Brighten Youth Education Centre



Tolstoy on education, art and life


This week we're considering, in an understandably brief manner, the life and works of 19th-century Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in order to see what this fantastically successful and influential man can teach us about the paths we follow through education, and life in general.Initially, Tolstoy might not seem like an ideal guide to life and education.

Despite coming from an incredibly privileged background he was orphaned at an early age, became unhappy in his marriage and struggled with a difficult home life as a result.

He was also a failure at university, with one professor describing him as "unable and unwilling to learn" after he had embarked on his studies of oriental languages, and spent many years drinking and gambling before writing his famous novels.

Tolstoy had also spent time in the army and traveling around Europe.

Though he evidently did not have a clear idea at a young age what he wanted to do with his life, he embraced a range of experiences - all of which he was later to use to enrich his writing as part of his chosen career.

Tolstoy also didn't worry about being successful early on. His first great work, War and Peace, wasn't published until he was 41, even though Tolstoy had been writing since he first joined the army. Creating something wonderful and lasting was the aim, not instant recognition.

When he died, his funeral was an international event, with thousands of mourners marching to his family estate - not something that's likely to happen to Dan Brown or Nicholas Sparks.

Tolstoy knew how to play the long game and remain focused on what really mattered.

He didn't believe in art for art's sake and knew that novels needed to do more than simply entertain the reader. Instead, he felt the novel should be a tool for psychological education and supplement religion as way of making us less moralistic and judgmental.

Many of his works focus on finding ways to live and often characters reach a resolution through forgiveness.

A diversity of experience is recognized, and by showing the inner lives of people, often those who don't seem to be very nice, he encourages us to be more sympathetic and understanding in our own lives.

Tolstoy's life is an encouragement to those wanting to forge an independent path. It also advocates that we recognize the right of others to do the same, rather than judging those who don't immediately seem to be successful or usual.

For him, education also came from a range of experiences, rather than just formal schooling.

His life reassures us that we should worry only about the quality of our work - rather than the recognition we believe we should receive for it.


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