Monday, September 15, 2008

Russia's New National History Standards

Leon Aron's New Republic article
reminded this reader of Lynne Cheney's failed attempt to standardize a pro-American History curriculum during the her chairmanship of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Luckily, it didn't work here--although Cheney-ism under Putin, like Ford-ism under Stalin, seems to have found its truest adherents in the highest levels of the Kremlin:
In fact, the clearest expression of the Kremlin's goodwill toward the textbook came two months earlier, with an invitation to the conference participants to visit President Putin at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow. In a long introduction to the discussion that ensued, Putin complained that there was "mishmash" (kasha) in the heads of teachers of history and social sciences, and that this dire situation in the teaching of Russian history needed to be corrected by the introduction of "common standards. " (Four days later, a new law, introduced in the Duma and passed with record speed in eleven days, authorized the ministry of education and science to determine which textbooks be "recommended" for school use and to determine which publishers would print them.) There followed some instructive exchanges:

"A conference participant: In 1990-1991 we disarmed ideologically. [We adopted] a very uncertain, abstract ideology of all-human values. . . . It is as if we were back in school, or even kindergarten. We were told [by the West]: you have rejected communism and are building democracy, and we will judge when and how you have done. . . . In exchange for our disarming ideologically we have received this abstract recipe: you become democrats and capitalists and we will control you.

Putin: Your remark about someone who assumes the posture of teacher and begins to lecture us is of course absolutely correct. But I would like to add that this, undoubtedly, is also an instrument of influencing our country. This is a tried and true trick. If someone from the outside is getting ready to grade us, this means that he arrogates the right to manage [us] and is keen to continue to do so.

Participant: In the past two decades, our youth have been subjected to a torrent of the most diverse information about our historical past. This information [contains] different conceptual approaches, interpretations, or value judgments, and even chronologies. In such circumstances, the teacher is likely to . . .

Putin (interrupting): Oh, they will write, all right. You see, many textbooks are written by those who are paid in foreign grants. And naturally they are dancing the polka ordered by those who pay them. Do you understand? And unfortunately [such textbooks] find their way to schools and colleges."

And later, concluding the session, Putin declared:

"As to some problematic pages in our history--yes, we've had them. But what state hasn't? And we've had fewer of such pages than some other [states]. And ours were not as horrible as those of some others. Yes, we have had some terrible pages: let us remember the events beginning in 1937, let us not forget about them. But other countries have had no less, and even more. In any case, we did not pour chemicals over thousands of kilometers or drop on a small country seven times more bombs than during the entire World War II, as it was in Vietnam, for instance. Nor did we have other black pages, such as Nazism, for instance. All sorts of things happen in the history of every state. And we cannot allow ourselves to be saddled with guilt--they'd better think of themselves."