When I was in middle school, my English teacher had this joke: In Russia, Putin knows exactly what page every student in every school is on at any given moment. While obviously exaggerated, it is more true now than almost ever before.
Last year, the Ministry of Education and Science declared that all textbook publishers were required to meet new guidelines by re-submitting paperwork and getting new reports from government sanctioned groups that review books for “ethno-cultural” value (NY Times). Since the decree, the number of textbooks sold and used throughout Russia has decreased by nearly three dozen. Most companies took an enormous hit from the new legislation such as Fyodorov who lost 38 of 42 books and Titul Publishers who lost 20 books that were sold to 70% of English students in Russia. Most of the targeted books teach what is called the Zankov System which is an education system based around thinking rather than rote memorization.
One company that escaped the process practically unscathed was Prosveshcheniye, otherwise known as Enlightenment. Originally a state-run publishing company, Enlightenment was recently sold to the private market through a back-door transaction and tossed around between companies like a hot potato. Since the deals, Enlightenment has obtained almost 70% of the Russian textbook market and nearly 80% of the Crimean market. The company, supported by the Russian government, emphasizes rote memorization as opposed to newer methods of learning. Not only has the government restricted students’ access to information typically provided by textbooks, but as the New York Times and Lyudmila G. Peterson suggest, the allowed books were chosen to “instill a sense of patriotism” (NY Times). Thanks to Putin, Russian students will likely be patriotic students with a very small scope of perspective.
Russia, however, is not the only country dramatically changing its education system to impress certain ideals in children. Closer to home, in Colorado, the Jefferson County School board considered and approved a proposal to enforce the “benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority, and respect for individual rights” yet reducing emphasis on civil disobedience and related topics (NY Times). In an attempt at increased patriotism, the school board ineffectively tried to alter students’ understanding of history by emphasizing only the benefits of American culture.
Similar to the situation in Russia, teachers, parents, and students all protested in opposition to the decision from the school board, yet unlike in Russia their pleas for change were met with open ears. After the expression of disapproval from the district, the school board amended its review committee to include students and teachers. While the board attests to encouraging civil engagement through the proposition, which I find dubious, they did bring up a really important question – how do we teach students in the best interests of tomorrow? Honestly, I’m not sure. Although there is no way for us to know what the future holds and whether the next generation will be prepared, it will be absolutely fascinating to see where these two approaches, Russian patriotic education and American all-inclusive education, will land students in 10, 15, or 20 years down the road.