Volume:7, Issue: 3

Dec. 15, 2015

Lessons of Russian Safari for Globalists
Voropayev, Mikhail V. [about]

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for
the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make
all other modes of thought impossible.

– George Orwell. 1984. Appendix. The Principles of Newspeak

KEYWORDS:  philosophy of education, globalization, anti-globalization, Russian education, economic imperialism, social education, education, bureaucracy.

ABSTRACT: The paper is analyzing the main points of the current reform in Russian education. The author shows that the true meaning of this reform was not liberation from the communist ideology but elimination of the remaining “Enlightenment project” ideology that was preserved in Russia due to the iron curtain. The absurdity, cruelty, and massiveness of reforms in Russia are related, according to the author, to the globalization ideology and bureaucratic nature of its agents. Theories of education, which took over the dismantled soviet pedagogy, are, in their core, the representation of the mosaic market-based culture. The author’s purpose is not so much to provide detailed and comprehensive arguments but also to draw attention to the possibility of such argumentation and to focus on the most urgent problems in the development of education in the global world.


Philosophical Introduction

To a western humanities-minded intellectual, unless s/he specializes in comparative education and cross-cultural research, post-perestroika Russian system of education is probably of little interest. There is a widespread belief that during perestroika there were attempts of democratization and de-ideologization in Russian education. This statement is generally correct, although, in fact, it hides a different reality, which is much closer to the prospects of education in the USA and the EU.

Clearly, the current events in Russia reflect the consequences of globalization processes which take place in the word culture and education.

The value of Russian reforms lies in their radicalism and in the specific nature of Russian culture; our national reforms clearly demonstrate the peculiarities of globalization processes which are less obvious in more developed countries. It can be explained by the fact that the vast territory of Russia, due to the iron curtain, has preserved a unique “Enlightenment project” (in the sense suggested by Jürgen Habermas). In spite of the distorted influence of the communist ideology and thanks to a strong influence of the patriarchal tradition in the Russian society, the soviet system of public education had all main characteristics that proved its genetic connection with the ideas of Enlightenment. I consider, it was the key reason why that system of education was destroyed.

Soviet preservation park. Historic and ethnographic sketches

Of course, it is not our goal to present an overall analysis of the development of Russian education and its theory of education. Instead, we are interested in the most significant issues which have turned Russia into the main target of the globalists’ “cleanup”.

The Russian theory of education of the 20th century was mostly aimed at making children better, even if they did not really want it. The tools of such children’s “improvement” and sometimes its irrational resistance included the teachers’ authority and the influence of collectives (close-knit groups of students). The authoritarianism of the soviet school became a steadfast feature of the system of education while the soviet pedagogy was seen as somewhat legitimized. Even renowned educators and outstanding academics could not change the general situation.

Another important feature of Russian education was its traditional focus on children’s moral and spiritual development. It is well known that as a result of religious persecutions in Soviet Russia, schools had to assume the function of moral education earlier held by Russian Orthodox Church. However, there was a wide gap between communist slogans and everyday life of the soviet school. Authoritarian relationships between teachers and students went hand in hand with family and patriarchal ties, and the everyday activities of soviet pioneers were not much different from those of young scouts. The sinister image of “American imperialism” created by the soviet propaganda was considerably less real than that of Gingemma from The Wizard of Oz (by the way, one of the favorite fairytales of many soviet children), and, on the contrary, the teacher, who strove to maintain moral standards, was constantly present in the child’s everyday life.

Soviet education could boast a unique quality – all its representatives had a strong belief that it was a genuine science. Each professor of education assumed that inside educational phenomena there were hidden laws waiting to be discovered, and they were more important than the pedagogical reality and people acting there. Following the legacy of the great Enlightenment figures, soviet educators were convinced that there existed some objective truth, and that it was possible to find it or come close to it. Naturally, it was in conflict with John Dewey's epistemology, which linked the truth with the results of an individual’s activity.

Deep inside, judging by its nature, soviet theory of education was closer to Platonism than to Marxism-Leninism. As a rule, educators inserted citations from Max and Lenin after the paper was completed and usually they had practically nothing to do with the research subject. That pedagogics had its long roots in traditional Russian culture and was primarily a relic of the Enlightenment era and only then a product of the communist ideology.

A sacrifice for a sacral hunt

Since the beginning of perestroika, the home and international course of the Russian political elite has changed more than once. However, and what is notable, it has remained the same in education. Even after the dramatic turn of the country’s international policy (related with the fact that the Crimea became part of the Russian Federation), the course of educational reforms has not changed. Moreover, the educational reform has achieved a greater scale and intensity.

