Upbringing Is in Jeopardy

Why will the introduction of a position of "counselor for educational work" at school most probably bring only bad results?
Alexei Kuznetsov | 16 February 2021
Upbringing Is in Jeopardy
Artist William Bromley "Country School" (fragment)

In 2022, a competition for the position of advisers to school directors on education will take place in all regions of Russia, said Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov. Where will it lead to? Replies Alexei Kuznetsov, host of the program “Parents’ meeting” on the radio “Echo of Moscow” and honorary worker of general education of the Russian Federation.

You put a kettle with water on the stove. If you have not forgotten to light it, then the water in the kettle will boil sooner or later. This is a physical process, and the result is almost one hundred percent predictable under certain conditions.

Alexei Kuznetsov

You gave a certain sound signal, and after 30 seconds you gave a laboratory mouse a piece of cheese. If you do this several times, you will see that after another such sound signal, the mouse will be already standing on its hind legs in the place where cheese is usually given out. This is an acquired reflex. Training is based on this.

Well, good news: upbringing doesn’t work that way. Why is this “good” news? Please be patient, we’ll get there…

A Bit of Theory

Strictly speaking, starting the next round of the educational waltz, we set a task for ourselves. There is indeed always a task, but a) it is often not the one we think, and b) we aren’t always the ones to set it. For example, trying to persuade your seventh-grader son to study well, you declare to him and to yourself that the goal of your good efforts (including gross blackmail, slap on the back of his head and throwing tantrums) is his future, which is enrolling into a decent institute, getting a good job, and living among educated and intellectual people. In fact (although you may not be aware of this) you often strive to ensure that the boy’s grandmothers would stop bothering you on the issue of the academic results of their dearly beloved grandson. They actually also refer to the same goal – a good institute, job, and environment, which has become vague due to the fact you both speak of it too frequently. But you and I understand that in reality both sides solve problems that are very far from the goal: one side gets pure pleasure and the other subconsciously compensates for its own pedagogical failures, which it made a quarter of a century ago.

Besides, when we are choosing the ways and means of solving a problem, we cannot be sure how they will work. This is not a gas stove with the kettle on. Methods work differently with every child, even the same one. And sometimes some methods don’t work at all. Psychologists and educators can explain this later (only later!), but they can predict something by pure luck.

This is to say that upbringing is a) a non-linear thing, any methods and algorithms are rather unreliable; and b) an activity with a delayed outcome, which is extremely difficult to predict.

Let’s suppose you noticed that your child takes sweets from the buffet in secret. You can go the way of the police, which is well known and quite simple. You conduct an unspoken record of sweets, discover a shortage, pin the delinquent in a corner and force him to make a confession, after which you measure out retribution, paint a picture of a joyless future in case it happens again in colorful detail, and lock the sweets with a key. Your grandmother did just that 40 years ago, and, thank God, you have grown into a decent person. Right?

Well, it could be right… But, in all honesty, do you never dream of that scene at night when your grandmother called you a “thief” in front of your younger brother? Don’t you remember how, locked in a dark closet, swallowing your tears, you swore to yourself to a) revenge your grandmother in some terrible way, and b) always give sweets to your own children and grandchildren?

In other words, in this case, the sweets are likely to be intact, but the issue with their thief is more complicated. Therefore, modern humanistic pedagogy recommends other methods. By the way, they also do not guarantee anything, but the likelihood of psychological trauma is lower. And this is already great. If we are interested in the child, that is, and not in the preservation of the sweets.

Winter organizational conclusions

In January, like a bolt from the blue, it burst out: “Educational work have failed! Young people do not love their Motherland! Experienced puppeteers … with money from the West…” We have already written that some statements raise strong doubts about their reliability, and in some the cause and effect are clearly reversed. But now the point is not even about them, but about their consequences. And these consequences are: a message that has nothing to do with reality generates measures of varying degrees of amusement that have nothing to do with efficiency, ranging from those that cause real horror (such as threats to limit the rights of parents of minors who went to the protests, and to “ruin their biography”) to really funny ones, such as the idea of creating a “new” position in the school – a counselor for educational work.

Contrary to the prevailing belief, initially this had nothing to do with the protests, the chronology clearly testifies to this: Minister Sergei Kravtsov announced the upcoming innovation in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta on December 27, 2020. Everything was still quiet and peaceful then. He openly explained the reason when he said, “You know that this year, amendments to the law “On Education”, which strengthen educational work in schools, were adopted on the initiative of the President of the country.” It’s easy to see, however, that there is absolutely nothing new in the amendments, so the reaction should have been adequate. Look here:

The federal law provides for a mechanism for organizing educational work, which will be an integral part of educational programs. Thus, the upbringing of students when they master the basic educational programs will be carried out on the basis of educational work programs and educational work schedules included in educational programs, developed and approved by educational organizations, taking into account the corresponding approximate educational work programs and approximate educational work schedules.”

