History teachers in Russia are being forced to 'wing it' this school year

September 02, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MOSCOW -- A new school year has started, and Diana Fadeyeva, a high school history teacher, prepared by reading the newspapers. History has moved too fast for textbooks.

When Ms. Fadeyeva, 32, last faced a first-day-of-school class, she and her students still lived in the Soviet Union. That ended in December.

She laughed when asked whether she would use a textbook to try to explain all this. She will devise her course, she said yesterday, by reading newspapers, journals and other material in the library.

For more than 70 years, the Central Committee told teachers what to teach. Now Ms. Fadeyeva, like a lot of history teachers this year, will just wing it.

"Teachers are practically writing textbooks in oral form," said Elena Zakharova, an enthusiastic educator with the boggling title of head of the laboratory for teaching history at the Institute for Improving Teachers' Qualifications.

"Even the eighth-grade text, dealing with ancient times to the 18th century, is based on chauvinist and Marxist views," Ms. Zakharova said. Her institute has been offering courses all year to teachers "to show how to teach new events. It is a difficult problem for old teachers and new ones. They went to school under Brezhnev and Gorbachev. They have to change some ways of thinking. And it's hard to organize a lesson when there is not one imposed line."

One official who cautioned against outright rejection of past teaching was Tamara Zernova, 51, head of the education department for Moscow's western district. "The best teachers always tried to teach all views," she said. "Otherwise what happened last year wouldn't have happened."

One teacher who seemed blessed with a lot of soul was Galina Kosova, 65. Yesterday, apparently unintimidated by any of the difficulties, she walked into her classroom in School Number 1232 with the bounce and enthusiasm of a rookie.

Her 26 students, dressed more neatly than American students would be on the first day of school, stood when she entered. This year, her course will start with the earliest events leading to World War II and move to the present. When asked earlier how she prepared to teach about present-day Russia, she said with a warm smile: "I have been preparing all my life."

She said she always has tried "to teach students to think and to draw their own conclusions. I try to show an historic process, as complicated as it is." And she made clear that she is not one of those who believes there was no good in the old order. "I'm opposed to turning everything on its head," she said.

And how will Ms. Fadeyeva explain the end of the Soviet Union?

"We will look at it from 1917. The most important thing it to tell the truth. I have the feelings and the emotions. But not the words."

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