Posts tagged Brezhnev

Three More Kazakh Teachers Write About Grandparents’ Past

The other day I met nine Kazakh teachers and asked them to choose between two questions and answer in only one half hour’s time.  I was happy to see the quality of their writing. I hope to take them a step further with working on different kinds of essays, portfolios, action research all the while using research databases and other academic material.  An exciting time for all of us as we launch into these educational waters that might get choppy if the Internet doesn’t work or if we can’t tap into the databases.  All these things take time and a sense of humor.  I look forward to getting to know more about these Kazakh teacher who have been entrusted to me.  As a student-centered teacher, I will learn much from these teacher-centered teachers turned student.

“Write about your grand grandparents or grandparents past, what did they do, what are/were their thoughts about the Soviet Union?”

Teacher #4 – “My grandparents were teachers, who devoted their whole life for teaching.  In fact, they lived during the Soviet Union and their thoughts about it had never changed, especially about the education system.

Well, in terms of their thoughts education was free for everybody and everyone could have an opportunity to get free and qualitative education.  In this way CIC (Soviet Union countries) developed their own curriculum, which was accessible for all countries mentioned above. Actually, my grandparents have another negative thoughts about educational system, particularly, equipments namely, CDs, IT-boards, computers which did not exist during the Soviet Union.

They compare the educational system of that period with nowadays, when all that equipment above has been facilitating teachers’ work.

In my opinion, I agree with them, notwithstanding, that I’m a teacher.  And educational system has grown up in Kazakhstan more and has become better than in the years of the Soviet Union and accordingly teaching techniques and methods, which are considered to be the main factors to contribute in education.” Word Count: 169

Teacher #5 – I would like to write about my grandparents.  Telling the truth, I don’t really remember them because my grandfather had died before my birth and my grandmother died when I was 5 years old.  So I can say that I know my grandmother better than my grandfather, but I heard a lot about him.

My mom told me that my grandfather, his name was Joldybek, participated in World War II and even he was honored as one of the heroes of that war.

Now it is hard for me to say if I am proud or not of my grandfather because even if he hadn’t died during the war, his life had been changed a lot after he came back from the war.  He started drinking alcohol a lot and he didn’t know what to do and even he didn’t take proper care of his children, there were eight of them.

I think the reason it happened so that the war stole his life, his aim, his dreams and his thoughts, as he was always thinking of the war.  And I can say that he can be related to the lost generation.  My grandmother had to work hard to supply the children with food and clothes.

I am not really sure what their thoughts were about Soviet Union. To my mind they didn’t think of it anything, as it was the world where they had to live and accept it the way it is.  It’s laws, its rules and its leader.

Being a pupil of the 2nd grade, I remember when the Soviet Union was knocked down.  My mother and other people surrounding me were lost.  They said, “How will we live now, what should we do?” And I am sure if my grandparents are alive at that time, they would have had the same reaction to it.” Word Count: 308

 Teacher #6 – “My grandparents lived during the Soviet Union time.  They thought it was a good time because they lived in a peace time.  My grandfather was a veteran of the WWII.  He participated in a war, he lost a lot of his friends.  He valued life which was after war.  He was a communist, he appreciated the Soviet Union leaders like Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev.  My grandparents had 10 children.  My grandmother was a housewife.  They had a very happy life, they respected each other.  Their grandchildren made them happy too.  I remember how my grandparents gave me their suggestions, supported me, waited for me…and were very happy when I visited them.  I think their life was short but very bright.  I am proud of them.  They had 19 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t see their four more great grandchildren.  My grandfather was the head of a milk factory.  He liked his job.  Every time he taught me to be honest with people, respect them and not to be afraid to start to do something.” Word Count: 176

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Danna’s Grandparents and Soviet Living Conditions

 Speaking about early times I’d like to say that my parents and grandparents always tell me their stories about that time. They teach us to be confident, support each other in any situation and always give us their useful advices. My parents always compare nowadays and Soviet living conditions, they try to show us life conditions which they live in and evaluate it. I had heard that the Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991. My parents told me especially about that period a lot. They said that there was a lot of hardship at that time. Instead of helping each other, people thought only about their own fate. It was very hard not only for my parents, but also for all people.  Also, I know about communism through what I heard from my parents and grandparents. In the Brezhnev era life was easier because it was a calm time. But if you consider the period before Brezhnev, for example the Stalin and Lenin eras, it was harder for people due to mass repression.

In Soviet Union getting higher education was easier but living conditions were harder than now. I think when my parents were in my age, they had more privileges than I do. Living now is a struggle, you have to work hard to succeed. In their school years, my parents had no problem entering a university and gaining a profession with the base knowledge they acquired in school. But now, you must study hard at school and have private classes to get prepared for entrance exams to university.

