Archive for August 18, 2008

“Encounters with Soviet People” (Part VI)

p. 151 “It says here in this newspaper report that six men were killed.  No one asked any questions.  No discussion.  No arguments.  The bell rang.  Valentina dismissed the class.  That was it.  If these had been my students at home, many would have shot their hands into the air to demand the source of my evidence.  A few might well have discovered evidence on their own to support their opinions.  I would not have been able to get away with what Valentina did – and if I had, I would have chastised my students for their passivity.  But in a Soviet classroom the rules are different.  Students learn form their first days in school that information comes from authority, from above.  Every day they learn what their teachers and textbooks tell them.  Not to learn what they are told can jeopardize their future.  Not to believe what they are taught—or to appear not to believe – could mean failure.


p. 235 “Lying begins in the schools,” she insisted.  “That was the main reason I hated my school.  The teachers tell you what you have to tell them.  They are not interested in what you think.  The teacher is interested only if the children use the right words.  A lot of children become accustomed to saying the right words, not the real words.  And that is how they are two different people.


p. 235 “…The Pioneer goal is not to develop yourself, your own opinion.  Its goal is to accept the system, to accept the opinion of all the rest of the people, and not to try to think deeply about what is going on.”  She illustrated her point with the story of Pavlic Morozov, who was a Young Pioneer and the son of a farmer during the times of the collectivization of agriculture under Stalin.


“When Pavlic Morosov learned that his father was against collectivization, he turned him into the Party authorities and the KGB.  His father was arrested and killed – shot.  When Pavlic’s uncles found out that he had betrayed his own father, they shot him.  And now he is considered a Pioneer hero.”


No one had said much to me about Pavlic Morozov…the issue was unresolved as I discovered when visiting a Pioneer camp on the outskirts of Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan.  Here I found a bust of Morozov on a pedestal in a line with other Young Pioneer heroes.  I asked a teacher who was visiting the camp with me about him?  “Pavlic Morozov?” she said.  “Oh yes, he is one of the Pioneer heroes for our children.”  Just like that.  No interpretation, simply a restatement of the official text of a Soviet history.  A few minutes later, I asked another.  “Marozov? He is no longer considered a Pioneer hero.  We don’t pay attention to him any more.”  Two teachers from the same city, two opinions.

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