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Introducing Orthodox culture into the school curriculum

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    2004.10.02 Sedmitsa: Introducing the Foundation of Orthodox culture into the school curriculum: pro et contra (TV programme, 02.10.04) The Orthodox
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 4, 2004
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      2004.10.02 Sedmitsa:
      Introducing the Foundation of Orthodox culture into the school curriculum:
      pro et contra (TV programme, 02.10.04)

      The Orthodox Encyclopaedia TV programme, aired on the TVC channel 02.10.04

      Due to the Archpastors Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, the script
      of the TV programme shown on October 2 could not be published directly
      after the broadcast

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy, presenter: - Good morning, you are watching The
      Orthodox Encyclopaedia. Today, when teachers receive best wishes on their
      professional holiday, we decided to talk about school. We are waiting that
      the school will provide our children not only with education, but with
      upbringing. Whom, then, and how does the modern school bring up? It is
      obvious that an individual is formed through the study of literature,
      history and culture. More and more people realise that the centuries-old
      Russian history and culture are rooted in Orthodoxy. What do today's
      schoolchildren know about Orthodoxy? What is the state's attitude to
      teaching the Foundations of Orthodox culture at schools? Today, we are
      going to talk about it with Olga Vasilyeva, Doctor of History, chairman of
      the Religious studies department at the Russian Presidential Academy of
      Civil Service. You are welcome to call our studio and ask your questions.
      Our quiz today is also connected with education. Do you know which
      educational institution the young Mikhail Lomonosov enrolled to having
      arrived to Moscow to study? You can send your answers to our pager, and the
      winner will get a volume of the Orthodox Encyclopaedia.

      Among this week's events in church life the most prominent is of course the
      preparation for the Archpastors Council.

      Item: Preparing the Archpastors Council

      On the eve of the Archpastors Council, on October 1, the members of the
      Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church gathered in the Patriarch's
      residence in Chistiy pereulok. The meeting, presided at by His Holiness the
      Patriarch, was dedicated to the aims and tasks of the approaching
      Archpastors Council, which will be opened on October 3 with a celebratory
      divine service in Christ the Saviour's Cathedral. During the following five
      days, the participants of the Council will discuss the prospects of reunion
      with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, the issue of general
      consecration of some local saints, among them, the famous Moscow saint, St.
      Matrona. The issues of church law courts and the Church's social service
      will also be discussed. The Archpastors Council will end on October 8, in
      the Lavra of the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius, on the memory day of St.
      Sergius.

      Item: The Land Act

      The lands that belonged to the Church before the 1917 revolution, and were
      then nationalised and confiscated, will be partially restored to the
      rightful owner. On September 24, the State Duma passed a bill that will
      make possible the gratis transfer of land under churches and temples to
      religious organisations. The absolute majority of the MPs voted in favour
      of the bill.

      But even so, the Church does not become the landowner, it will simply be
      able to use the lands that belonged to it once. The land that religious
      buildings stand on is given over to the Church for unlimited utilisation,
      until the religious organisation itself ceases to exist.

      The document was ratified by the Senate and all that is needed now is the
      President's signature. The MPs believe that the act will restore justice to
      a certain degree, although it is clear already that it is only able to
      resolve a twentieth part of problems in this sphere.

      Item: "The Cross in Russia" album. Presentation in St. Daniel's' monastery

      "The Cross in Russia" - this is the title of the album presented to the
      public in Moscow's St. Daniel monastery. The authors dedicated their unique
      effort to the 700th anniversary of the repose of St. Prince Daniel of
      Moscow. The album shows the variety of images that the main symbol of
      Christianity exists in, the role that the cross has played in our country's
      history.

      Philaret, Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, the Patriarch's Exarch in
      Byelorussia: - This album shows Russia's love to its cross.

      It took the writers five years to collect all the necessary source
      material. The book contains several hundred pictures of crosses of various
      forms: new and old, personal, pectoral crosses, reliquaries and veneration
      crosses . The book contains fourteen tales on Russia's miracle-working
      crosses, among them crosses that belonged to great Russian saints. The
      authors found out the tales about forgotten shrines themselves in faraway
      villages.

      Svetlana Gnutova, compiler: - We wanted this book to be a celebration of
      Christianity's most important symbol, we wanted it to be optimistic and
      very well made.

      Archimandrite Alexis, Deputy of St. Daniel's monastery: - This album is not
      only useful, it is also very interesting and colourful. I think we will all
      benefit from reading this wonderful book.

      The album is unique on many counts: the majority of the crosses have never
      been presented to the public before. The writers and compilers are already
      thinking of making a new volume.

      Item: The artwork of Priest Sergiy Kashevnik on show

      Priest Sergiy Kashevnik's childhood dream was to study insects. But he
      didn't become an entomologist, the Lord had another vocation in store for
      him. But his holy orders did not make him stop loving these wonderful
      creatures.

      Priest Sergiy Kashevnik: - These pictures are a result of my love to
      nature, especially to insects. This is a living, stunning beauty, absolute
      harmony. The butterflies express the divine nature of the creation. They
      are perfect creatures.

      The priest from a village in the Moscow region calls his art realistic. The
      material that he uses is also 100% natural: wood, flowers and butterflies.
      And light, which always accompanies beauty.

      Priest Sergiy Kashevnik: - The stunning thing about butterflies is that
      they conduct light, it's easy to see in the pictures. They reflect and
      radiate light.

