Další kniha o socialistickém školství: Normální život v nenormální době…

30.7.2017 - Každodenní život základní školy v období normalizace pohledem učitelů. Využití orální historie při studiu soudobých dějin školství (výzkumný projekt GAČR), My Books, Zprávy

The English version of the text follows the Czech version.


Vyšla druhá kniha o socialistickém školství s názvem: Normální život v nenormální době: základní školy a jejich učitelé (nejen) v období normalizace.

Citace: Zounek, J., Šimáně, M., & Knotová, D. (2017). Normální život v nenormální době: základní školy a jejich učitelé (nejen) v období normalizace [Normal life in not so normal times. Primary schools and their teachers (not only) during the so-called normalization period.] Praha: Wolters Kluwer.

Stručná informace: Publikace je jedním z hlavních výsledků výzkumného projektu Každodenní život základní (primary) školy v období normalizace pohledem učitelů. Využití orální historie při studiu soudobých dějin školství, který by podporován Grantovou agenturou České republiky (číslo projektu GA14-05926S). Jde o jeden z prvních historicko-pedagogických výzkumů socialistického školství v bývalém Československu po roce 1989…

… Kniha vytváří plastický obraz československého socialistického školství, který se zakládá jak na vzpomínkách pamětníků, získaných metodou orální historie, tak na studiu archivních, mnohdy pro podobné účely dodnes nevyužitých dokumentů. Prezentuje výsledky pedagogicko-historického výzkumu, který proběhl v uplynulých letech.

V centru pozornosti stojí vzdělávání učitelů před rokem 1989 a jejich zkušenosti s výukou na základních školách. Pedagogové kromě (politicky laděných) schůzí ve škole popisují i svou mimopracovní činnost a volný čas. Doposud poměrně neprobádané téma pak představuje snaha o ateizaci společnosti, v níž měli právě učitelé sehrávat důležitou roli. Pamětníci rovněž podávají svědectví o atmosféře ve školách v době pražského jara a o tzv. strategiích přežití, prověrkách i postizích, které po něm následovaly, či o období normalizace.

Více informací zde.


English version


The volume is one of the main outcomes of a research project called “Everyday life of a primary school in the Normalization period as viewed by teachers. Using oral history in studying contemporary history of formal education”, supported by the Czech Science Foundation (project no. GA14-05926S).

The first chapter of the book focuses on methodology of historical-pedagogical research. In its first part, the authors discuss one of the possible approaches to researching general history, presenting the so-called history of the everyday and microhistory. Then they show how adopting this approach may influence research in contemporary history of pedagogy (educational sciences) and education. They describe and explain the nature, limits and possibilities of oral history and researching teachers’ life stories. In the end of the chapter, the authors pay attention to the theoretical basis of researching teachers’ life stories, dealing also with some general issues in narrative analysis in history research.

The following chapter deals with sources of knowledge about the past. The authors focus primarily on the history of primary education in the former South Moravia region (one of the administrative regions of former Czechoslovakia) in 1969–1989. They ask the question what sources a historian of pedagogy can draw on when studying contemporary history of primary education. The subject of sources as such is presented in the first part of the chapter. The individual types of sources (historical sources, specialized literature, accessory sources and literature, online sources) are presented in detail and supplemented with specific examples in the rest of the chapter. As research has shown, situation concerning sources and historical sources is relatively complicated and researching contemporary history of Czechoslovak education may be relatively complicated as well. A significant part of materials has not been processed by the archives yet, another part is not available due to legal reasons, and a part of the documents were (intentionally) destroyed around 1989. Although archival documents are irreplaceable, there are relatively a lot of period sources (brochures, statistical overviews) available from public libraries. The historian must be careful though, because the communist regime “doctored” or distorted some sources to suit its propaganda. It is in this very context that oral history and researching teachers’ life stories are becoming important.

The next chapter describes and explains the methodology of the research undertaken, which combines two approaches to studying contemporary history – macrohistory and microhistory – in order to achieve a more complex understanding of the topic. The first approach aims at examining the general (historical) framework of the topic, i.e. the key events, processes and phenomena (or people) that shaped formal education and education at the national level, or had an international impact. The authors are drawing here on specialized sources and literature but also period legislation and available archival materials.

