Archive for August 17, 2008

“Encounters with Soviet People” (Part V)

p. 173 “In contrast to the relaxed atmosphere at School 185, I was unable to generate open discussions in classrooms at School 169.  The cocoon of Lenin, which had surrounded me upon my arrival, succeeded in channeling my energy into prescribed paths.  Other than the playful language games I invented with younger students and occasional lessons with older groups, only my reading aloud of Dr. Seuss’s Butter Battle Book made inroads, as many were intrigued not only with the story but with my animated reading and pantomime.


p. 175 “Polishing the school.  That was it.  How could I have expected to have had camaraderie with people who were polishing a school?  Why did I persist in seeking to belong?  Why did I not accept the differences between School 185 and School 169 and left it at that?  Perhaps it had something to do with my idealism for the children.  Perhaps I wanted to crack the nut, to conquer the barriers and to overcome the obstacles and to discover its inner matryoshka dolls.


p. 182 “Perhaps political information classes in schools were also designed to distract students and teachers from the realities of their lives…The impact of common information – of the Party Line – remains deep in the Soviet psyche.  From their earliest school days children learn to accept the words of authorities – whether from teachers, textbooks or the media.


p. 192 Knowledge is essential for those who want to rise to the top in Soviet institutions…and knowledge belongs to the privileged.  In Moscow we heard statistics about the Russian Republic’s 80 territories, 30 native languages, 21 textbook languages, 18 million students, 17,000 schools, 333 pedagogical secondary schools, 94 pedagogical institutes (where students in schools take special courses to encourage them to become teachers) and more than 2 million teachers, tutors and professors.  All this, the Deputy Head declared was administered by the Minister of Education, his five deputies and 400 staff.


p. 217 “…About their old textbooks, the students then took turns telling me how much they like their history lessons in which they read newspapers and magazine articles instead of outmoded and false texts.  They also said they believed what they were learning now was true.  I could only imagine the lessons with the old texts with teachers having to use doublespeak and students having to memorize false knowledge for the sake of earning a passing grade.  It must have been a relief no longer to have to practice such hypocrisy.”

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