After enjoying the sophisticated style and the beauty of the wording, take a breath and count how many times the word “programs” is mentioned in the paragraph. I counted five. The word “plans” was mentioned twice. It is quite obvious that initially, ahead of the New Year, it was quietly but clearly stated that the bureaucratic response to the bureaucratic formulation of the bureaucratic task would be to create not even a position, but a bonus of 15 thousand rubles to the one who will do this sophisticated work (therefore, by the way, it is called the “counselor” not “deputy director”, because that would be a completely different salary). So we’ll find such a person – and why should we look too hard? Here she is! – Mary Ivanovna, a history teacher, a mother of two children. She will make a copy-paste method for us for 15 thousand rubles a month. It won’t even be a couple “educational work schedules” per month, she will write a novel compared to “War and Punishment” by L. Tolstoy in volume, if necessary. And it will be relatively easy, Mary will grumble habitually, but she will plan the additional money to the family budget, but as Galich said, “a load of nonsense broke out here.”

… Deception that Elevates Us”

Since it was decided to present the protest as a “riot of deceived school students”, the answer to the question “Who is to blame?” was found with extraordinary ease: the education system, what else?! After that, the Minister of Education was predictably summoned to the Federation Council for the “government hour”, where he found himself under the gun of the Most Important of the local calibers. A pitiful attempt to present the idea of the counselor as a secret weapon in terms of “preventing such events in the future” was resolutely suppressed by Chief Senator Matvienko: “[The idea that] if we introduce an advisor to the director for educational work in all schools, everything will be fine with upbringing – is very superficial. It’s the wrong approach.”

Anyone who served in the army (and is now deadly serious in the circus) is well aware that if a general who has arrived with an inspection in a unit publicly scolds the commander, this does not mean that some personnel decisions will follow. It’s just that both the general and the colonel know perfectly well that nothing can be changed within the framework of the existing system, but this is a military secret. Therefore, to the best of their dramatic talents, they play their roles of Heavenly Thunder and the Trembling Creature. Experienced officers and warrant officers also know that the general, after having a hearty meal, will leave, and anyone who allowed himself even a shadow of a grin during the scene that took place will be generously punished by the colonel. So here it is nearly the same.

The point is changing the system of educational work requires colossal organizational and personnel efforts. And in the center of this transformation should be the figure of the Educator. Who else?

Point “A”: The teacher must be confident in his principles. Korczak was sure, and we don’t think that he made easily the last decision in his life to go to the Treblinka death camp for his students. Indeed this decision logically came from his entire meaningful life. Viktor Soroka-Rosinsky, the famous “Vikniksor from SHKIDA”, was, presumably, deeply indifferent to Krupskaya’s dignified anger and abrupt changes of fate (which only made it worse every time); the only pity is that they interfered with work. What is Mary Ivanovna sure about?

Who said “she’s sure of nothing”? Sit down, F. There are things in which she is 100% sure. She is sure that the director of the school, at the first targeted thunderclaps in his address, will hand her over with all the giblets, and as humiliatingly as possible, so that he is not suspected of sympathy.

She is sure that in the eyes of a large part of her students’ parents, she is a service staff, something like a waiter in a restaurant. It was she who “could not interest my child”, it is she who “makes unreasonable demands”, it is she who “violated the instruction No. and SanPiN No.”. Mary is sure that in the perception of society she is a mediocre dumb teacher, “she entered the pedagogical institute, because she couldn’t go anywhere else”. It was she who falsified the elections, she is a latent pedophile, it is because of her that everything is such and such in our country.

Point “B”: Society should be sure of what it wants to receive as a result of the teacher’s activities. Society needs to explain clearly what kind of person it asks to raise. In other words, what is its ideal. What kind of people do we want our children to become? Should they be honest? Are you sure? Should they have principles? Really? Should they have beliefs and know how to defend them? That is, should they be like ourselves? (there could be a slight irony here, but it was bitter, in case someone didn’t catch it).

Prospects Assessment

It is impossible otherwise. “Give me something, I don’t know what”. This idea does not work in pedagogy. The Soviet system from decade to decade worked worse and worse precisely because the gap between the declared lofty goals of society and the petty selfish interests of the “elite” became more and more obvious. It is impossible to educate a “complex personality” massively in a society that, to a large extent, does not respect itself.

