Volume:1, Issue: 1

May. 1, 2009

Religion, Education, Culture: A Call for Dialogue
Evgeny Yamburg [about]

Education crisis; religion in Russian education; morality; integration of secular and spiritual; Russian educator’s role in helping society; current problems in Russian education; need for a common ideology.

Dr. Yamburg believes that in today’s Russian society, the educational system is experiencing a new and very different crisis than was experienced most recently in the 20th century.  He believes that all teachers should be fully aware of the religious, educational and cultural problems that exist within their society.  If a teacher is not aware of society’s crisis, the teacher cannot guide the student to a viable solution.

Today, the Russian people have a growth in both religious understanding and national self-awareness.  Unfortunately, with every crisis in society, there develops myths and half-truths to combat the crisis.  With the growth of global and ethnic conflicts, many humans retreat to fundamentalism.  Dr. Yamburg also states that there is currently a crisis in “the scientific view of the world,” the “autonomous morality based on non-religious, atheistic humanism,” and a need “to overcome excessive anthropocentrism in one’s belief system.”

To face the 21st century, the educators in Russia will be unable to turn from their current ideological position and face the new and changing problems faced by their students unless they fully understand the problems of today.  The role of current teachers is critical in the cultural crisis facing their students.  It is most important to come from a place of atheism to a place of religious and cultural tolerance.  But Dr. Yamburg points out, “and let us be clear: teachers cannot fulfill this task alone.”

“Today, more urgently than ever before, we (Russian educators) need to unite and bring together all ‘cultural forces’ in order to resist the growing chaos, absurdity, and aggression in our society.”

In essence, Dr. Yamburg poses the ideological question: ‘How does the classroom teacher integrate the secular and the spiritual experiences of a nation into the existing philosophy of education?’  We are told that the classroom teacher must first understand the situation in its entirety and then examine all the false ideas and the failures that are present within the students’ experience.  If this examination is done in a superficial or off handed manner, it will cause only further confusion and upset the students’ ability to learn, grasp and comprehend the situation. 

Within the text of the article, Dr. Yamburg gives a number of excellent examples of some of the current problems that are facing the students, teachers and administrators within the Russian educational system.  For those not involved in education, the examples might be impossible to comprehend but the examples are most real to present and former teachers in the United States.  Dr. Yamburg believes that it is important for all to remember that every teacher should be secure in their national heritage as well as their personal religious heritage and identity.

It is incumbent upon the teachers in both public and religious schools to expose the students to all facets of life.  While there may be individual reasons and obstacles that stand in the way of a productive and reasonable dialogue, it is only when fundamentalists desist and those who do not fully understand remove their unfounded objections that dialogue will finally begin.  Dr. Yamburg is concerned that what seems obvious is going to be overlooked and discarded as being too difficult.  His final conclusion is that while Russia might not be able to come to one ideology, it is possible for all to arrive at common ground and a common educational philosophy that will result in each student growing more completely.

The 20th century has radically undermined many beliefs from the past, especially an overall belief in virtue and in a human capacity to find and solve the most critical issues of this earth. The same crumbling of belief happened with a strong, optimistic belief in continual, positive results in education. This belief also failed long ago and was immediately replaced by gloomy and unmitigated pessimism.

In 1949, shortly before his death in Paris, a famous Russian religious philosopher Sergey Frank, reflecting on contemporary European cruelty and violence “which just forty, even ten years before would be considered totally impossible,’ wrote about it then that “Recent events showed that the so-called man of culture – a cultivated European – had turned out to be a deceptive figure, an incredibly severe and morally blind savage who used his culture only to torture and murder people in a more ‘refined’ and skillful way.” Reading these lines, you would think that the philosopher remained in a deadlock of despair but he manages to overcome it and move ahead.

“Any life though full of painful difficulties and tragedies is, nevertheless, better than the opposite destruction, death, or decomposition. It is always better to look reality straight in the face rather than to fool oneself with illusions. A need for optimistic illusions only ‘strengthens’ one’s inability to withstand difficulties; to expose oneself to such illusions means to put oneself at risk of failing realities of life, and to be unable to fully comprehend every heroic moment of one’s real life.”[2]

This is a true metaphysical understanding of the sense of human life, one formulated by a deeply religious person. This also provides an answer to the question as to why sincere believers were able to endure any hardships and unprecedented tortures of the last century. I am not trying to contrast two radically different positions, one of a weak and incapable culture, and the other, of a strong and omnipotent faith. Quite on the contrary, my goal is clearly formulated in the title of this article – “Religion, Education, Culture: a call for dialogue”. Here the order of words is meaningful, as it clearly presents the main “speakers” in such a dialogue, and it is not by chance that education happens to be in the middle. To me, education is always a central focal point and a genuine crossroads. One road has its foundation in the positive knowledge of the past and is maintained by the humanistic traditions of the recent and contemporary times. The other road, based on illusions and ephemeral, leads to the skies and is built on the basis of the great insights and intuitions of all mankind. What is the easiest way of bringing these two roads close to each other?

