Putin will build Russian education by Soviet standards

Children are out future. This old slogan sounds anew now – with political overtones. A recent scandal around history text book for the school raised the old question of text books again, and posed a new one: school is turned into a political arena.

The reason of the scandal is trivial: the historical department of the Federal expert committee of the Education Ministry did factually prohibit an Igor Dolutskiy’s history text book for grades 10-11. The explanation was a politically incorrect (in the committee’s opinion) question, asking students to agree or deny claims about establishing the “police state” and “Putin’s individual power regime” in modern Russia.

An overall idea of Dolutskiy to give a problematic character to history, make students think and analyse, is appealing. Most experts, agree however, that in this case the author did it wrong to give the modern Russian history as a whole and Putin’s politics in particular a negative character from the beginning. As the book says: “Analysts prove that there is a dead end situation in Russia, as the current power is not able to fight problems” and “coming to power of left or monarchial opposition, or a leader with Napoleon-like ambitions would only worsen the matter”. Dolutskiy also criticizes Russia’s past, calling its policy was “aggressive” and turned the country into “prison for nations”, where “Jews, Polish and Armenians were and are hated”. In the author’s view, Russia looks undeveloped country, where chaos and mindless power reign. A country without wise past or bright future.

There are various opinions on Putin and his policy, but it is impossible to disagree with this words of his: “text books should not become an arena for new political or ideological battle. They have to contain historical facts, they have to make the youth proud for our history and our country”.

It is not the first time Putin looks at the problem of school text books contents. Two years ago he pointed out that the soviet system of education was “reasonably effective, toughly built, with a good base”. Then he asked government to have special attention to the contents of teaching literature. “This is an extremely important question, which may not be overlooked”, said Putin.

In fact, the problem is in absence of a single standard. There are many history textbooks now, and the Education Ministry only approves or prohibits a certain book, leaving it up to the schools to choose the one to use. In this case, all efforts spent on the state educational policy formation are wasted.

Arguments around textbooks have meaning. In contrast to sciences, history is subjective, and any textbook is always subjective to a certain degree. This is difficult to avoid. Hence it s practically impossible to have a textbook which satisfies everyone.

However, existence of textbooks with varied opinions creates more harm than benefit now. First of all, there is a question of quality, as not all textbooks have a knowledgeable, sane approach to this or other problem. Many textbooks remain without demand exactly because their authors’ incompetence. On the other hand, limited issue of every series of textbooks makes really good ones not available for all schools. In this case the government has to make a decision to issue the single text books for all schools. This solution will annihilate all arguments and scandals. Issuing of additional teaching books also would remain possible, giving teachers an opportunity to choose a book depending on their needs and sympathies.

Such a solution would obviously help to balance proponents of the varied opinions and those loyal to the current power. The loyalty which sometimes looks like absolute idiotism. An example: in the year 2000 a textbook issued in Saint Petersburg had a biography of Putin, which was compared by western media with those of Lenin. “When he was the same age as you are now, he could not think of becoming a president. But even then all the kids around knew that Vovka is not afraid of anyone, that he’s a loyal friend and would betray anyone”, the textbook says.

In any case, Russian schoolkids today became the victims of adults’ political games. But if in the soviet times variants of objects for hailing or hatred could not be changed, now authors put their personal sympathies to the book pages. Wouldn’t it happen that instead of cultivating people who know and love history of their country, proper voters would be cultivated from our children?

It is good if the government will be able to create a good textbook, not an election advertising. If it will not be able, this will raise a question of such government’s competence. We have to understand that our children is really our future, and our destiny, and the destiny of Russia depend on their upbringing.

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