"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, September 24, 2007

When Russian Othodox Freedom Looks Like American Christian Hegemony

From the NYTimes:

KOLOMNA, Russia — One of the most discordant debates in Russian society is playing out in public schools like those in this city not far from Moscow, where the other day a teacher named Irina Donshina set aside her textbooks, strode before her second graders and, as if speaking from a pulpit, posed a simple question:

“Whom should we learn to do good from?”

“From God!” the children said.

“Right!” Ms. Donshina said. “Because people he created crucified him. But did he accuse them or curse them or hate them? Of course not! He continued loving and feeling pity for them, though he could have eliminated all of us and the whole world in a fraction of a second.”

Nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the return of religion to public life, localities in Russia are increasingly decreeing that to receive a proper public school education, children should be steeped in the ways of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its traditions, liturgy and historic figures.

The lessons are typically introduced at the urging of church leaders, who say the enforced atheism of Communism left Russians out of touch with a faith that was once at the core of their identity.

The new curriculum reflects the nation’s continuing struggle to define what it means to be Russian in the post-Communist era and what role religion should play after being brutally suppressed under Soviet rule. Yet the drive by a revitalized church to weave its tenets into the education system has prompted a backlash, and not only from the remains of the Communist Party.

Opponents assert that the Russian Orthodox leadership is weakening the constitutional separation of church and state by proselytizing in public schools. They say Russia is a multiethnic, pluralistic nation and risks alienating its large Muslim minority if Russian Orthodoxy takes on the trappings of a state religion.

The church calls those accusations unfounded, maintaining that the courses are cultural, not religious.

In Ms. Donshina’s class at least, the children seem to have their own understanding of a primary theme of the course. “One has to love God,” said Kristina Posobilova. “We should believe in God only.”

The dispute came to a head recently when 10 prominent Russian scientists, including two Nobel laureates, sent a letter to President Vladimir V. Putin, protesting what they termed the “growing clericalization” of Russian society. In addition to criticizing religious teachings in public schools, the scientists attacked church efforts to obtain recognition of degrees in theology, and the presence of Russian Orthodox chaplains in the military.

Local officials carry out education policy under Moscow’s oversight, with some latitude. Some regions require the courses in Russian Orthodoxy, while others allow parents to remove their children from them, though they rarely, if ever, do. Other areas have not adopted them.

Mr. Putin, though usually not reluctant to overrule local authorities, has skirted the issue. He said in September that he preferred that children learn about religion in general, especially four faiths with longstanding ties to Russia — Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. But the president, who has been photographed wearing a cross and sometimes attends church services and other church events, did not say current practices should be scaled back. . . .


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