Saturday, September 27, 2014

Flowers to Give!

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia)As school students are returning to school on the first of September, a Russian teacher has sparked off an intensely emotional and at times angry debate over     whether the custom of students presenting teachers with flowers is justified!

The Russian tradition of giving flowers to teachers on the first day of school September 1 is being challenged! (Photo courtesy of Russian Life)

             Foreign observers who visit some Russian schools are often non-plussed by the relative respectability school children still pay their teachers. Yes, amazing as it may seem, in some parts of the World school teachers still command respect!

             For instance, when a teacher enters a classroom school students swiftly stand up. After the lesson, school students can eagerly beg to mop the dirty blackboard for the teacher and on the 1st of September they bring the teachers flowers.

             But that custom could end if a flashmob gets its way. For over the past weeks a teacher, Asya Shtyin, has been actively attempting to dissuade parents from buying           flowers for teachers. Asya is proposing to organise some kind of boycotting of this custom by means of a flashmob demonstration under slogans such as 'Living children instead of dead flowers' or simply 'Flowers of life!'

             The  logic behind the campaign is that 'Why should we purchase all those exorbitantly expensive bouquets when we can spend the money on better causes such as a charity for sick children or a homeless person?'  Isn't spending money on flowers which
teachers don't really need or want an extravagant waste of money? 'A lot of teachers who get those flowers simply throw them into the school bin!' argues Asya Shtyin. The money would be better spent not on dead flowers, but on living children who may be treated for illness,or purchasing a portable respiratory machine, etc'.

             Asya has certainly succeeded in catching the attention of the public if not quite persuading many parents.

             For example, a local Moscow newspaper with a huge circulation carried a story with her views and a colleague of mine, Russian English teacher Oksana Chebotareva
received her request to send her message on to some parents. Oksana expressed mixed feeling about this.

             Like many teachers and parents she resents how florists often speculate on this day by driving up the prices of roses by three times the normal price. Almost every time on the 1st September the price soars up only to suddenly plummet on the 7th of September. Who needs flowers which quickly die the next day? Svetlana Wilson (whose first name happens to mean flower in Russian!) stated that, 'I 'm almost certain that teachers would prefer to just be handed money instead of flowers. You can have a stupid situation where one primary teacher gets 20 bouquets. What does she do with them all? She can't take     them all home? '

             Oksana argues 'it is too cynical to claim that all those flowers are thrown in the school bin. In fact, the teacher often hands those flowers to other members of staff who     don't have them'.

             Svetlana Wilson states, 'What is wrong with giving flowers?

             It is up to the school-children. Let them decide. Some children get pleasure in giving their favourite teachers flowers. My daughter Anna wants to give her history teacher flowers to show her affection and appreciation!

             Of course, there will always be a teacher who doesn't like getting a bouquet of flowers because he or she finds it a hassle to bring them home or wants to drop into the nearest bookshop for a browse. They can be too cumbersome and awkward to carry home. But are they always expensive and do they always die on the next day?  It depends on where and whom you buy them from.

             It is possible to buy good flowers at a very cheap price if you look hard or are lucky to meet an illegal street vendor who has fresher flowers than in the florists.

             Haggling the price does not seem to be an option as Moscow, unlike Greece or Croatia, lacks a haggling culture. You can buy a bouquet for as little as 200 rubles as opposed to 1000 rubles (30 dollars).

             You might ask 'What is all the great fuss about? Are not the flashpower mob making a storm out of a tea cup?'

             After all, the 1st of September is only once a year. It may be that education in Russia is becoming increasingly expensive as parents are expected to pay more and       more for uniforms, notebooks, school uniforms and even repairing schools which is the duty of the government. At present we are witnessing parents taking schools to court for insisting they pay for repairs as this violates an article in the Russian constitution which stipulates school education must be free.

             Aleksi Terekhov does not agree with Aysa. He argues, 'Why should we be forced to either give flowers to teachers or charity? Why can't we do both?

             Teach children to help the needy, bring them up to develop the habit of giving to charity. This is correct.

             But the first day at school must be a celebration. Flowers are one of the attributes of a celebration.

             In addition, many children want to give teachers presents. For them it is important. Charity must be of an extra nature instead of some other activity. 

             The conclusion to draw is not to abandon the custom of giving flowers. You could get children to organise a jumble sale to raise money to buy a stove for needy people and also continue to give teachers flowers'.

             Presenting flowers to teachers on the 1st of September should not be perceived as a casual or stiff formality. 

             It is much more. It conveys deep, profound and sincere symbolism. It demonstrates one of those rare things of our time which is respect, reverence and homage to teachers. In a gift-giving culture in Russia giving flowers is not an empty ritual or stale habit but actually an act of loving respect to the teacher. So it is illogical to argue that we will become more charitable to the needy by being less charitable to teachers. A lot of Russian teachers are so low-paid, overworked and abused that they would themselves fall into a needy group. Does it make sense to pay Peter by robbing Paul?

             However, there may be long-term effects which abandoning this custom may carry. The flashmob has not fully considered the future status of teachers. By abandoning this custom, school students might well begin to respect teachers even less and less.  It also seems so mean not to give a teacher flowers at least once a year! If we abandon this great custom, then 1st of September will lose part of its captivating aura and just become another banal and humdrum day.

             That would be lamentable to say the least.

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