Volume:7, Issue: 3

Dec. 15, 2015

The child’s school identity: a shift towars responsible social education policy
Grigoryev, Dmitry V. [about]

KEYWORDS:  Russian National General Education Standards, social education, Russian identity, school identity, personal educational results, identity policy.

ABSTRACT: The paper discusses possibilities of shaping teenagers’ civic (Russian) identity through their school identity. The author provides results and conclusions of the school identity survey conducted among 2,100 school students from 30 schools in large Russian cities.

Although the new Russian National General Education Standards are being heavily criticized, they contain at least two major ideas, which will leave nobody indifferent. That is a meta-subject approach to teaching and the formation of Russian (civic) identity. Even if we assume, as many critics suggest, that the idea of building Russian identity is explained by the mere desire of the new elite to make everyone accept their (the elite’s) version of Russia, I am not prepared to give up the idea itself. To me it is the same as to lose faith in my homeland. Sometimes, it is very hard to love it, but it is impossible not to have faith in it.

The Russian word identichnost precisely conveys the English term identity which dates back to the late Latin identicus, or belonging. To belong means to be part of something bigger: family, friends, school, Motherland, Universe, and God. Without identity or belonging (of course, voluntary rather than imposed), an individual is overflowed with his/her “own self”, sinking in the depths of his/her self-importance and complacency. Identity grows as a result of the individual awareness of oneself while identifying essential others.

Russian identity is an individual voluntary identification of oneself as part of the Russian nation (people), involvement in social and cultural life of the country, self-awareness of being a Russian citizen, emotional belonging to the past, present and future of the Russian nation. The presence of the Russian identity means that an individual associates oneself with the concepts of “my (our) country”, “my (our) people” and “my (our) city” rather than “that country”, “that people” and “that city.”

To build Russian (civic) identity in young people means to provide a dramatically new view (with regard to content, technology, and responsibility) of the teacher on traditional problems in teaching civic self-awareness, patriotism, students’ tolerance, proficiency in their own language, etc. Thus, if the teacher focuses on the formation of the Russian identity in a student, then:

  • While conducting civic education, a teacher cannot allow oneself to consider the notions of citizen, civic society, democracy, relationships of the society and the state, and human rights as abstract formalities dealt with in a purely informative style – the teacher should work with the legacy and peculiarities of these notions in the Russian culture, applying them to our historical ground and mentality [1].
  • In teaching patriotism, the teacher should not aim at increasing students’ non-reflexive pride in something of his or her own or some selective pride in the country (mostly in the country’s success and achievement). Instead, students should be taught wholesome acceptance and understanding of the past, present and future of Russia with all its failures and achievements, anxieties and hopes [2].
  • Tolerance for a teacher is not equal political correctness (a fashionable trend of secular consumerism society) but the practice of understanding, recognition and acceptance representatives of other cultures [3]. This practice has long roots in the Russian history and mentality.
  • To shape students’ historical and political awareness, the teacher should involve them in the dialogue between traditionalism and modernism, between conservative, liberal and social-democratic outlooks, which are integral components of Russian culture within the culture of Europe [4].
  • When developing the language culture in children, teachers include the Russian language instruction not only in the respective class but also in any other classes and beyond, via socialization; thus the language becomes the school’s universal reality [5], [6].
  • The teacher should not limit his/her communication with students to the safe and friendly environment of the classroom and school; s/he introduces them to the sphere of social activities. Only through independent social activities, oriented towards the good of the people and produced in the presence of those, who are not included in the student’s “circle of trust” and do not necessarily demonstrate any positive attitude to him/her, a young adult may really become (and not just learn how to become) a social individual, a free human being, and a citizen of the country [7].

The aforementioned considerations show that the task to build students’ Russian identity has a well-grounded right to become the key of our social education policy. Here is another sound argument to support this statement.

I’m going to start with the following truism: a child’s love to his/her homeland (in its broad sense) begins with the love to the family, school, and hometown. It is in such small communities where people are especially close to each other, there emerges “a concealed affection of patriotism” [as Leo Tolstoy called it in his War and Peace] which is best to express the human experience of his own civic (in our case – Russian) identity. If we take a closer look at any school, it will become quite obvious that students do not usually associate themselves with the school or develop a sense of belonging to it. Such a school, which lacks the warmth of the genuine child-adult unity, will most probably fail to develop students’ feelings of being part of their own country, its history, and culture.

But let us concentrate on the school identity. What is it? It is thechild’s emotional experience and awareness of belonging to the school. Why is it necessary? Because the school is the first place in the child’s life which s/he goes beyond the boundaries of family relationships and where s/he starts experiencing life among other people, within the broader society.