These reflections raise another question, “Does any teacher who is fulfilling his or her routine tasks day-in and day-out, really need all these sophisticated ideas?” Without any hesitation, I would answer in the affirmative, “Yes, every teacher needs them,” or at least to be courageous, as Sergey Frank put it.

The second half of the 20th century demanded no less courage than the first, and the beginning of this new century, unfortunately, does not provide much hope for optimism either. The tragedy of September 11, 2001 showed the whole world that a robust economy provided with sophisticated technologies could not guarantee safety. Because of this event, the world had to grapple and try to understand that a spiritual-moral and religious-ideological problem such as the incompatibility of two civilizations (when unsolved), becomes a very strong destabilizing factor to contemporary society. In any case, it is no less dangerous than a hole in the ozone or global warming.It turns out that there is a certain group of people on our earth, not somewhere in the past but today, whose behavior is dictated by absolutely irrational emotions which are lodged in the deepest layers of their personality and which can make preserving their own lives totally meaningless, to such a degree that they are ready to accept death as something joyful and inspiring.

Humanity is experiencing a new, systematic crisis. Should teachers be knowledgeable about this crisis, at least about some of its indicators? The answer is again, yes, because, otherwise teachers will find themselves in a difficult situation, similar to a doctor who cannot make a precise diagnosis and who does not recognize the etiology, the symptoms, and characteristics of the new millennium’s diseases, but who still tries to treat these diseases with the same old herbal liqueur.

A crisis of identity has triggered the growth of national and religious self-awareness. In its turn, this process has seriously increased hatred and aggression, having their background in the numerous mutual offences and grievances, accumulated over the past decades.

A growing number of myths besets our minds.  This is another facet of our spiritual crisis. A famous Western philosopher Cassirer[3]was correct in saying that whenever crises occur in the social and political life of a people, then myths again come into the foreground. Myths are always present in the back of our minds, ready to reveal themselves when the situation permits. This happens every time the other connecting links of our society lose their influence (forwhatever reason) and can no longer resist the tremendous power of myths. In our country today we have to deal with a number of myths which are mistakenly taken for genuine ideology, for example, “Russia, which we have lost”, or “Paradise is in the West”, and many others. Half-hidden in history but with its head still raised high is the ugly myth of the Aryans that inspires skinheads to arrange pogroms and beat people of a different ethnicity. We must be constantly aware that most myths that espouse violence tend to mix with each other. This is how, slowly but inevitably, a disturbing mixture of nationalism, communism, and clericalism can come into our lives. The influence of each of these three components could differ, but the result is always the same: they lead to minds poisoned by totalitarianism, although they come disguised in an attractive and gleaming ‘ideological cover’.

Any analysis of the problems connected with a person’s world outlook, which is a typical characteristic of post-Soviet era, will not be complete until we remember that such problems do not only appear in isolation, but also come together in the time of a global crisis.  Here are some of the indications:

First, growing conflicts of a global and ethnic nature which promote the rise of fundamentalism, and not only within Islam.

Second, a crisis in the scientific view of the world. What we might call “Aristotelian energy,” tremendously enforced by positivism and rationalism, is running low. More and more people tend to disbelieve that rational approaches are the only basis for understanding the world. They also reject the notion of linear progress as an illusion. (Teachers tend to lag behind in this regard, perhaps, due to the nature of their profession).

Third, a crisis in autonomous morality based on non-religious, atheistic humanism. The 20th century has brought us plenty of evidence that the vertical values’ paradigm will become very shaky if it doesn’t have support by having a regard for the Sacred.

Forth, having to overcome excessive anthropocentrism in one’s belief-system, or, in other words, having to overcome an overwhelming belief in one’s human strength. Losing this personal feeling is accompanied in turn by a crisis in the belief in humanity’s potential.

All the indications above show that at the beginning of the 21st century we are fully exposed to a shock of a cross-cultural nature which affects society profoundly as, for example, current, post-Soviet society.

It is evident that all society’s problems and contradictions would not disappear by themselves in the near future; there is simply no such magic in the world. It means we need to learn how to live with these contradictions. It is similar to the life of a chronically sick person who is fully aware of his disease and who does everything possible to tolerate his pain.

There are profound and extreme problems stirring in our minds that impact everything in the country as a whole and its schools in particular. In the meantime, new generations grow and mature, and we cannot close our schools just to consider where we are and where we want to go, as if we were routinely redesigning the philosophy underlying our educational expectations.  In these circumstances I am mostly concerned about Russian teachers whose role becomes really critical, although they are but modest players in our cultural wars. Yet, they have the awesome responsibility for developing new generations, often at risk to themselves. And let us be clear:  teachers cannot fulfill this task alone.

