Important Things: A Rare Unfiltered Look Inside Russian Schools
In Russian schools, lessons on "important things" are a compulsory hour pushing state propaganda. But not everyone is buying it. Independent Russian media outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories spoke to teachers, parents and students about how they see patriotism and Putin's mobilization.
MOSCOW — On March 1, schools found themselves on the ideological front line of the Russian-Ukrainian war. At the end of May, teachers were told they would have to lead classes with students called "Lessons about important things." The topic was "patriotism and civic education."
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At the beginning of November, we learned about the revival of an elementary military training course for senior classes. In the teaching materials sent to the teachers, it was stated that a "special peacekeeping operation was going on, the purpose of which was to restrain the nationalists who oppress the Russian-speaking population."
Independent Russian media outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories asked several teachers, students and parents about their experiences with the school's attempt to instill patriotism and Russia's partial mobilization of citizens.
Most turned out to be more or less indifferent to patriotism, but they took the mobilization seriously.
Dmitry, a history teacher
I saw the war with sorrow, perplexity, and a lack of understanding of why it is necessary in the 21st century. What are the goals and objectives? Everything that Putin said was a big surprise and aroused more questions than answers. All the more so for me, a man who has been through war [Dmitry is a veteran of the Second Chechen War].
On Feb. 27, I was asked in history class to read a paper justifying the government's actions retroactively. They said that Nazis were ruling Ukraine and the Americans were giving them orders... After I read and criticized this source, they wrote an anonymous statement to the prosecutor's office, accusing me of not reading what I was given. I learned about the message from the principal, who asked me to be more careful. There were no other consequences.
A military officer came and told the children how to kill people in Ukraine correctly.
As part of a work exchange experience, I was recently invited to a patriotism lesson at another school. The teacher talked about how Nazism was not destroyed but had been revived in Ukraine. From the teacher's words, it appeared that a Russian soldier scrawled an inscription on the wall: "I die, but I do not surrender."
It's a kind of chauvinism to only praise the Russians like that. The Soviet people won World War II. There were not only Russians but also Ukrainians, Belarusians, Kyrgyz ...
From my experience, I can say that older students don't care what they are told in "lessons about important things" or anywhere else. They have their point of view on the war: they, generally speaking, view it negatively. A teacher who reads from a piece of paper will not change it. Younger kids don't care because they have other lives and other interests.
A young man at a consultation center in Novosibirsk to register for the mobilization
Alexandra, a parent from Moscow
One day I got a message from my son saying, "Mum, they're taking away our class teacher." I wrote to the teacher in the evening, and he confirmed it. This is terrible: a man who is so loved by his children and who knows how to interact with parents is being taken away to war. And he didn't even serve.
Like the civilian community all over the country, our parent community is stunned. We wrote collective appeals — from parents and children, gathered signatures, and passed all this to the military registration and enlistment office. Interestingly, some parents suggested collecting money for body armor instead of signatures.
Such a range of reactions is normal. It confirms the data of opinion polls about the population's attitude to mobilization. Ultimately, we came to one position, and my son's class teacher returned to school from the military registration and enlistment office. True, he was not given a deferment.
Lyubov, a parent
When teenagers supported [Russian anti-corruption activist] Alexei Navalny of their own initiative, the principal and teachers screamed: "School is outside of politics." It's written in the education law, too. A war broke out, and it turned out that the school was outside all politics except party politics. This became especially evident at the beginning of the new school year when children were forced into "lessons about important things."
At my school, "lessons about important things" are simply class hours. They regulate the schedule, and there's no propaganda component. At the neighboring school, the principal is a deputy from the "United Russia" party, and she twists and turns as much as she can. Children are told about Donbas. At one of the lessons, a military officer came and told them how to kill people in Ukraine correctly.
Among children, the ideology has turned into mythology and everyday communication. When children call each other names, they say: "You're a Ukrainian! " Like our parents used to say when we were kids: "You're German!" You can also hear: "Are you for Biden?" Or: "Are you for Zelensky?" In March, though, the kids from our school went to an anti-war rally right in the school cafeteria and played the song "Porn Films." The head teacher was running around. Now there's not a lot of protest activity going on. But my school isn't particularly tough on propaganda.
We are not going back to Russia until this regime collapses.
Some teachers say in class that they should have killed everyone in Donbas long ago. I know about one more school where [the Russian teacher] makes children write letters to the front and knit socks for the mobilized during classes. But the children in this teacher's class are very skeptical about this kind of information, and then they tell their parents, "What nonsense!"
In school chats online, all hell breaks loose. Such battles take place there. The degree of propaganda is off the scale; out of 30 parents in the chat rooms, two are normal.
Students attend a lesson at the Letovo international boarding school in Sosenskoye
Oleg, a recent high school graduate from the Moscow region
For as long as I can remember, I have had a bad attitude toward Putin. Since ninth grade, I have thought about emigrating to a better country. My emigration plan was mapped out over the years: to enroll in a technical college, cooperate with a foreign company, and apply for a work visa. The war disrupted my plans. On Feb. 24, I had a terrible tantrum which kept me from going to school. Putin's decision also freaked my parents out. It turned out that we had relatives in Ukraine whom I had never even heard of before.
After these completely wild laws passed about discrediting the army , I dropped out of school and left with a girlfriend to travel around the country. I explained this to my parents: "If I say or do something wrong at school, I'd better not go there."
As soon as I got my diploma, we went to Georgia. And from there to Turkey. We hitchhiked along the coast. We slept in tents, couch surfers, or stayed with random people.
Now we rent an apartment in Batumi [a city in Georgia]. I got a job as a waiter in a restaurant run by Russians, and my girlfriend is a masseuse in a hotel. My parents write that they're even glad I'm not in Russia. I wouldn't have become a student anyway, and with the "A" category of eligibility, I would have gone straight into the army. I plan to save some money and move to Thailand or Bali. There I could earn money and seriously consider refugee status in the United States. We are not going back to Russia until this regime collapses.
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