2019 | 7 | 1 | 13-32
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‘Re-Placing’ Janusz Korczak: Education as a Socio-Political Struggle

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The Jewish-Polish pedagogue, Janusz Korczak is traditionally associated with his orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto and his murder alongside the children during the Holocaust. A doctor and educator, Korczak is also increasingly acknowledged for his unique pedagogical projects such as the self-governing orphanages (democratic children’s homes) and his advocacy for child rights. Translations of his writing and the dominance of individualized interpretations for his motives, has resulted in Korczak being displaced from his socio-historical context of Warsaw. This paper seeks to increase awareness of the inseparable nature of Korczak’s Polish language texts to the Polish struggle for independence. The aim is to further investment into understanding the socio-historical context within which Korczak’s writing was rooted. When readers acknowledge the limitations of the translated Korczak texts, this encourages a greater appreciation of current Polish scholarship but also deepens the philosophical inquiry into his work. This paper uses Korczak’s texts to demonstrate how power and language reinforce each other by conflating the concepts of the oppressed into those of the oppressor. The purpose of highlighting flaws in translated texts is not simply to correct the error but to disrupt notions of identity; oppressed and oppressor, in relation towards the ‘not-so-radically’ Other. Examinations of Korczak's ideological experiences, either religious, cultural or political, move more of his own account from the periphery into the foreground. To date, the impact of Russian colonization and Poland’s struggle for political independence within Korczak’s texts has been given little attention and served to keep readers ignorant of this aspect. Whereas other studies have attended to Korczak’s Jewish-Polish heritage, the focus here is on his political philosophy. The goal is to REplace Korczak by historically situating his ideas within his city of Warsaw and the intelligentsia of the time. This demonstrates that Korczak’s critical pedagogy and work outside of the authority of the State positions him today as a radical educator. Historically, he can be aligned with the ideas of specific social movements, especially anarchist theories. Rather than uniformity of ideas, the Warsaw intelligentsia at the turn of the twentieth century, both Polish and Jewish, was a democratic mesh with disparate individuals brought together in tactical co-operation for the struggle of nation-building. The reader is introduced to Korczak in ‘place’ in order to illuminate a new reading of Korczak’s texts and ideas as emanating from radical philosophical underpinnings.
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