Today, more urgently than ever before, we need to unite and bring together all ‘cultural forces’ in order to resist the growing chaos, absurdity, and aggression in our society.
Needless to say, any calls to unite professional efforts for the sake of children and our work with them are destined to fail until we find a solid and meaningful platform on which to bring these cultural forces together, regardless of serious differences in religions, ideas, and attitudes. At the beginning of this new millennium, after putting aside many illusions of linear progress and coming to understand history as a chain of more and more complicated moral tasks, we have enthusiastically revisited a methodological concept of the late philosopher Vladimir Bibler[4].

This original thinker used to say that we are facing a time with its  ‘changed logic’ that allows us to look deeply into how the world is constructed. In this philosopher’s opinion, a historical ‘switch’ has occurred from the rational logic of the past to a ‘dialogic’ of the present, or to a dialogue of many logics. In other words, this is a consciously taken step to accepting the necessity and the possibility of discussing issues affecting all while putting aside differences of languages, outlooks, religions, nationalities, and races. Only by doing this can we achieve an integrated understanding and a clear vision of the values we want to foster in education. By and large, mostly by intuition, educators on the whole and schools in particular are turning to this methodological approach, thereby paying tribute not only to the accumulated positive scientific wisdom of the past but also to the very important history of mankind’s spiritual journeys.

At this point, we have to face the delicate question of how to correlate these secular and spiritual histories in our philosophy of education. With the end of an era of non-religious education there occurred a convergence between morality based on individual choice and atheistic humanism. Any reasonable teacher will agree that this introduced a crisis into education. The general silence around this development can be possibly explained by our adherence to European secular traditions, to humanistic education and freedom of conscience. One more explanation lies in the desire to make everyone feel secure in our state of many religions and with a desire not to provoke any inter-religious and ethnic conflicts.

In Russia, which stands at the crossroads of cultures, civilizations, and religions, any public school should be secular. But being secular does not mean being aggressively atheistic. We have finally come to and understanding and acceptance of this idea.

But how can we practice and combine these two differing outlooks in the real world? First and foremost, we must appreciate that it takes time to understand how complicated and full of false ideas and serious failures this process might be. When superficially and quickly done, attempts to combine the rational and the spiritual look funny, cause irritation, and raise new problems. For example, here is what one school superintendent announced in his speech, “I am, of course, an atheist but a Christian one” (?!).
I found one of the most acceptable and reasonable points of view in the book by Philip Lobstein, an educator and inspector from the French Ministry of Education,

“…Every state remains secular because it should be distanced from any specific religion; the state cares about the absence of privileges and oppression towards any religion of its citizens. Secular education is based on the commonality of human values; it cares about paying attention to every side of modern civilization. Without promoting one side or the other, the state should give every citizen an opportunity for self-assertion and preservation of one’s attitude to the world, extending respect to every possible opinion.

Educators should be sensitive and understanding so as not to be reproached by any of the students’ parents. Tolerance starts at the moment when one stops saying anything bad about anyone else. But if a parent protests against anything, then there should be a teacher who is able to explain his or her own intentions, and to show connections between cultures. This can be possible only when a teacher develops a wide world outlook and cares about others. School is the only place where people, usually divided by the walls of their houses, can physically meet.”[5]

Unfortunately, xenophobia is very common, and professional teachers should have a clear understanding of this phenomenon and take a strong stand against it. They should also understand that in the sphere of inter-religious relations any tiny spark could start a huge fire. We should all remember the tragic consequences of conflicts of this sort throughout history.
In one of our schools with the so-called “ethno-national component” I learned that the principal had forbidden the study in elementary grades of the children’s story “The Three Little Pigs” because of the non-kosher nature of the main characters. This sounds like a joke, but unfortunately it is not. It is just another example of creating a cultural ghetto.
I heard about a high school where they organized a conference of Christian teachers of Physics and, as a result, they defined the following teaching mission statement:  “Every class of Physics should make students aware of the idea of the existence of God.” How does this harmonize with the commandment “Thou shall not take name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who taketh his name in vain (Deut.5:11)?”

Here is my final example. Reporters were recently deeply moved by a certain situation that they immediately informed the public about. The head of a certain monastery had managed to get an agreement with The Energy Company to provide his monastery with electricity at ‘divine’ (!), that is, lower rates. To me it means that, in comparison, the rates for hospitals and schools are not “divine” or could even be “devilish!” This is simply nonsense and these reporters don’t understand the real problem in taking this line of reasoning.

The problem of inter-ethnic relationships is no less painful. For many people who are unsophisticated about religion a question of faith almost always has a ‘national’ coloring and they search for and find for their national identity through belonging to a certain religion. Thinking this way quite often brings in its train strong and uncontrolled emotions that rise from deep within the psyche. There is unfortunately little hope that we will manage to keep these emotions under control in the near future. If, however, the state begins to execute the law with no exceptions made for anyone, the many conflicts triggered by national-religious differences will be stopped. But just following the law and providing every citizen, regardless of his or her ethnicity or religion, with equal rights and civic freedoms will not solve the problem entirely.