The second approach – microhistory – focused the attention of the research team on a more detailed understanding of the everyday life in schools and teachers’ work. Within this research methodology, the authors used especially data obtained by applying the oral history method. Orators’ recollections offer a lot of valuable information about their lives, experiences and individual perceptions of events of the period but may also help to discover or rediscover some of the now less known historical events.

As a part of collecting data, the research team made a number of oral-history interviews with respondents – teachers, some of whom worked also as school principals in primary schools in the former South Moravia region. Overall, over the period of 2014–2016, the research team conducted 53 interviews (of 74 hours in total) with 37 respondents. The respondents included 8 men and 29 women aged 58–83, who taught at primary schools in cities as well as bigger and small towns and villages. The population sample included men and women, teaching different subjects, members and non-members of the Communist Party.

All interviews were recorded and the recordings were transcribed verbatim. One very important part of data processing was data anonymization. For ethical reasons, all real names of respondents have been removed (other names are used in the book) as well as names of schools, villages and towns the witnesses are speaking about. Where necessary, the municipality whose name has been left out is treated by a footnoted presenting an explanation or a description of the given place or municipality, or some other contextual information is given.

The analysis of the interviews is based on techniques used for qualitative data analysis in educational sciences. This is, foremost, the open coding technique. The subsequent categorization of the codes revealed topic relevant to the focus of the research. This technique is close to so-called condensing (used in historiography), within whose framework the authors identified important parts of the interviews containing important messages, thus separating unimportant parts of the interviews or reoccurring information. This procedure enables to better capture specific topics within which specific elements such as historical facts or data were indexed.

Another important part of the book is the historical framework containing a brief history of socialist education. This chapter provides a general historical context to the findings of the research. Within the historical context, the authors strive to present all important events, topics, processes and milestones helping to understand the history of primary education in former Czechoslovakia in 1948–1989.

The following chapters of the volume present the main findings of the research. They vary not only by their focus but also by their approach to the topic, guided by the contents of the interviews as well as available archival sources or available specialized literature.

The results show that becoming and working as a teacher in socialist Czechoslovakia was not necessarily simple. The teaching profession reflected ideological influences and it was affected by organizational and institutional change, many times chaotic and lacking a professional basis. Then teacher trainees were targeted by manipulatory politics of totalitarian power while being its part. They regarded ideological disciplines as a part of their study which could not be avoided. The years of studies could, on the other hand, be a happy period for some students. The orators depicted a number of interesting events but also a wide range of activities. Encountering very good university teachers was not exceptional.

Orators’ experience of teaching, teaching aids or school meetings was varied. The situation seems to have been very complicated in some schools while it was relatively peaceful in others. Differences between schools were at the level of teaching aids. The key person was in many respects the principal, who was a major influence not only in terms of pedagogical and economic issues of school operation but also “political” issues. The topic of control is noteworthy, concerning not only developing but also adherence to prescribed teaching plans and curricula. This subject was where sometimes explicitly “school” and politics met (control of meeting “educational” – i.e. ideological – goals in instruction) while at other times the control focused on checking the (lack of) quality of work of some teachers. The research shows that despite all efforts, the communist regime was not able to control all processes in schools and education.

Pastime activities of teachers are hardly a typical topic of historical studies, let alone those focusing on socialist education. It is however quite natural for teachers’ lives to reach far beyond school and their profession. This is why the orators mentioned the topic relatively often and their experiences are a varied mix even though they took place under the regime which did not offer many opportunities for free spending of leisure time. The data capture both the enthusiasm of building something new and some scepticism. This research, too, reflects phenomenon of spending weekends at cottages in the countryside, so typical of the period in the Czech Republic. Gardening, various cultural interest or sports were not exceptions.

The communist regime regarded schools and teachers as a tool to reach its many (political) goals. One specific example is the chapter on religious faith and secularization. Teachers underwent studies whose important part was ideological-political training. Its goal was to form teachers who would, besides their teaching at primary schools, meet even political goals, in school and beyond. This created many absurd and/or very unpleasant situations. Political goals were also associated with membership of various organizations. Teachers’ reports show that they were trying to avoid harming children, if possible. The teachers in the population sample typically chose the simplest way – a passive resistance against the pressure of the party in power. This could, for instance in the case of secularization, consist in keeping silent about the fact that a pupil was from a religious family. Techers did not inform party bodies of religious pupils and intentionally did not state all facts when filling in reports in their files. This is how teachers at the same time avoided active and open dealing with the regime, partly due to protect themselves. There were even cases when teachers got into serious trouble due to providing “incomplete” information on a pupil. Our research however does not allow us to conclude that there were no teachers in the communist society to write very comprehensive and accurate evaluations of the children because they were convinced of the correctness of the communist ideology.