A western reader, who is interested in this problem, will most likely assess the reforms judging by the words of their authors (see, for example, Dronov & Kondakov, 2010), i.e. will see them as an attempt to make the system of education more democratic, to free it from the communist ideology and re-orientate it towards the development of children’s personalities. However, the real circumstances of the reforms are completely different.

In the early 1990s certain groups of intellectuals, supported by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, managed to have the Russian political elite issue them a license to reform the system of education (e.g., see the IBRD-IDA Education Reform Project #P050474 of May 24, 2001).

Permission was given to start a hunt against the “socialist project”. However, by that time the socialist project was already in the state of decay in Russia. But the Enlightenment project was thriving, and when an ideological pressure was lifted, it got a new impetus. Although that rudiment of the past was destined to be history, it only increased the hunters’ excitement. By some quirk of fate, the aboriginal tribes, whose welfare was guaranteed by that historic project, were involved in the hunt. Only this and nothing else may explain the fact that the majority of universities, as if controlled by some invisible director, instantly implemented a new thesaurus based on the competency building approach.

No doubt, in many countries globalization processes faced many difficulties. But Russia was notable for the scale, totality and absurdity of the reforms. Even western experts pointed out that the demolition of socialism in the USSR was done with utter cruelty, more typical of the times of the early colonial violence (Seabrook, 2004, с. 48-49).

Here are some sketches to support the aforementioned statement.

Let us consider an analogy which is clear to a western reader. Imagine that the USA introduced a law prohibiting financial support of any research, which uses the term education and which differentiates learning from teaching. Something of the kind was the case with the Russian concepts of education, teaching, and social education. I assume if something like this ever happened in the United States, it would be considered a nightmare but it was and still is reality in Russia. There is a certain historic irony in the fact that Orwell’s Newspeak, which the author based on the early soviet reality, has returned to Russia, but now as a free market tool.

The newly adopted education standards stated directly that there is one and the only true theory in education and psychology (by the way, authored by a certain academic and a high-ranking official at the same time), known as “the systematic activity-oriented approach”.

State education standards introduced the notion of students’ “personal results” (implying various traits of character, moral and spiritual characteristics) and obliged each school to design its own (!) evaluation methods to assess such results as well as to develop a step-by-step program of their achievement within each academic year. It is hard to find any analogy to that administrative decision. A similar situation could be imagined if the Catholic Church had parish priests design tests to assess the process of parishioners’ spiritual growth from one confession to another, provided that the results of such testing could be used to make a rating of multiple congregations.

In the fuss of reforms few people noticed that a rather superficial soviet control of research papers by titles and slogans was replaced by a total control of the content, procedure and form of scientific research. Moreover, the nature of that control emasculated the very essence of research, thus making it no longer possible.

Let us have a look at a standard-setting document approved by the High Attestation Commission (a department of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science which oversees and controls awarding of advanced academic degrees) that stipulates requirements regarding an expert’s opinion of a doctorate thesis.

The High Attestation Commission demands that an expert’s opinion should contain rubrics or statements starting with specific verbs, e.g.: “The dissertation has developed…; suggested…; proved…; introduced… . Theoretical significance of the research is grounded by the following: the dissertation has proved…; outlined…; revealed…; studied…; modernized…” (see: Decision of the High Attestation Commission Presidium, 2012). This is only a part of an extensive document. And each item should be properly completed depending on the nature of a doctorate thesis. Don’t you find here vague analogies with the distorted representation of Bloom's taxonomy or the lessons of native language in elementary schools?

Quite a few scholars pointed out, that individualistic values of globalization are in conflict with values of friendship and kinship (Seabrook, 2004, p. 52-53). Russian globalization was not an exception; mass culture, in its far from best forms, practically took over ethnic cultures of peoples living in Russia. For young people, Hollywood with its set of standardized clichés replaced the works of Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Pushkin or Anton Chekhov.

Irrationality and absurdity became norms of Russian post-perestroika education (and of teachers’ everyday professional activity). In fact, education dissolved in strange forms of knowledge. A. Moles, an author of the mosaic culture concept, would not imagine that his theory could be applied to Russian education (Moles, 1967).

By now, Enlightenment ideology is already history in Russian education. However, as we have already mentioned, the consequences of that phenomenon are not less relevant for education systems of other countries.

Flags, heroes, and tools of globalization

No doubt, there exists an interrelationship between globalization ideology and postmodernism. Postmodernism is inherently aimed at criticizing a rationalistic discourse of modernity. It has already become common to discard positive (in terms of loyalty to classic physics and Aristotle’s logic) syllabi (Slattery, 1999, p. 30).

It is well known that the global education is managed by economists. And economic imperialism is a tool of this irrational ideology. Current success in using this model of an economic individual with economic rights, human capital, etc. in the humanitarian sphere does not automatically provide economics with a universal indulgence for being sinless. However, this economix has become the IngSoc of the modern world.