It is evident that our country hasn’t solved this problem. But, by way of comparison, if we look at some developed democracies in the world where people truly know and follow the law, we will still find that in these countries citizens are concerned about demographic shifts and the incompatibility of the Muslim and Christian worlds. More disturbing there is a serious talk about the possibility of new religious wars. As a reaction to this situation, legal authorities all over the world are making visa control and immigration laws much tougher.
In November 2000, in the city of Ufa, there was a forum of Russian intelligentsia where one of the presenters, the contemporary Russian writer Makanin,[6] spoke very convincingly on this subject:

When we deal with difficult issues of religion we should be most tolerant. We cannot solve the issue by simply treating everyone nicely and kindly, though this is also important. <…> But we should not be frightened by these problems – they will always exist. In some sense we don’t understand them, and at times people are not granted an ability to understand the processes which are stirring within them, which can change them radically. <…> But after all, tolerance remains the most important trait. I don’t call for love – for some people this can be too much. People might not possess such a talent or such a soul that will call for love. But I call for empathy, for tolerance. We should speak about it, and this is the most important question. 

Let us turn our attention to tolerance. I believe it’s easy for us to communicate on this level when we are among ourselves, among equals. Everyone can talk, especially behind the door, and then everything looks balanced and smooth. All these talks (I call them horizontal) seem to be quite natural and they can help reduce tension and solve the problem. But there should be other talks which are much more important, I call them vertical. In such a multinational country as Russia, these talks remain extremely important. I mean inter-generational talks within one family, when the older talk with younger. That’s where real patience can be born, that’s the core of the solution! We can always find a common language when we are in public but let us try to find this language in our families. <…> I am pretty sure that the so-called ‘national issue’ can be resolved at the kitchen table and not at big meetings.

For example, a Russian family is discussing at home that someone in the local train hurt a Jew, and the father of the family defended that Jew. This impresses his children much more strongly than any powerful public presentation. It is stronger because it is authentic. Or, the father is talking about some Bashkir or another Muslim being hurt in Moscow. This is important too. It might happen that the children of the family will giggle saying, “Wow, look, our father is a defender”. This is OK, let them contradict or giggle but let them hear it at home, let them know that their family does not encourage hatred. Such vertical conversations are extremely important.

By analogy, it is no less important that Jewish, Tatar, or Armenian families parents talk with their children about Russians and their problems and express their sympathy with them.  

I have allowed myself to introduce this lengthy quotation to the reader only because I feel very supportive of what this Russian writer said. Here are some of my reasons in this respect:

First, it is critical to remember that any alarming facts, regardless of how disturbing they are for us, should not immediately bring up panic, frustration, and hasty decisions. Makanin’s qualified optimism is based on his intuitive confidence in the existence of a profound, metaphysical basis for life. Meanwhile, the metaphysical fear of the current and future changes in our civilization pushes many people towards searching for simple, fast, and final solutions. But our recent history has shown us that such “solutions” are fraught with violence, terrorism, and victims on a mass scale. Gradually, however, new generations come into existence and become mature which have not had these awful experiences. This inexperience and the confusion in young minds create favorable circumstances for concealing totalitarianism under a cloak of beautiful, neutral colors which make it possible to see Hitler’s and Stalin’s methods as an answer to mankind’ problems. 

Second, calling up examples and similar problems that exist in other countries to Russians who are deeply concerned about the future of their ethnicity, is psychologically correct. It allows one to deal with these serious problems without any real personal involvement. Furthermore, this also makes it easier to search intellectually for valid answers to do so while avoiding the involvement of the emotions.

Third, I fully agree with the idea of developing the concept of tolerance in the area of education, and most certainly so within the family. It is obvious that society on the whole and its schools in particular should do everything possible to make clear the basic principles of human solidarity. But Russians do not easily trust abstract ideas or principles. Most important for them are personal examples, e.g., the telling of events within their own families. Unfortunately we can’t boast of plentiful examples that will illustrate our struggle against xenophobia. Quite on the contrary, the bias against “the other” is often ‘absorbed with mother’s milk’. Because of this a school’s responsibility to steadily and effectively explain to parents their role in preventing ethnic and religious conflicts has become more and more critical. And there is one more aspect to this problem, which is hardly ever mentioned – that is, in our schools there are always teachers who have different religious orientations and different understandings of their national identity. I am confident, that a sincere teacher, secure in his or her national and religious identity, will always defend children belonging to other national and religious groups. There are always words and concepts which a Russian teacher might feel uncomfortable using. In this case, a Russian teacher could seek the assistance of an Armenian or a Jewish teacher in presenting them, or even invite the other teacher into the class to do so. The same arrangement should apply to an Armenian or Jewish teacher vis-à-vis a Russian one.