A broader context of the Prague Spring is presented in the last chapter. The topic resonated through the memories of the orators relatively strongly. Like in the whole society, the regime started loosening in education from the mid-1960s. The manifestations included weakening of the influence of the Communist Party on educational management, when regional school administration bodies acquired some (limited) autonomy of decisions. The ideological influence on schools and teachers’ work got significantly weaker and the impact of the official Marxist-Leninist ideology was considerably reduced, which could be felt not only in teaching (topics previously taboo could be taught again) but also in modifications to textbook contents and other teaching aids. Teachers’ recollections moreover testify of the atmosphere in schools being full of hopes and good expectations. This was however not a rule in all schools.

The invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies put a relatively radical stop to these reform efforts. It is interesting that teachers mentioned insecurity about their teaching and school operation being present practically immediately after the invasion. The negative experience from period before the Prague Spring probably played a role in forming these sentiments. It urged teachers to be always alert, observe the development of the situation and be ready to return to teaching contents and methods from the pre-reform period.

This readiness may be regarded as one of the forms of “survival strategies” in the teaching profession. As showed several months’ time after the invasion, this behaviour was logical. The communist regime launched a repression of adherents of the Prague Spring (reformist thinking). Systematic “political checks” of inspectors, principals and teachers were gradually applied. Documents as well as teachers mention a whole number of types of punishment, among which especially the mention of financial punishment (impossibility of becoming a class teacher or get bonuses) is among the hidden and long-term forms of repression.

Relations within teams of teaching staff often deteriorated in consequence of changes due to the political purges. For example mistrust towards new colleagues was spreading. Teachers were not sure whom they could trust and with whom they could speak openly about the Normalization reality. Informing superiors of colleagues’ actions was not exceptional and lives of many teachers thus got infused with a sense of fear.

The interviews also revealed a possible reason why this topic remains a challenge for historical-pedagogical research. It turns out that even more than 25 years after the fall of communism, respondents are still afraid to speak openly on some topics. These typically included events associated with politics, the Prague Spring, or secularization. While giving the interviews, some orators even spoke in a lower voice when addressing some sensitive topics (subconsciously signalling that the information was not to be publicized). Another reason for their “keeping silent” may have been the fact that these events they had lived through continue to be a traumatic experience. The fact that some respondents have kept their communist ideals and favour the Communist Party may also have played a role. The prevailing opinion in Czech society is not favourable to these and similar opinions.

It is due to say before concluding that the findings cannot be generalized. Our interpretations of the knowledge obtained from the interviews hold true only for the specific group of witnesses. The research is geographically limited to the former South Moravian region, which was, for historical reasons, more religious than other regions in Czechoslovakia. Exploring and comparing the issues in other parts of Czechoslovakia, or conducting comparative research in former socialist countries in middle and eastern Europe presents a big challenge for future historical-pedagogical research.

Despite all the limitations of the method we used (population size and sampling, selective memories of the orators, impossibility to generalize) it turns out that the approach we selected can provide considerable help in understanding socialist education. This is not only due to its connection with the macrohistorical understanding of the subject but also in the sense of penetrating the nature of the period including its everyday life, which can be (un)surprising in many respects.

As a part of this research, the authors have also published a volume called Socialist Primary School as Seen by Period Witnesses. A Probe into the Lives of Teachers in the South Moravia Region. This is a specific volume as it brings transcripts of several interviews made by the research team as a part of the research. The book also contains a number of documents including documents of personal nature, which illustrate work and lives of teachers before 1989. They are highly original sources. This is the first time some other (archival) documents are being published, bringing their unique testimony of socialist educational system and the life of schools and teachers.

The authors will be happy if both volumes provide inspiration for further research based on similar methodologies as time is passing by fast and witnesses are becoming scarcer.