it was necessary to come up with something new, more suitable for the initial geography course. As a result, we decided to give a theory using a specific model and introduce students to general concepts using the example of Europe. “The map of Europe – here are the seas, and the islands, and the mountains, and the lowlands. You can talk about a lot. There are also volcanoes. So we will study this” geographical object “. And then we can say about the rotation of the Earth”– the innovators reasoned, putting their plan into practice.
The first textbook of the “four robbers”, as the famous geographer Alexander Borzov called them, went with a bang, and they decided to continue. Particular attention was paid to the cards – they were ordered abroad, multi-colored and with good signatures. The high cost of enthusiasts did not stop – they were convinced that vivid illustrations were necessary to “to promote a love of geography”. They were ready to pay much less than the authors of other textbooks, the main thing is that the books turned out to be interesting and informative and were approved by the scientific committee of the Ministry of Education.
Alexander Barkov devoted his whole life to captivating students with geography. He developed courses in the physical geography of the USSR and foreign countries, programs of regional studies, general geography, and the actual methods of teaching the subject. The textbooks, anthologies, reference books and teaching materials compiled by him and his like-minded people were the most fascinating and informative at that time.