All the previously mentioned ideas pertain to the professional behavior of a teacher in a public school, in a school that should remain under any circumstances a place of love for children, a place where they are never differentiated by nationality or other characteristics. It is at the same time evident that religious and ethnic groups have a perfect right to raise their children in the tenets of their faith. But it’s also important to remember, that, first, one’s faith does not justify the historical record of hostility towards others, and second, that this delicate and important work of religious education should always be done within the boundaries of the Law on Education which grants private schools the right to be religiously and ethnically oriented. In any case, the Law grants parents the right of free choice.

Along with private schools, there are a number of other possibilities to introduce children to their national culture: different optional courses, Sunday schools, etc. I need to remind the reader about obvious issues only because we are more and more witnessing situations when parents, teachers and school administrators tend to ‘forget’ about the boundaries of secular and religious education in their public schools. For example, a qualified and respected school principal unexpectedly decided to transform his school into an Orthodox one. This would be fine if the school is private, and the contract with parents supports this noble decision. Schools like this are already in existence and are quite successful.

But when we learned the details of his project, we found out that his school was still public and among its students and teachers there were people of different nationalities. But the issue is not even about the nationalities of teachers and children – one’s faith is one’s personal choice, and it does not always coincide with one’s nationality. The problem we face in this example is different. The school principal starting such a complicated school transformation had a very vague idea of what he was planning to do. Gradually we came to learn that all he wanted was a Russian national school with an advanced program of the study of Russian culture, and the title “Orthodox” was merely a nod in the direction of current fashion and to show respect for the priest of a neighboring church.

Questions, questions, and more questions. Their source is usually the same – a very painful search for one’s lost national identity, and the cultural ignorance of many teachers who have to solve this problem at their own risk and in their own ways. Besides this, we have lately been facing a very unique socio-political and psychological situation that practically pushes everyone to be unreasonable. Schools are mirrors of the society around them and fully reflect our national situation and the alarming processes it is undergoing.

We need to bring into clear focus our different goals and methods whereby to achieve them in different schools, although superficially they might appear similar to each other. Schools, based on Orthodoxy, Islam, or Judaism, are quite different from Russian, Tatar and Jewish schools. Maybe if God permits it, we will live to welcome the appearance of Russian-Armenian or Tatar-Russian schools where children of different nationalities will sit next to each other in class and will have a chance to study each other’s culture, thereby creating a solid basis for a fruitful intercultural dialogue. But it seems that we are quite far away from such a dialogue and schools. Unfortunately, it is much easier to deepen the gap between cultures then to bridge it.

The 20th century has revealed to the world, along with the savagery of human nature, some unique human “saints”. One of them, a Protestant pastor, Rihkard Vurmbradt, was first tortured by Fascists and then after the war, by Socialists in Romania.   He suffered for over two decades.  He was brought to his deathbed more than once, and on one such occasion he wrote:

I realized that the number of our religions can be reduced to two: the first would be hatred which uses rituals and dogmas to fight others; and the second would be love, which allows different people to realize their unity and their brotherhood in the face of God .

Here is another voice coming from another place of torture – Stalin’s concentration camps. This one is from an Orthodox priest Sergey Zheludkov,

God is one. He helps everybody.

Among the real ‘saints’ of the 20th century who preserved their humanity under unbelievably cruel circumstances and who were ready to sacrifice themselves for everyone else, we can find quite a number of Russians: Maria Kuzmina-Karavaeva , the Archbishop and architect Voino-Yasenetsky , and many others. Their unique experiences give us hope and grounds for a reserved optimism, and also provide us unique “educational material” for educating today’s children and youth. The heroic deeds of each and every one of these saints serve as great examples of the best in human nature.

It is difficult to accept the fact that all of us experience similar problems – anything that is personal seems to us to be harder and more painful. Probably it is too much to demand that every teacher should possess deep spiritual insight and be of a ‘moral height’ like that of the saints in the world. But let me ask you, do you see any other way to stop hatred, aggression, and xenophobia?

The process of world globalization triggers these evils that continue to grow today. Many teachers do not accept globalization because they consider it a threat to the preservation of one’s national identity, spirituality, and other individual traits; in a way this is true.  That’s why many teachers have developed an inner resistance, a desire “to close the door to America”, to erect a barrier against callousness and platitude, and in this way to protect their students from the noxious and decomposing influence of Western culture. This is a clear and understandable desire, especially if we are talking about a teacher in a regular school somewhere in a small town in central Russia. Quite often, in such places, the rise of drug-abuse and the prostitution of children are the sole results oftheir having been exposed to the world. Under these circumstances it would be naïve to talk about an all caring world and human solidarity.