Universal experience says

Kingdoms perish

Not because life is hard

Or the ordeals are terrible.

They die because

(And the more it hurts, the longer)

The people do not respect

Their own kingdom

(Bulat Okudzhava to Boris Slutsky)

Oh yes, how could we forget? We have a clear moral guideline. It’s patriotism! A true Russian loves his Motherland. We are reminded of this almost as often as we are reminded of the fact that a false Russian does not love his Motherland.

He “cheers for our sports teams”, “is proud of the great history”, happily eats cheese produced in the country, pays taxes silently and doesn’t ask what the money is spent on, and does not take part in unauthorized events [i.e. the protests in support of Navalny – Tr.].

The point is not only the fact that, as M.E. Saltykov-Shchedrin noted, “many are inclined to confuse two concepts: “Fatherland” and “Your Excellency.” It lies, rather, in the fact that it is painfully obvious that the Excellencies themselves are, at best, indifferent to the Fatherland. That is why they constantly break down into open bureaucratic rudeness, and that is why they lie right and left. And children are not more stupid than you and me, they see it.

I am sure that advisers to school directors on education and work with children’s groups will become real navigators of childhood, give children a hand and lead them forward. And the pilot regions, where the project will start, will become worthy examples, whose experience we will subsequently disseminate in all constituent entities of Russia,” said Irina Plescheva, executive director of the Russian movement of school students, to Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Well, what can I say? The very expression “navigators of childhood” gives off a functionary of the next simulacrum – “an all-Russian public-state children’s and youth organization”, the purpose of which is “to improve state policy in the field of education of the younger generation.”

She is echoed by the Minister of Education, “This is a young man, a graduate of a pedagogical university, who speaks the same language with school students and who organizes his extracurricular activities: sports events, trips to the theater, museums, and gatherings,” said Kravtsov, adding that the work of advisers won’t be associated with ideological control. “It is precisely the organization of extracurricular activities.”

Yeah, right. As people say to express an extreme degree of skepticism. Even if we don’t take into account the comments of ministers of recent weeks (and they must be taken into account, because they clearly testify in favor of the readiness to plug any educational gaps with these unfortunate counselors), let’s simply close our eyes and imagine a picture: by the will of the minister, fragile and labile (that is, subject to someone else’s and especially alien influence) children’s souls are handed over to a 22-year-old graduate of a pedagogical university who “speaks the same language with them” for the purpose of visiting museums and communicating. Have you imagined that? Have you imagined a parental reaction in which the words “goat” and “vegetable garden” will be heavily mixed with obscene vocabulary banned from February 1? Have you imagined the delight of the curators from the “E” department, who were reassured by the fact that now 22-year-olds are engaged in work with 15-year-olds, and that means! – there is nothing to fear, everything is under control?

No, we are far from thinking that the minister is playing the fool and “trolls” the respected audience. Not at all. He is, speaking in a chess-like manner, in zugzwang, which means that you have to move, and there are only bad moves.

Do you know what they will actually become? They will become someone they already are, namely, confused young people, with their last strength trying to work through tons of papers falling from the authorities and to fulfill the recommendations, provoking a roar of laughter from school students: “listening to and hearing children, being with them in a single information field, building a dialogue with them and teaching them to do it”. After all, together with the simultaneous introduction of a system of face recognition and monitoring students’ social networks in schools, an attempt by the “counselor” to talk to a teenager heart to heart and “teach him to build a dialogue” will be perceived by him as an offer to snitch.

Of course, for a hundred Mary Ivanovnas there will be one, say, Anna Nikiforovna. Children will trust her, because they will see her genuine interest and desire to help, they will be sure of her decency, they will appreciate the lack of edification and the ability to accept someone else’s point of view. But she will not report on the “monitored” people, she will not become the best friend of the curator from the “E” department, she will not try to carry out conversations under the signature in the journal “about the inadmissibility of illegal behavior, in particular participation in uncoordinated events.” That is, from the point of view of true, and not declared tasks, she will be absolutely unfit for professional use.

So where is the “good news” promised at the beginning of the article? Actually, it is, in fact, not even news. A good educational system cannot automatically raise everyone to be good: the nature of a person, a complex and contradictory being, will in some cases resist this. But the opposite is also true: a bad upbringing system cannot radically spoil everyone, because a person is not brought up in a single school, and not everything is learned from school upbringing, no matter how much a kettle is seen in the educated person. Or a laboratory mouse.

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