What are the benefits of introducing the notion “child’s school identity”? In the conventional “role function” sense the child acts as a student, a boy (girl), a friend, a citizen, etc. If we look at it from the identification point of view, a school student is “a student of his/her teachers,” “a friend of his/her classmates,” “a citizen (resident) of the school community,” “a son (daughter) of his/her parents,” etc. In other words, the concept of identity makes it possible to receive a better perception and understanding of who or what provides the student with the feeling of belonging (or disconnection) with the school community, and who or what triggers the feeling of belonging to one’s school. The concept of identity also helps to better understand the quality of places and people at school who encourage the student’s feeling of belonging.

Table 1 introduces our understanding of such places and people.

Table 1

Student’s identification position at school Place to develop this position
A son (daughter) of his/her parents Specially created or random school situations in which a student feels part of his/her own family (disciplinary note in the student's gradebook, a teacher’s threat to call parents, a reward for success, etc.)
A friend of his/her classmates Voluntary, seemingly uncontrolled and spontaneous socializing with classmates and peers
A student of his/her teachers All kinds of learning situations during classes and in afterschool activities; learning communication with teachers
“A citizen of the class group” Events and activities within the class group; self-government on the grade level
“A citizen of the school” School events, youth associations of supplementary education; child-adult co-government; school self-government; school clubs and museums; afterschool socializing with teachers
“A citizen of the society” Social projects at school; extracurricular community-based activities and events; public youth organizations and associations; communication with other social subjects initiated by the school
A member of his/her ethnic group All kinds of school situations which activate a child’s feeling of national belonging
A member of his/her religious group All kinds of school situations which activate a child’s feeling of religious affiliation

School identity makes it possible to see whether a student relates his/her success and achievements (as well as failures) to school, and if the school is seen by the student as an important place.

Low identity level indicates that the school is either not at all important for the child or has very little value for him/her. And even if the student is generally successful, the roots of this success are not in the school (but rather in the family, private tutors, supplementary education, etc.).

High identity level signals that the school plays an important part in the child’s life. And even if the student is academically not very successful, his personal dignity takes its strength from the school life.

Our hypothesis is that each of the aforementioned identities is shaped in certain school “places” (processes, activities or situations), and a low level of this or that identity may demonstrate “sensitive points” in the school life while high level of identity will show “success areas.” This may be the starting point in “rebooting” the school life and launching a process of development.

To determine a child’s school identity, we can use various tools – both relatively simple and sophisticated. Credibility of these simple tools is obviously lower, but they are more convenient in use. In search for the best possible “credibility/convenience” ratio, we found a questionnaire as the best tool.

The “school Identity” questionnaire for students, Grades 7 through 11

  1. Do you feel yourself a son (daughter) of your parents while at school?

Yes                            No

  • If the answer is “yes”, please, explain, when, where and in what situations this happens.
  • If the answer is “no”, please, try to explain why.
  1. Do you consider yourself to be a friend of your classmates at school?

Yes                            No

  1. Do you consider yourself to be a student of your teachers of this school?

Yes                            No

  1. In your school, do you consider yourself to be a citizen of your class group (a participant in making and implementing various, even minor, decisions which affect the life of your class group)?

Yes                            No

  1. In your school, do you consider yourself to be a citizen of the school (a participant in making and implementing various, even minor, decisions which affect the life of your school)?

Yes                            No

  1. In your school, do you consider yourself to be a citizen of the society (a participant in making and implementing various, even minor, decisions which affect the life of your neighborhood, district, city, country)?

Yes                            No

  1. In your school, do you consider yourself to be a member of your own ethnic group?

Yes                            No

  1. In your school, do you consider yourself to be a member of your religious group? (Note that atheists also belong to a certain group according to their beliefs).

Yes                            No

This questionnaire presents a qualitative analysis instrument. Respondents need to be given enough time to fill it in (up to 60 minutes) so that they could give proper answers. When processing the questionnaire, it is important not only to count positive and negative replies but also analyze and summarize students’ comments, which constitute the basis of teachers’ transformative activity.

Apparently, the school identity is one of the individual results of education.The assessment of individual results, as stipulated in the Russian National Education Standards, must be non-personified. In other words, it is possible to assess the school identity situation in a group, grade, several grades, and the school, but it is forbidden to assess the identity of any particular student. That is why such questionnaires are supposed to be anonymous.