There is another common phrase, “We are not Americans”. This phrase becomes an introductory statement to many projects of nationally oriented schools, usually based on the advice of a specialist of regional lore and a priest from the neighboring church with his ‘genuine’ spirituality. But there is even more additional tension among small ethnic groups in their quest to establish their own national identity. They, in turn, consider Russian culture a global, depersonalizing influence on them, an attitude that has come down from the Soviet times.

I have given the reader enough facts to understand how many difficulties our teachers experience today, especially if they are not knowledgeable in cultural studies, ethno-psychology, theology, and philosophic anthropology. But teachers have to understand and study all these branches of knowledge if they don’t want to repeatedly bring about a “Chechnya scenario” for the whole of Russian territory. You might disagree and think that I am over-emphasizing the role of education, and especially moral and character education in solving the critical issues of our age. You might want to let politicians, economists, futurologists, military and other specialists search for the brilliant decisions about how to escape from these dead ends of our civilization. But still, even if they find these solutions, they will remain on paper or in their computers until preparatory educational work is done, whether it is aimed at adults or children, better, at both. Vertical conversations, which the writer Makanin was talking about, are the confirmation of what I have just said, they are also an example of the tribute paid to the critical role of education in our new millennium.

Meaningful political discussions of difficult historic and cultural issues, regardless of the extreme necessity and advisability to do so, can only help to set the framework for actual situations where real life makes its own adaptations. Certain factors, one of which is the nature of the educational process of children and adults, will serve to form the outcome. Let’s look at post-war Germany where, due to certain international influences, national and local media for over twenty years systematically exposed the facts, supported by documents, about the inhuman nature of fascism. Every school taught a mandatory subject on the history of the WWII and ‘the role’ of fascist Germany in it. As a result of this tremendous and time-consuming educational work, many Germans experience a strong feeling of guilt even today.

Nothing of this kind happened in our Motherland. Then why should we be surprised to learn that certain circles are trying to force-feed us with the idea of a united Russia “cooked up” out of a rattling mixture of nationalism, communism, and clericalism? This is especially ‘appealing’ in these times when the populace is confused and because of the lack of sophistication of many common people, and their natural desire for spirituality. But in reality we have received a mixed drink composed of hatreds, fears and phobias, which raises the important question in a time such as this, “Against whom are we uniting ourselves?”

Nevertheless, one cannot deny real threats to the national security of the country coming from different sides and from different sources. There are some serious problems in the world which we should not ignore andwhich we shoulddefinitely consider when developing a primary strategy and technology for our work with the younger generation. First and foremost, I mean states, national, religion-based, and exploitative. These states and national groupstend to makedecisions and moves difficult and unpopular for other nations and are usually based on double standards and on duplicitous moral grounds. If we don’t seriously consider and discuss these problems in the educational sphere, then we will face a situation similar to Gorbachev’s position after he dissolved the Warsaw Treaty when NATO immediately moved closer to our national borders. Today, with the growing egoism of the most powerful forces in the world, people fear being deceived because of their own idealism. This fear is what fundamentalists of all colors, shapes and sizes rely on and employ heavily.

Imagine for a moment that we are really surrounded by enemies who can’t wait to enslave us culturally, politically, etc. What would concerned and patriotic citizens do in such a situation? They would most certainly marshal all their forces and resources and welcome the returns of such lost Russian traditions as arm-to-arm combat, and in this way pay tribute to a romantic view of our own past battles. But if these patriots want to win, then they need to be equipped with more than their bare arms in the face of a strong, modern enemy.

These words have dealt with matters of war and peace. Now let us apply this same metaphor to the situation within our own culture and we will come to the same result. If, however, we really want to protect our children and youth from the trite and superficial characteristics of “Western” civilization, then we should bring together the best of all the cultural achievements from both, theirs and ours.

An artificial self-isolation has never brought any nation anything good, and the only safe guarantee against any national catastrophe lies in the capacity of the state and its people to study and learn. This is the most important lesson that we learn from world history.

A capacity to study presupposes some general skills, among which is the skill to find and clarify the essence of the problem, or in other words, to separate the chaff from the wheat. Only teenagers due to their age-connected lack of knowledge can be ‘allowed’ to think that sex-shops and talk shows are the pinnacles of Western culture. Teachers should possess a much deeper understanding of the world’s best creations, from both the East and the West, because Russia is situated at the crossroads of the civilizations of the East and West. Only armed with a strong cultural background can our teachers fully appreciate the cultural achievements of their own homeland and realize how fruitful and mutually enriching the process of bringing cultures together truly is.

All of this sounds so self-evident and so clear, especially when we are talking about teachers who are university graduates. Unfortunately, however, we have experienced many situations in different parts of the country which demonstrate the opposite, namely that higher education is not always a guarantee and a protection against fears and xenophobia. But why should we blame only teachers in this regard? We can find many who share the most aggressive and fundamentalist ideas and attitudes even among people of culture and science with unquestionable merits and achievements.

