Saturday, May 7, 2016

Teach Patriotism!

By Stephen Wilson

Moscow, Russia -- "Schools don't have special lessons in patriotism. In schools, we need to formalise this topic and take more seriously how to bring up children in patriotism", declared Duma member and ex-boxer, Nikolai Valueyv before a Duma committee on Physical Education, Sport and Youth. A senator Edward Isakov also argued that the government should introduce a special rating agency which
would evaluate how patriotic regions were. Some Russian
politicians are attempting to enforce the daily singing of the national anthem in Russian schools. They are apparently inspired by the American example. "If only we could be as patriotic as Americans," they sing!

               In recent years, Russia has witnessed a surge in nationalism leading to more frequent anti-American articles in the popular press, the persecution of a teacher for writing an 'unpatriotic poem' and attempts to smear opposition leaders as 'foreign agents'. Even innocuous involvement with charity
organisations which receive moral or material support from abroad can be smeared by the authorities as 'unpatriotic'. If anything, the deepening economic crisis has only intensified this rising trend as politicians attempt to distract people from more pressing concerns of rising unemployment, wage
arrears, increasing poverty and abuse of human rights. If in doubt, blame foreigners for your drinking problems!

               Proposals to introduce more formalised lessons, if not a subject, in patriotism, is not unprecedented. On the 19th June 2015, Oleg Pakholkov proposed 'formalising and developing feelings of patriotism amongst children and youth with the help of extra-school excursions in 'cities of heroes' and also the introduction of a separate subject at institutions of further education. Valery Ivanova, of United Russia, also proposed enforcing moral and patriotic feelings in the bringing up of children.

               On 16th October, 2015, Maxim Shingarkin attempted to pass a law which would force school children to sing the national anthem at the beginning of the school week.

               In February, 2016, a Duma committee was charged with working out a law concerning bringing up of children in patriotic values.

               Yet none of those proposals have been taken on board by senior members of the Russian goverment. For example, the Ministry of Education and Science, while endorsing the sentiments of the proposals, doesn't see any real reason why 'patriotism ' should be made a new and separate subject in schools. He stated: 'Bringing children up (morally ) should take first place in the purpose of school
education and therefore all school subjects, especially history, literature, and social knowledge. They must provide not only facts but serve to bring up children '. In other words, instead of introducing a new topic on patriotism, teachers should use existing subjects such as literature to teach patriotic and moral values.

               When I asked 17-year-old school student Anna about what she thought of those proposals, she stated, "It is impossible. Patriotism can't be taught in schools." Another Anna from a school of architecture expressed more antipathy by pointing out: "They are trying to return to a situation in the Soviet Union where they forced people to do a course based on the textbook, 'The History of the Communist party of the Soviet Union'.

               She feared it was an attempt to brainwash young people.

              It is very likely that those proposals represent an unwanted extra stressful headache for the Ministry of Education. This is because most Russians can't reach a consensus on what constitutes patriotism, not to mention drawing up a standard text book as well as adding one more subject to an already overloaded curriculum.

               There are subjects such as religions of the world, social knowledge, and more recently, financial literacy. One would have thought that teachers of maths could cover the latter.

               But perhaps the crucial stumbling block would be the failure to reach an agreement on 'What is patriotism?' How can you teach a topic if you don't know what exactly you are teaching? For instance, at one recent conference delegates were invited to participate in a conference concerning, 'The practical realisation of patriotism as a Russian national idea'. Many experts had been invited to this discussion. The meeting failed to reach an agreement.

               What they discovered was that there were as many views on patriotism as delegates in the hall. And many of those definitions were incompatible. Attending this conference was like being invited to a verbal boxing match without clear rules or referees.

               Igor Tsuranov suggested patriotism amounted to "effective work for the good of the people and country " and then explained that this meant a lot of work such as building good roads, developing business and investing in medicine and education. However, Vladimir Lutovinov argued back that the essence of patriotism was not effectiveness but spirituality. But for some of the Cossacks there is no such ambiguity about what constitutes patriotism. They teach children to march under the slogan, 'Forward march, shoot, pray, and of course, love!'

               In many schools and colleges throughout Russia, children are being taught how to learn first aid as well as to shoot.

               Until Russians can reach a consensus as to what patriotism actually is, the introduction of this as a set subject in the curriculum remains highly problematic and  provocative. It seems likely that patriotic values will be taught under the umbrella of existing subjects and excursions. Most proposals by Duma members will represent futile attempts to prove how they are more patriotic than their peers. In other words, spouting empty, endless and erratic nationalist piety.

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