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‘I won’t let them turn into pawns for the military’ Meduza’s Russian readers on how they’re protecting their children from pro-war propaganda in schools
The upcoming school year is expected to bring a surge of propaganda in Russia’s educational institutions, surpassing any previous period in modern history. Events, lectures, and ceremonies in support of the war are set to be combined with new, state-approved curricula, including a new “unified” history textbook for high schoolers that has a chapter on the invasion of Ukraine. Meduza reached out to readers in Russia who sent their kids back to school on September 1 and asked them to share their strategies for safeguarding their children against propaganda. We’re publishing some of the most interesting responses below.
Varvara, St. Petersburg
Mother of a three-year-old (kindergarten), an eight-year-old (second grade), an 11-year-old (fifth grade) and a 16-year-old (eleventh grade).
Propaganda comes from the upper echelons. They force schools to have “Important Conversations,” flag-raising ceremonies, educational advisors, “Youth Army” groups… But these innovations are not welcomed amongst teachers or school directors and are treated with total disregard.
My children don’t go to “Important Conversations” lessons. I let them skip assemblies and any other events that will involve propaganda or glorification of the war. To avoid the issues with the new history syllabus, my kids decided not to pick history or social studies as options for the Unified State Exam. We decided instead to study 20th-century history at home, looking at different views on historical events and how our ancestors lived in that period.
Mother of a 15-year-old (tenth grade) and a 17-year-old (eleventh grade)
I’m concerned but I’m not afraid [of the propaganda]. I have precocious and intelligent children. I believe that if, over the last year and a half of the war or perhaps even longer than that, a family has prioritized the right values and nurtured trusting relationships, then propaganda doesn’t need to be frightening at all.
Mother of a 10-year-old (fourth grade)
Propaganda in schools is unacceptable, and I try my best to fight it. Officially, your child doesn’t have to go to “Important Conversations” lessons — I am writing a letter to the director about it, providing references to current legislation, and saying that my child will arrive at school for the class after “Important Conversations.”
We’ll study history at home using Tamara Eidelman’s lectures or Maxim Kats’s Youtube videos. I simply won’t let them turn our children into pawns for the Russian military. You can always come up with an excuse for not letting them attend classes — an urgent doctor’s appointment, for example.
Mother of a seven-year-old (first grade)
The authorities are cunning. No matter how hard you try at home to keep your kids away from propaganda, they will still absorb what they are told in school. And there will likely be children in the class whose parents support the war. This leaves other parents with very little hope of countering the propaganda.
I went to a meeting for parents in the spring and realized that I couldn’t send my children to that school. My husband and I decided to homeschool them. We enrolled our children in an online school, where there are no “Important Conversations” lessons — they’re just provided with real educational material.
Yara, St. Petersburg
Mother of an 11-year-old (sixth grade)
Sooner or later, the war will end, and the entire period that my child spent at school will have been totally wasted. It’s scary to imagine what these “specially educated children” will grow up to be. In the best-case scenario, they’ll let the information go in one ear and out the other. But what if they take it in?
I took my child out of school at the start of the last academic year, which is totally legal. This year, we plan to do the same thing, and I’ll just edit her curriculum.
Older sister of a 14-year-old (class unknown)
I don’t think propaganda will influence most students. The school has little to no authority over the children, and no one really pays much attention to the teacher’s opinion anyway. Most children studying history only go up to World War I, so very few will have to study the history of modern Russia.
Father of an eight-year-old (third grade) and a 10-year-old (fifth grade)
I don’t really see any point in introducing propaganda among schoolchildren. Where’s the benefit for the regime? Parents have much greater influence on a child than tedious “patriotic” lessons. As a rule, children gain an understanding of what’s going on via their home environment — this was the case with Soviet propaganda as well.
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Mother of an eight-year-old (second grade) and a 14-year-old (eighth grade)
Over the last year, there has only been one lesson where the “Special Military Operation” and Ukraine were discussed. Even then, the children were simply told: “The special military operation is underway. Our thoughts go out to the military. Let’s support them.” That’s all it was!
I don’t personally plan on doing anything because there isn’t any propaganda in our school. All the “Important Conversations” classes have been on very general topics, such as ecology, society, history, and literature. I don’t see anything particularly pernicious in this.
Mother of a 10-year-old (third grade)
You have to talk to your child — without exaggeration, without distorting reality, and by selecting information that they are able to understand. My child is my friend, and we trust one another.
Primary school is not as concerning as secondary school and high school, where children are required to take history exams on totally distorted information. I tell my daughter: if you see a man in military uniform, run! If they try to ask you about Putin or the war, respond: “I don’t know anything, I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” She attends “Important Conversations” regularly, and we discuss them together afterwards.
Mother of an 11-year-old (fifth grade)
In preparation for the sixth grade, we purchased an old textbook on the “History of the Fatherland” written by Alexander Preobrazhensky and Boris Rybakov, who is an archaeologist and studied Kievan Rus. We also got hold of some old children’s encyclopedias on history and geography.
Mother of a 16-year-old (ninth grade)
Love for your home country can’t be imposed on you: you either have it or you don’t. Our country needs to learn how to admit when we’re wrong and speak the truth. We shouldn’t make ourselves out to be perfect all the time, or live by the conviction that “there’s my opinion and then there’s the wrong opinion”.
My son doesn’t go to “Important Conversations” lessons. He became one of those kids who is “perpetually sick”, who attends a bunch of clubs and always has family circumstances that excuse him from class. He doesn’t go to the various patriotic ceremonies, and communication with his homeroom teacher or the school administration is kept to the bare minimum. If he does get exposed to some form of propaganda, he just puts his headphones in and listens to music. About 90% of the class do the same.
Father of a 16-year-old (eleventh grade)
My son is very lucky. He studies at a boarding school where there are no “Important Conversations” lessons, no flag raising, and no national anthem singing. I don’t know how the school has managed this.
Father of a 14-year-old (seventh grade)
I ask my child what they talked about at the “Important Conversations” lesson and then show him examples that contradict what was said and how the school is clearly gearing the kids up towards military service. I show films that force him to think about the world in a different way.
Older sister of an 11-year-old (fifth grade)
A child’s brain is incredibly malleable, so it’s important to devote a few minutes a day to these serious conversations. This way, as they grow, they’ll learn to question the words of others and trust the family more. They’ll also form their own opinions. The main thing is to do this carefully, without pressure — then school propaganda won’t become something scary. The hope I have for my sister is that when the time comes for her to study the history of the “special military operation,” the war will already be over and they’ll rewrite the textbooks back to the way they were before.
Father of a 17-year-old (eleventh grade)
My daughter understands that she’ll be fed information in school. She said she knows all this herself but worries that devoting time to this new information will take away from things that are more important to her. We’re focusing on passing the Unified State Exam and getting her into university.
I told her I support her and said that it’s like a game where people just want to hear specific answers from you. You have to play by those rules even if it means switching off your own brain.
Translation by Cameron Manley
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