I can think of at least one explanation why this is so. Fear and xenophobia are lodged in, and appeal to a person’s deepest personal emotions. Any attempt to ‘touch’ these emotions can, by itself, be painful and can only be done so with the greatest sensitivity and understanding because not every problem can be solved on the rational level. Again, first and foremost, dealing with these emotions is of primary concern and importance when it comes to inter-religious relationships.

One wrong word or one false intonation could be enough to totally damage a long and time-consuming pedagogical process of building an inter-cultural dialogue.  Then, to try to restore this dialogue could be even more painful. We know many examples of this kind of pedagogical incompetence but, instead of citing additional negative experiences, we would rather illustrate the depth of religious sufferings from examples of our great predecessors.

At the end of January 1900, Vladimir Sergeevich Solovjov[11] finished writing his last philosophical book, “Three Conversations about War, Progress, and the End of World History” where the main characters discuss the role of violence in history and have debates over the contradictions between moral precepts, the flow of history, and about the possibility of establishing world peace forever. Some time later, he wrote another volume under the title “A Short History of the Anti-Christ,” a prophecy of mankind’s fate in the 20th and 21st centuries.

It is amazing how close Solovjov’s prophecy and his attempts to predict a new perfect world order coincide with the most ambitious predictions of modern thinkers for world government.

“In contrast to a return to the religious and political conflicts of the Middle Ages, a project of creating a strong world government if often suggested, one which would be supported by strong military forces. We foresee such a government as a natural development of the historic tendency to integrate social organisms.” [12] 

Now let us briefly summarize. We see two tendencies that prevent the creation of a productive and reasonable dialogue: an excessively devout attitude that is characteristic of both fundamentalists and neophytes and the superficial faith of people which is not deeply rooted in their religious emotions and life experience.

One more conclusion. The basic impossibility of stopping the spread of scientific and technical development brings with it a number of serious threats against the whole of mankind, and obligates scientists to look for a way out of this crisis in civilization. A.P. Nazaretyan has advanced a promising hypothesis. He worked out a certain law of a balance between the technical and the humanitarian:

This law postulates that the future belongs to those societies where people care about the development of technical powersas muchasthey do for numerous cultural and psychological advances; such societies will not experience any forms of deterioration, because an imbalance in one or the other of these dimensions would bring about either a loss in developmental dynamics or self-destruction.[13]

This hypothesis sounds quite promising and productive as it allows for the construction of a sound strategy for our educational development. It shows that there should never be any imbalance in the studying of science and humanities. The humanities, if you analyze their role from the point of view of this concept, will never be seen rudimentary or superfluous, or like a sentimental tribute to an irrevocably lost past. On the contrary, they can play a role of new ‘safety precautions’ for all of mankind.  This approach seems at once so obvious and clear… but not in Russia, where we are hastily rushing into headlong modernization. Under these circumstances there is the strong possibility that utilitarian-oriented and influential circles, convinced that their attitude is the most valid, will be the creators and developers of our school curriculum.

Balance, compromise, and an understanding of the fragile nature of society – these are the building blocks of stability in our society and are a reasonable basis for defining society’s educational strategy.

Finally, we need to realize that in this complicated and varied world there is no possibility of arriving at just one ideology. This means that we can’t expect one universal social order to exist as the basis for our educational philosophy, a philosophy which will satisfy believers and atheists, be acceptable to businessmen, to the highly educated, and to the religiously oriented. These groups are too different from one other in so many ways, including the way they see the future of their own children. Besides, there exist many social groups who can hardly describe what their own educational priorities should be. In these circumstances we cannot rely on one unique educational paradigm. In my opinion, a search for cooperation among different educational paradigms is much more productive. Let us remember that at the core of this search there lies a never-ending dialogue of Religion, Education, and Culture. 


We in the United States have an advantage in our religious beliefs and practices that are not present in many other countries in the world.  Separation of church and state has been the law of the land since our beginning.  While many of our teachers come from varied religious backgrounds, our public schools benefit from the diversity that is present within our teaching staff.  Dr. Yamburg has a concern for students and this is also a concern for me.  During my forty-one years as both a teacher and an administrator in both the public and private schools, I have seen the seeds that the fundamentalist has cast before their students.  They sow weeds of prejudice and bigotry that grow up among the strong shafts of knowledge.  Just as Dr. Yamburg sees the fundamentalist as an obstacle to a true educational philosophy, I too have seen the fundamentalist cause great pain and sorrow to the student in the classroom. 

In the United States, we can appreciate the struggle that our Russian classroom counterparts are facing.  But it is important for each of us to remember that while we do have a spirit of religious tolerance in our country, we do have a good amount of additional tolerance to achieve.  That tolerance can only be achieved by our understanding of our past going into the present and projecting our beliefs into the future.  Just as in Russia, the classroom teacher cannot do it all.  It is necessary for the parent, administrator, teacher and student to work together to move the student to greater success.