At present, we have the results of the students’ school identity survey from 30 schools from Moscow, Perm, Kaliningrad, Tomsk, and Tula. We chose to use only such schools that have a “good” reputation in the local and educational community; moreover, administrators of such schools believe that they have a well-organized system of social education. The survey took place from December 2012 until December 2014 and included 2,100 students.

In order to clearly illustrate a number of key tendencies, we will summarize some data according to schools. We have established the dividing line with regard to school identity as “perceived – not perceived” and added a specific parameter: perceived as positive or negative (apparently, for example, the student will feel himself as “a son of his parents” when teachers are either praising or criticizing him while he perceives himself as “a citizen of his class group” when s/he manages to realize his/her ideas and achieve goals in his/her own class group or when some assignment is imposed on him/her). We were interested not only in the feeling itself (which is an indicator that the school in this very aspect does not leave the student indifferent) but also in the nature of this feeling. Besides, we leveled out the range of values in specific parameters for schools defining the average values for 34 schools.

In Table 2 we present the values in each aspect of school identity obtained while analyzing the results of the survey.

Table 2


Perceived as
(% of students)

Not perceived
(% of students)
positive negative  
A son (daughter) of his/her parents 50 20 30
A friend of his/her classmates 75 12 13
A student of his/her teachers 50 22 28
“A citizen of the grade” 42 18 (The feeling of civic consciousness is imposed) 40
“A citizen of the school” 25 13 (The feeling of civic consciousness is imposed) 62
“A citizen of the society” 10 5 (The feeling of civic consciousness is imposed) 85
A member of his/her ethnic group 30 20 50
A member of his/her religious group 18 10 72


Just to sum up the aforementioned data and ideas:

  • 50% of teenagers do not consider teachers as positively significant people in their lives.
  • The school has built cooperation with families only in 50% of cases.
  • 42% of teenagers consider having a sense of belonging to their class group and only 25% – to their school community.
  • Fortunately, 75% of teenagers come to school to socialize and make friends with other teenagers, thus avoiding the danger of losing any sense in school life.
  • Only one out of ten school graduates will leave school ready to become active citizens of our Russian society.

Let me reiterate the fact that this sad situation of young people’s alienation from their schools and society has been observed in the so-called “good” schools. It is not difficult to imagine the situation in less successful schools.

What is the way out? In our understanding, a responsible school policy may be only “the policy of identity”. Whatever might be done in school, whatever new projects or technologies might be suggested or traditions preserved, we must be constantly asking ourselves the following questions: Do all these measures contribute to the children’s voluntary attachment to the school? Would a child be willing to identify himself/herself with them? Have we really planned and provided everything for the children to feel the need for such attachment? Why are our great efforts not well received by children? Should we have done all this in a different way? And then, perhaps, we will finally stop chasing various pedagogical innovations, presenting our own inertia and lack of inquisitiveness to be our loyalty to tradition, thoughtlessly following educational fashion, and rushing to fulfill political or social orders, but start working hard and diligently towards the development of our students’ personalities, social legacy, and cultural renovation.

One of the problems in schools today is the lack of teenagers’ activity. Of course, it is possible to increase the amount of social studies in the school curriculum, to offer a series of discussions entitled “What does that mean to be a citizen?” or set up the school parliament. But all these measures will, at best, provide students with useful civic knowledge, shape positive attitude to civic activity, but they will not equip them with the necessary experience. Meanwhile, we are well aware of the fact that to know what civic consciousness is, and even to value it, does not mean to act as a citizen or to be a citizen. In order to introduce teenagers to their independent civic action, we need pedagogy which implies: 1) teenagers’ participation in value-oriented problem discussions about their social problems, 2) a place for the youth to discuss the aforementioned problems with representatives of the local elites and public community, and 3) realization of a socially important local child-adult project.

Thus, the true non-imitated development of students’ civic identity is impossible without their positive school identity. It is through such perception, awareness and civic experience, gained in school life (participation in various class and school activities and social initiatives) that a young adult may build a reliable understanding and vision of oneself as a citizen of the country. If the students of a particular school do not identify themselves with this educational institution, if they do not feel attached to it, then the school will fail shaping citizens of the country, even if this is declared.

And finally, I strongly believe that the “identity policy” in education may help conservatives, liberals and social democrats within the field of Russian public education (each of us belongs to one of these categories), if not to unite, then at least not to break relationships with each other.


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  3. Stepanov, P.V. (2004). Fenomen tolerantnosti: diagnostika urovnja sformirovannosti tolerantnosti u shkol'nikov[Tolerance Phenomenon: Assessment of School Students’ Tolerance Level], Klassnyj rukovoditel' [Supervising Teacher], 3, 5-14.
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