Saturday, May 3, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Post-Soviet States Trying to Save Money on Education Will End by Spending More on Prisons, Russian Teacher Says

Paul Goble

Baku, May 3 – The Russian Federation and other post-Soviet countries now seeking to economize on education are promoting the degradation of their societies and will soon find that any money they are saving on schools today will have to be spent on prisons tomorrow, according to a Russian teacher and educational activist.
In an article posted online this week, Boris Topchiy, a leader of his country’s Gifted Children movement, argues that a Duma measure now under consideration which declares that education is no longer a Russian national priority is not only misguided but dangerous (
Those who are preparing this measure and those who are likely to vote for it, he argues, “do not know their country, do not believe in it, and do not love it.” Instead, they are the contemporary manifestations of “the devils” Fyodor Dostoyevsky warned Russians and the world about more than a century ago.
And these politicians are “struggling not with the real problems of children” but rather with those who teach them, a strategy that will further degrade public education and national culture, reduce the citizens of the future to a herd of “eating, drinking and multiplying cattle,” and thus threaten the future of the country these “leaders” say they are hoping to build.
Because Topchiy is both a teacher and an educational activist and because the Duma has not yet taken up this measure let alone approved it, many will be inclined to dismiss the Leningrad oblast educator’s words either as special pleading or as an attempt at pre-emptive lobbying on behalf of the educational establishment.
But his comments, which have already been picked up by several other Internet portals, merit closer attention, precisely because so many post-Soviet states have assumed that they can reduce spending on education without threatening the future of their societies, a notion Topchiy argues history shows is deeply mistaken.
Topchiy begins his essay by recounting research he did while a student in Soviet times about American treatment of its indigenous population. As he points out, Soviet students often knew little about the good things of the West, but they were very well informed about its shortcomings.
He recalls that one scholar argued that the American Indians had gone through three stages of degradation: First, “there appear[ed] a consciousness of the threat of degeneration but there was no clearly demarcated desire of the people to resist it. Then, there was “a clear understanding that degeneration was occurring but no will or real chance to resist it.
And finally, Topchiy says, the researcher noted that conditions deteriorate to the point that “there is no understanding that the withering away [of a people] is even taking place.” When things get to that point, the educator-activist says, there is no longer any hope for recovery. That is “the death of the nation, first spiritually and then possibly physiologically as well.”
The fate of Russia’s own “Indians” – numerically small peoples like the Chukchi – “clearly illustrate this third stage of degradation,” Topchiy continues. But he argues that they also should call attention to the ways that this process applies to larger communities, including the Russian nation itself.
“Already today, we do not fully grasp what is happening with us and we cannot recognize the entire depth of the abyss into which [Russia] has fallen in recent years,” he says. “The collapse in the economic sense, but even more in the moral and cultural ones,” two declines which are harder to correct and ultimately more dangerous.
A major reason for this moral and cultural degradation, Topchiy suggests, is “the destruction of the system of education” which has left Russian children defenseless against the onslaught of a mass media that promotes the values of force and selfishness and against a so-called “elite” in Moscow and St. Petersburg whose members despise their own people.
This is not the first time Russia has been threatened by such degradation, the Leningrad educator says, and he urges Russians to recall both the predictions of the great 19th century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his novels The Devils and The Brothers Karamazov and the horrible ways in which they came true in the 20th century.
At a time when the Russian Empire appeared to be at the peak of its power, Dostoyevsky warned that Russia was being swamped with drunkenness, denunciations and “unheard of depravity. One or two generations, one of the figures in his novel said, will be sufficient to create a situation in which “depravity will become something people cannot live without.”
As a result, the population will be transformed into a disgusting and cowardly herd in love with itself. That is what’s necessary,” this revolutionary character said, because as a result, such “new” people will be willing to defer to anyone who promises to satisfy their animalistic needs at any cost.
In the last century, that led to the GULAG. Now, Topchiy concludes, there is a danger that by trying to save money on education – and the amounts are miserly compared to other parts of the budget – Russia and its neighbors may soon find themselves forced to spend far more than they have “saved” on the construction and maintenance of prisons.

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