They’ve told me that the situation in 1991 was very difficult. In order to buy food, they needed to stand in very long lines. At that time people had money, but there was nothing to buy. And now it’s the other way around. You can buy almost everything but you don’t have the money to do it. Everyday life has perhaps become better when we compare it to the perestroika years. At that time it was so difficult to get food and clothes for babies; you could only get them with coupons. But morally, it was better at the beginning.

It was the months the Soviet Union collapsed, the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.) was formed, and life as many people knew it was changed forever. I’d like to say that I’m proud of my parents and grandparents, so I want to make their lives much better than now.  

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Encounters with Soviet People (Part I)

The following quotes are from an unpublished book by Frank R. Thoms tentatively titled “Through Their Eyes, Encounters with Soviet People.”  I never met this man who was probably a middle school teacher from, I believe, the East Coast who visited in Kazakhstan in the early 1990s.  I received Mr. Thoms manuscript from my friend and assistant, Tatyana Kazanina, when I was training 30 Peace Corps volunteers in the summer of 1993.  I’m thankful for Mr. Thoms asute observations of what the former Soviet Union educational system was like over 15 years ago because it helps me to understand the university where I am teaching in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Regrettably, my teacher friend, Tatyana Kazanina died May of 1997.  I am not able to ask her how she came to know and have Mr. Thoms writings in her possession.  I hope to meet him one day, to compare notes with him, if he is still alive.

Through Their Eyes, Encounters with Soviet People by Frank R. Thoms


p. 28 – Ï am in a Soviet classroom, I thought to myself, an American visitor with his camera and cranberry Land’s End coat, taking pictures to bring home to show his students.  Pictures of anonymous children filling the room like a wall-to-wall carpet, packed together.  Why should they be crowded together in the largest country in the world, I asked myself.  They had stood up as one, they sat down as one.  They looked at me.  They kept looking.


p. 36 – “…Tatyana invited the students to express their own opinions as they discussed this interpretation…She assumed her students knew the material and invited them to use their knowledge in search of deeper understandings…Nor was I surprised that I had been invited to observe “the best English teacher in the school”(as Anna told me later).  I did not expect, however, to observe a teacher in a Soviet classroom who preferred to listen to her students and to encourage them to express their ideas.  I had understood from my own reading and from what I had learned that morning in the Director’s office that Soviet education was a pressure cooker operating by rote memory and repetition with no time for deliberation.”


p. 40 “Tatyana Popelyanskaya was another story.  She was the best teacher I saw that day, perhaps the best teacher of English I have seen in Soviet schools.  Only one lesson and I had felt her presence in her pupil’s minds.  She dared to ask them to think—before glasnost had opened the way.  I would love to have been her student.  Was she a set-up for vulnerable visitors, the icing on the cake…in a ‘show school?’ She was “the best,”as Anna had said, a little lady on stage in her tidy room…a performer to enamor all observers with the quality of foreign language teaching in the Soviet Union.  I was enamored to be sure, but for different reasons.  She was a teacher.  Not a Soviet teacher but a teacher.  I imagined her with my eighth graders, sitting in our circle, engaging us to think beyond our words, enticing us to discover more than we ventured to find.”


p. 50 “Children learn to learn together from the first year of school.  I was naïve to think that the students would take the initiative to discover their own solution to the giant conflict.  That was not the Soviet way.  It is a given that all Soviet children struggle for peace.  Period…Open-ended approaches are an anathema to Soviet education.  Alternatives, choices, speculation, unresolved outcomes—these do not fit a prescribed curriculum, particularly a national curriculum, one that has been designed and produced at the Ministry of Education in Moscow.  At home my [American] students insist upon creating unique responses; Soviet students, on the other hand, seek to discover what is the right response.”


p. 62 Ëlvira was the outer matryoshka doll of School 185, the face of the school.  More like a Gorbachev than a Brezhnev, she created its image and shaped its thinking and performance.  She held the reins firmly.  It was her school and she knew it.  Her discipline was strict and evident.  Her sharp voice could cut through the bedlam in the corridors at any time, though she rarely chose to use it.  At faculty meetings she chastised those who failed to live up to her standards.  No one was spared.


p. 63 Ïn a society corrupted with hypocrisy and overloaded with rules and regulations, students (and teachers) welcomed opportunities to be defiant.  Pinning buttons under their lapels was one of many such defiances in a system that had ladened their lives with endless demands for proper behavior.  For some of the students defiance was their favorite pastime whether it meant skipping lessons, copying homework, cheating on tests and exams, wearing improper uniforms.  Feigning sickness was the favorite for many, teachers and students alike.

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