Anatoly Pinsky. A Russian Waldorf teacher and politician

Nana Goebel

In the socialist academic straightjacket of that time, Pinsky sought other worlds of ideas and as a result came into contact both with western philosophers and the orthodox church as well as with theosophy. A deep impression was made on him by the debating club of the well-known dissident G. P. Shchedrovitsky and the discussions held there about western philosophers. Because of his leading position in this group, Pinsky was well networked. Students from the Institute of Education, for a time also Pinsky himself, published the magazine Lyrikerand put on plays. Pinsky for example dramatised The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky – a performance that was banned by the administration of the Institute, that is, by the Party. 

In the second half of the 1980s, Pinsky came into contact with anthroposophy and Waldorf education and felt that he was among kindred spirits in the group of anthroposophists. He participated in a music festival organised by Idriart in Tbilisi at which anthroposophists from the whole of the Soviet Union met for the first time. In 1988, the Swedish Waldorf teacher Walter Liebendörfer spoke in the student group in his apartment which was bursting at the seams with the number of people attending. There was great enthusiasm which led to Pinsky, together with Vladimir Zagvozdkin and Slava Rosentuller, founding the Club Aristotle in the premises of a local children’s centre and opening a Waldorf kindergarten in 1989. Soon there was a need for training as a result of which an introductory course and then a teacher training course started in 1990 which was registered with the Public Russian University and whose opening was celebrated in 1990. In a next step, Pinsky opened the Centre for Waldorf Education in Moscow with several friends which he headed. 

Pinsky’s pragmatic attitude and his willingness to compromise on several occasions came into conflict with the more idealistic attitude of many other Waldorf teachers from at home and abroad. But another way of putting it would be to say that the management style of Pinsky as director and the management style emerging from the community of teachers of other faculties stood in irreconcilable opposition. Because of his good connections with the Russian educational bureaucracy, he was repeatedly accused of being too enmeshed in the system. 

As a result of considerable financial support for renovation costs from Germany, he was able to refurbish a large, four-storey building in Stremyanny Pereulok for the Centre for Waldorf Education. But the high operating costs, which could no longer be supported by an independent school, and the doubling of the rent by the city authorities finally led him to the view that it was only possible to continue with the work in the form of a state school, although independent schools were financed to eighty percent by the state between 1992 and 1995. 

In 1995 he succeeded in integrating the Waldorf school into the state school system. The school became School No. 1060. And the heating worked again because the state assumed the costs. There was a big increase in the number of pupils. Pinsky lived on the ground floor in a smoked-filled room with half-empty cups of tea and organised the life of the school so that the teachers had quite far-reaching freedom in the content of what they taught and the possibility of individual development. He knew the school down to the last nook and cranny – both inwardly and outwardly. 

Under Boris Yeltsin he joined the Yabloko Party whose deputies were represented in a great range of educational commissions. Eventually he became an advisor to the education minister and began to play an important role in the development of Russian education policy. In view of the injustices and obstacles during the Yeltsin era, he particularly worked for the right to education and education finance. 

Since teachers in the Russia of the time were paid by the hours they taught, and they were already among the low earners, most of them tried to teach as many hours as possible. Pinsky saw that only by separating the number of hours from the salary would it be possible for the nature of the school system to change and he developed a new salary system. He became even better known through the reform of upper secondary school he initiated, the foundations of which he had developed at his own Waldorf School No. 1060. A significant part of the reform was that pupils could decide for a profile either oriented towards science or the humanities. 

In the last years of his life, Pinsky returned to his artistic and scientific work. He played folk music, particularly his beloved Yiddish music, gave concerts in restaurants und performed Anatevka with his pupils. At the same time he published Rudolf Steiner’s educational lectures with Vladimir Zagvozdkin in the well-known series Humanistic Educatorswith an academic commentary. He died much too soon.