                                    James T. Hanly, former public school teacher and assistant principal;
Catholic high school principal;
ordained deacon of the Roman Catholic Church;
Theology instructor; 
Crisis Intervention team leader for NYS Emergency Medical Services.


This very interesting article by Dr. Yamburg raises many important questions that are of interest to Americans as well.  I would like to comment on one in particular—that teachers must be more deeply and broadly educated about history.  He asks the question, “Does any teacher… really need all of these sophisticated ideas?” and reminds us how important teachers are in the “cultural wars” of our time.  I agree that the answer is “YES”.  I will share some ways in which we struggle with these issues.

In the United States, three changes in education have occurred in modern times.  First, much of teacher education has moved from a focus on “teacher education” to “teacher training”.  By this, I mean the focus is on pedagogical and assessment techniques and classroom management.  These are very important, but the content to be taught is equally important.

Secondly, when it comes to the priority of content, there has been a strong movement to prioritize the improvement of reading and mathematics skills of students.  This has largely replaced a focus on social studies, such as history, geography, and political science.  So therefore, there was a decrease in teacher preparation in the social sciences as well.  The unfortunate outcome is that our teachers are not knowledgeable about history, so they do not teach much about history.

Following that logic, we then are becoming a nation of citizens ignorant of history—our own and on a global perspective.

Thirdly, due to our national discomfort with conversations around religion, and in an extreme (and I believe misguided) effort to keep church and state separate, we have removed most of the history of religion from our textbooks and our instruction.  The error was that in effort to avoid promoting or proselytizing specific religious values, the whole topic of religion is avoided. The foolish outcome of this is a lack of knowledge of how religion has influenced culture, politics, and economics on a global scale.  The clear examples include the tragedy of 9/11 and in our recent election of President Barack Obama, where religious differences were not understood from a historic perspective by most citizens.

Dr. Yamburg has called us to consider a dialogic—dialog of many logics.  He is correct that schools mirror society. Schools also are the creators of the future society.  We must prepare teachers to be fluent in more branches of knowledge, both in the knowledge itself, and in the technical skills to teach it well to our students.

Ginger MacDonald, Ph.D.
Professor of Educational Psychology
Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
University of Washington Tacoma


Yamburg, Evgeny Alexandrovich [In Russian: Евгений Александрович Ямбург], Ph. D. and a Post-doctorate degree in Education, Corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Education, principal, Center of Education # 109, Moscow, author of over a 100 publications on modern education.

[2] See: Frank, Sergey Sergey [Франк С.Л. Свет во тьме. М., 1998. - С. 32-33, 40].

[3] Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945), a German Jewish philosopher. Coming out of the Marburg tradition of neo-Kantianism, he developed a philosophy of culture as a theory of symbols founded in a phenomenology of knowledge.

[4] Bibler, Vladimir Solomonovich, [In Russian: Влади́мир Соломо́нович Би́блер], (1918-2000), a Russian philosopher, a creator of a ‘dialogue of cultures’ concept. 

[5] Лобстейн Ф. Уроки раздумья. Педагогика нравственного развития. – М., 2004. – С. 68.

[6] Vladimir Semenovich Makanin [In Russian: Владимир Семенович Маканин] (born in 1937), a contemporary Russian writer.

[7] Религия, образование, культура: необходимость диалога. Форум интеллигенции. Уфа 24-25 ноября  2000 г (М., 2001 – С. 57-60.)

[8] Религия, образование, культура: необходимость диалога. Форум интеллигенции. – C. 149-150.

[9] Marija Kuzmina-Karavaeva [In Russian: Мария Кузьмина-Караваева], (1981-1945), a poet, a nun, a hero in her religious activities and in her work to save Jews during the WWII. She was imprisoned and spent the rest of her days in the concentration camp, bringing religious insight to numerous prisoners.

[10] Valentin Felixovich Voino-Yasenetsky [In Russian: Валентин Феликсович Войно-Ясенецкий], Saint Luke, Bishop of Simferopol and Crimea, the Blessed Surgeon, (1877-1961). Doctor of Medicine, Professor, and State Prize winner, since 1944 he was the Archbishop of Tambov and Michurinsk, and later of Simferopol and the Crimea. While he was serving the church as an Archbishop, he was also practising as a surgeon and taught and published many books and articles on regional anaesthesia and surgery. He is now known to be a world-famous pioneering surgeon.

[11] Vladimir Sergeevich Solovjov [In Russian: Владимир Сергеевич Соловьев], (1853-1900), a Russian philosopher, poet, pamphleteer, literary critic, who played a significant role in the development of Russian philosophy and poetry at the end of the 19th century. Solovyov and  in the Russian spiritual renaissance in the beginning of the 20th century.

[12] Назаретян А.П. Цивилизационные кризисы в контексте Универсальной истории. – М., 2001 – C. 44.

[13] Назаретян А.П. Цивилизационные кризисы в контексте Универсальной истории. – М., 2001 – C. 44.

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