Saturday, May 31, 2014

Window on Eurasia: A Challenge for Russian Parents – Raising Free Children in a Totalitarian State

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – In a new book, educational theorist Anatoly Yermolin suggests that there are ways for Russian parents to raise “independent, self-sufficient and harmoniously developed children” who could become the basis for “the flourishing of the state” despite the authoritarianism and even totalitarianism round them.

            Yermolin, who heads the Internet lycee “Podmoskovny” founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, lays out his ideas in “The Education of the Free Personality in a Totalitarian Era” (in Russian; Moscow Alpina Publishers, 2014). An except is available online at

            As the educator notes, “there is a great deal of talk in [Russia’s] schools about the self-administration of children, but the number of real cases when administrative authority is delegated to children can be counted on one hand.” Instead, in many schools, “the dictatorship of the director and the teachers remains the main form of administration.”

            And that is “not bad ... if you do not know how to work any other way” and if you don’t care about what those children will turn out to be or about the society they will help create.

            “Director-monarchs – such a term exists in contemporary management theory – are typically very effective leaders. In the schools they head work strong teachers, there are almost no problems with discipline and the graduates receive good knowledge and get into higher educational institutions.”

            But despite that, it is clear that “the future life effectiveness of a young person” depends not just on what he or she knows but how he or she has acquired it and how he or she has learned to interact both with superiors and with equals.   

                “Typically,” Yermolin says, “in schools with an authoritarian regime of administration, the teachers quite capably imitate pupil self-administration.  Various student organs are set up, an enormous quantity of meetings is held, but such work very often occurs exclusively on the basis of the initiative of adults.”

            The opinions of the children are taken into account “if they correspond with the positions of the teachers,” he writes, with “the director monarchs consciously preventing the development of true self-administration and self-organization of the pupils.” And for many children, such arrangements and those who make them may be even quite popular.

            But “the usefulness of ‘monarchs’ under conditions of contemporary economics is already under doubt,” Yermolin says, because “such an administrator prevents pupil self-administration not because he is evil but because his system of management does not accept democratic innovations.”

                The tragedy is that if such administrators are forced to introduce more democratic structures, the latter may are likely to fail or even backfire because such effective managers don’t believe in them.  In that situation, parents need to intervene and promote pupil administration because otherwise the rising generation won’t have the values needed for Russia to flourish.

            Doing so won’t be easy because the problems he identifies in Russian schools now are the problems of Russia as a whole, a country in which authoritarian leaders may feel compelled to offer imitation democracy but feel equally justified in subverting any chance that children or adults will be able to make decisions and thus take control of their own lives.

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