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THE OTHER PART OF THE SOVIET STORY

 

by Ruth Sanford

[with additions by Irina Kuzmicheva ]

 

 

With increasing frequency, I have been hearing comments from both Russia and the United States that emphasize the significance of the visit which Carl Rogers made to the Soviet Union in 1986.  Such reports coming mainly from professional persons are most encouraging and gratifying. However, I would like to add a new dimension to that story.

 

It was one evening in July of 1985 that I met with Fran Macy and Tom Greening in Fran Macy’s room at the Moskva Hotel in Moscow.  I had been attending a rehabilitation conference with my husband who was a rehabilitation counselor and had spent a good deal of the time looking for Fran Macy whom I knew was in Moscow.  That evening was the inception of the visit which Carl and I made to the Soviet Union exactly one year later.

 

Before leaving for the Soviet Union I had asked Carl if arrangements could be made, would he be interested in working in the Soviet Union and he said nothing would please him more.  That had been my professional goal in going with my husband to that conference.  Without Fran Macy’s years of know-how in working in the Soviet Union and Tom Greening’s support that night, undoubtedly our trip would never have taken place.

 

But it was the interest and the prestige and the courage of Alexey Matushkin, Director of the Psychological Institute in Moscow and President of the Psychological Association in the Soviet Union, that attracted professional people from all over the Soviet Union to our meetings in Moscow and in Tbilisi which made the impact on the psychological community of the Soviet Union possible.  Alexey Matushkin, a man of vision, had the courage to follow that vision and was in a position of power to make it all possible.

 

It was during that first meeting in Alexey’s office that Carl said, “You understand. Dr. Matushkin, that what you have asked us to do here is dangerous.”  The response was, “How is it dangerous?”  And Carl said, “Dangerous because if people learn to empower themselves, they may not do what you want them to do.  It may not fit in this culture.” Alexey thought for a long moment and then he said, “Yes, but it would be more dangerous not to.”  That, I think, is the measure of Matushkin’s part in what happened during the next weeks, both in Moscow and Tbilisi.  Not only did he succeed in bringing in twice as many applications for the intensive workshop which we did than could be accommodated, he arranged also for smaller but very important sessions in Tbilisi.

 

As our work progressed, we learned that he had also stimulated the professional psychology community and the services associated with it to meet together over that period of approximately a year, to become familiar with Carl’s work in preparation.  It was only in the Soviet Onion that we found so many professionals and students at the University of Moscow acquainted with the work of Carl in advance to the extent that when Carl asked at the University of Moscow during our one day there how many in the audience, largely students, were familiar with or had heard of his work, and, surprisingly enough, well over 85 percent raised their hands.

 

Another dedicated person who needs to be (included here is Irina Kuzmicheva who was Assistant Director for International Research of the Institute of General pedagogy. It was she who did the so-called “leg work”, who attended our meetings, was a translator/interpreter in Moscow and would have been again in Tbilisi had we not dissuaded her, making it possible for her to become a full fledged participant in the group there. As so often is the case, it was she who carried out the plans and the intent of Dr. Matushkin which is perhaps an equally important role.

 

Through all of this, Fran Macy was our advisor, our guide and also one of our interpreters. He also made it possible for me to return in 1988 after Carl’s death to have follow-up workshops. The roster of the 1986 group was used to select the persons who became part of the 1987 new groups.

 

In a recent telephone conversation, Irina Kuzmicheva related the formal steps and the prolonged negotiations through which she went in the name of Alexey Matushkin in order to obtain approval for a formal invitation to Carl and me for our visit in 1986. She emphasized the courage and the foresight of Alexey Matushkin in proposing such a visit. It was Irina who finally wrote an extensive paper on the visit of humanistic psychologists, the title that she gave us, to the Soviet Union and supported it with all that she knew about humanistic psychology.

 

She said, “Of course my name never appeared and my role was to present a written review of Humanistic Psychology  and estimate how the Soviet educational system might benefit from bringing Carl Rogers and Ruth Sanford and Fran Macy in close contact with educators and psychologists. I was the presenter and did the direct negotiations.” Her first visit was to the Foreign Department of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. There they tried to persuade her that these people were really using this visit as a front and that they really were spies so that she was very naive to accept the point of view which she had just presented to them. “They are all spies and you are to naïve to believe that they are educators and teachers and practical psychologists.” They denied permission. However, Irina’s report was passed on to the highest authorities for their decision, the Ministry of Education.

 

Fran Macy and Irina managed to visit the Minister for Education of the USSR, Mrs. Zhuravleva, a woman somewhat like Mrs. Thatcher. She was very powerful, very positive, though soft spoken and after reviewing the paper prepared by Irina sent to the Ministry two weeks earlier she gave permission. That opened up the opportunity for Alexey Matushkin to formulate an invitation to Carl and me. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In that paper* which was 50 typed pages long and was a review of humanistic psychology in the US and activities of the Association the characteristic of the proposed plan which Carl and I had considered for our visit was reemphasized and reinterpreted to mean that we would be sharing with teachers methods that would be helpful in teaching children and young people in the schools. That initially had been the invitation to work with teachers and educators on nurturing creativity in the Soviet classroom which was difficult for us to understand. Now it becomes clear. I wish Carl might have known.

 

They seemed to be hesitant when they understood that we were to meet with large groups of professionals over a long period of time because that would have been suspicious and probably would have defeated the whole project.

 

The story which I have just told re-emphasizes my earlier observation of the very active and courageous part that Alexey Matushkin played in arranging for our visit and the very active part that Irina played in bringing it about.

 

 

 

*The paper emphasized that Carl Rogers and Ruth Sanford will help teachers to identify gifted children and offer new methods, practical tools to “manage” children at school. That paper presented Carl and Ruth as clever psychologists who know certain western secrets of how to deal with creative children. In a way they were presented as having a practical tool of indirectly manipulating children. The paper emphasized the power of their approach. The natural curiosity of Soviet officials was stirred, and – the doors opened. If anything was most wanted in those last years of Soviet power it was practical methods and tools of monitoring the development of creative people, a most relevant part of the population to comply with Soviet power.