Since the author of this paper belongs to the disappearing cultural context, it would be reasonable to have a look at an example of reflection upon a rather typical (regarding the modern trends in education) publication by Arif, Smiley and Kulonda entitled Business and Education as Push-Pull Processes (Arif, Smiley, Kulonda, 2005). Not considering myself sufficiently qualified for a reasoned assessment of the content of the paper, I will still try to emphasize one peculiarity, even if it is not the most important one. The authors place together such different phenomena as philosophy of idealism, pragmatism and existentialism, on the one hand, and Push & Pull marketing strategies, on the other. Comparisons of Plato and Deming, Reconstructionism and Total Quality Management (TQM) that are impossible within the framework of pure science, are easily used in the semantic field of economics.

Economists have turned education into a market. At least, this is the case with education in Russia. Contemporary Russian theory of education cannot be described using such a classic category as a “paradigm”, but models of a show business with its hit songs’ promotion machine are being easily applied.

If a hit song is seen as a simulacrum, cultural capital is added to hard currency (apart from rubles, dollars and euros) and the target audience of simulacrum “sale” is turned upside-down (in case of Russia, it is sold “downwards” to the crowds of teachers and “upwards” to the senior bureaucratic echelon), then there will be a rather solid (from the scientific point of view) model of knowledge system which used to being scientific some time ago. To increase its adequacy, it is necessary to rid the market model of a simulacrum still circulating in great masses of grassroots schoolteachers and university professors of education – it is regulated by noneconomic mechanisms. For example, if teachers ignore fashionable terms, they may lose their jobs.

Here is an important conclusion, which explains much of what is taking place in Russian and the world: globalization is always a bureaucratic project. All players on the global arena fit it in terms of resources and size. States, transnational corporations, and IBRD are major bureaucratic structures. Indeed, bureaucracy is self-sufficient; it generates its own goals, which are fare from the declared ones. So we should not be surprised to hear a famous phrase by former General Electric Chairman and CEO Jack Welch that “hierarchy is an organization with its face towards the CEO and its ass towards the customer.”

The diseases of bureaucracy are well known and have been thoroughly described. However, the world bureaucracy has never before had so many resources at its disposal, resources that can change (and are changing) the whole world.

The case of Russia shows what happens when globalization processes grow without a democratic control, without a traditional (but now fading) fight against corruption. But, so to say, “in their pure form” these processes have led to such intricate results that will it be a mistake if we overestimate their goals and the price which we have to pay for their realization?!

What if the world is destined to replicate the fate of Russian education – just the negative processes there are developing in a slower pace due to the greater resilience of the society? 

It is not a coincidence that Paula S. Fass came to the following conclusion: globalization presents a threat to childhood while the principles of humane attitude to children need to be protected against the new global market (Fass, 2006, p. 256).


References

  1. Dronov, V.P. & Kondakov, A.M. (2010). The New Standards of General Education. The Ideological Foundation of the Russian School System. Russian Education and Society, 52 (2), 77–84.
  2. Education Reform Project» # P050474 from 24.05.2001. Retrieved from  http://www.worldbank.org/projects/P050474/education-reform-project?lang=en
  3. Seabrook, J. (2004).  Consuming Cultures: Globalization and Local Lives.   Oxford, GBR: New Internationalist.
  4. Reshenie Prezidiuma VAK Minobrnauki Rossii ot 22 ijunja 2012 g. № 25/52 (v red. ot 8 fevralja 2013 g.) “O formah zakljuchenija dissertacionnogo soveta po dissertacii i zakljuchenija organizacii, v kotoroj vypolnena dissertacija ili k kotoroj byl prikreplen soiskatel'”. [Decision of the High Attestation Commission Presidium, the Ministry of Education and Science of Russian Federation, dated June 22, 2012 (as revised on February 8, 2013) “On the forms of the dissertation board decision on dissertations and references of the organization the dissertation researcher was assigned to.”]
  5. Moles, A. (1967). Sociodynamique de la Culture. Paris: Mouton.
  6. Slattery, P. (1999). Simone de Beauvoir’s ethics and postmodern ambiguity: the assertion of      freedom in the face of the absurd. Educational theory, 49 (1), 21 – 36.
  7. Arif, M., Smiley, F., Kulonda, D. J. (2005). Business and Education as Push-Pull Processes: An Alliance of Philosophy and Practice.  Education, 125 (4), 602 – 614.
  8. Fass, P. S. (2006).  Children of a New World: Culture, Society, and Globalization.  New York:    New York University Press.

1 This publication draws on facts and information obtained with a financial support of the Russian Humanitarian Science Foundation grant, Project # 14-06-00384.

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