Staunton, June 10 – Now that Moscow has approved new history textbooks, Anatoly Torkunov, the rector of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), has added his voice to those like some KPRF deputies who want to revive Soviet-style political education courses in schools to ensure “the correct understanding of international affairs.”
In an interview with “Rossiiskaya gazeta” this week, Torkunov observed that “school children and not only they receive today an enormous mass of information. Unfortunately,” he continued, much of it is contradictory and not systematic and special courses or lectures would help them to gain a correct understanding (rg.ru/2015/06/08/uchebniki.html).
While Torkunov stressed that such courses or lectures should be left up the schools, Roman Ukolov of Lenta.ru today pointedly asked “who needs this initiative?” given that it appears to correspond with KPRF proposals for expanding patriotic propaganda and related instruction in the schools (http://lenta.ru/articles/2015/06/10/politinfo/).
“One of the authors of that patriotic initiative, Vadimir Solovyev, the head of the legal service of the KPRF Central Committee, considers that the MGIMO rector’s proposal yet again shows the importance of the problem” and thus should become the occasion for moving forward with the KPRF bill, Ukolov reports.
“The introduction into the school program of such lessons or political information if you like has been called forth by life itself and is required now,” Solovyev told Lenta.ru. “That our initiative is supported at a high level in the academic community is yet another argument in favor of the idea that such a form of discussion with pupils is important as never before.”
Russia’s schoolchildren, he continued, “must be confidently oriented in the information flow and the task of the teacher is to help them do so.” Teachers must present “the position of the state if it has one, but this does not mean that the official assessment of any events must be taught as the single and indisputable one.”
Teachers have the right, Solovyev continued, to express their own views, “but only if they can support them with arguments. The most important thing is not to allow political games and unsupported demagogic declarations.” Discussions and arguments are fine, but only if everyone is compelled to provide evidence for his or her views.
Historian and Social Chamber member Nikolay Svanidze agrees with these ideas. “Honestly speaking,” he told Lenta.ru, Torkunov’s proposal “on the whole pleases” him. “It is very constructive and fine. School children must not be left one on one with the television screen” without any guidance.
Aleksey Makarkin, deputy director of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies, disagreed. He said that he was “afraid” that “all this will be converted into that most boring and formal political information which regularly was handed out in Soviet schools.” Teachers will be afraid of expressing any alternative view lest they be accused of “insufficient patriotism.”
Moreover, he continued, “dogmatically presented political information will not be of interest to pupils.” The problem is that after a quarter of a century, many have forgotten the shortcomings of the Soviet system and retain only positive memories. “Such is typical of human psychology, to consider that earlier everything was better.”
Finally, Aleksandr Ryvkin, the director of the Izmailovo Education Center, said that Russian schools “are completely capable of dealing with this task even without the organization of extra lessons.” Those pupils who want something more should be able to get it after school rather than overload current courses.