      Father Sergiy's works open our eyes to a simple truth: the way from the
      transient to the eternal is very short. The artist is dreaming to create a
      monumental picture the size and shape of a tropical tree. To achieve this,
      he is going to Malaysia, where butterflies are hunted all year round.

      ***
      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - The topic of our programme today is studying
      Orthodox culture at school. As soon as the Russian Orthodox Church started
      to speak out on the necessity of introducing this subject to schools,
      society was torn apart by arguments. What is the problem? Our expert speaks
      on the issue:


      Alexander Zhuravskiy: - For several years, discussion has never stopped
      around the problem of teaching the foundations of religious knowledge at
      schools. The discussion is mostly centred around the Foundations of
      Orthodox culture, although it is well known that in such regions as
      Bashkiriya or Tatarstan the foundations of Islam and Islamic culture are
      taught freely and for quite a long time.

      This discussion has several aspects, and the first is what exactly we are
      teaching, what the contents of this course is. Here the opponents have
      different views. Some think that the foundations of Orthodox culture,
      religious culture have to be taught, others say that it would be better to
      teach history of world religions. Some think that nothing at all should be
      taught in this area, for example, some human right defenders who think that
      any knowledge of religion given in a state school is against the
      Constitution, which is of course wrong. These people believe that anything
      the Church has to offer is a priori religious, and in this way religion is
      trying to infiltrate the state lay schools.

      On the other hand, there were attempts to introduce subjects that looked
      like Catechism in the guise of cultural studies. At the same time, there is
      a brilliant textbook on Foundations of the Orthodox culture, written by
      Father Boris Pivovarov.

      Another aspect of discussion in society is the place that this course
      should take in the curriculum: should this be a component obligatory for
      all state schools, a regionally managed component or an optional course.
      The Foundations of Orthodox cultures can be successfully taught regionally.
      Moreover, we know that in many areas, the Foundation of Orthodox culture
      and cultures of other religions are successfully taught. The present senior
      officials of the Ministry of education say that the History of religions
      should become a course obligatory for all state schools in the country.
      This can give a way for future work. What matters is not the name of the
      course but its content, and the Church should be open for social discussion
      and suggestions.

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Our guest in the studio today is Olga Vasilyeva,
      Doctor of Histpry. Good morning. So, we have outlined the issue. What do
      you think would be the best way for our schoolchildren and students to
      receive information in Orthodoxy, and should they receive any at all?

      Olga Vasilyeva: - I believe both schoolchildren and college students need
      to get some knowledge of Orthodoxy. And, as your expert has just said, this
      knowledge is partly contained in established school courses: Literature,
      National history, History of art and so on. But I think that this is not
      enough, and that we have to think together and produce a special course on
      this issue. The question is what kind if course and how to teach it.

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - While preparing this show, we have visited a
      state school and looked at the teachers' and pupils' attitude to Orthodoxy.

      Item: State school

      This is a usual Moscow school with a standard curriculum. The Foundations
      of the Orthodox culture are not taught here. And event the politically
      correct History of religions is absent form the schedule. And the answers
      to the question if a lesson in Orthodox culture is necessary, differ:

      Tikhon Grebennikov, pupil, School no. 247: - When they start to study some
      religion, those who have another religion won't understand, and then
      there'll be fights and things in the school, because of your religion.

      Irina Markova, pupil, School no. 247: - I think that if we have children of
      another religion in the class, it will be hard for them if we only study
      Christianity. And they are, say, Muslims. They'll be hurt.

      Orthodoxy is still an unusual phenomenon in the modern school. Children
      know very little about religion and about Orthodoxy in particular, and do
      not discuss faith with one another. That is why very often, they do not
      understand their classmates who are believers.

      The children who come to the Sunflower Orthodox club for children and
      teenagers, organised by the church of St. John the Theologian in the
      village of Mogiltsy near Sofrino, know from their own experience what it
      means to be a church-going school pupil.

      Anastasiya Zaytseva, Sunflower Orthodox club for children and teenagers: -
      The problem is that I wear a skirt to the school and not trousers. And when
      I start explaining what faith is, what Orthodoxy is, they don't understand me.

      Kristina Naumova, Sunflower Orthodox club for children and teenagers: -
      When I was just starting to go to church, every time a fast began, our
      teacher would start organising trips pr discos. Most of the time I just
      don't come, and the teacher has stopped paying any attention to me, she
      pays more attention to the other kids now.

      Thus, the teachers' 'tolerance' hurts, only this time it is the little
      believer who suffers. And yet, there is still no subject in any school that
      would help a child, believer or non-believer, to find moral guidelines,
      spiritual values, that would shape him or her as an individual. It is
      thought that the school curriculum is quite enough for that.

      Eteri Tsurkan, teacher of history, School no. 247: - Of course I think that
      we, Orthodox Christians, must know the history of religion, the history of
      our Church. But we give this information constantly within the course of
      History. There isn't a single topic in Russian cultural studies that
      doesn't touch upon the Orthodox heritage.

      Maybe the information that the school curriculum gives is enough. But not a
      lot of children know that Ilya Muromets is not a fairy-tale character, but
      a Russian saint, that St. Petersburg was named not after Peter the Great,
      but after Peter the Apostle; that the whole Russian army, together with
      Field marshal Kutuzov, prayed before the icon of Our Lady of Smolensk on
      the eve of the battle of Borodino. Not a single modern history textbook
      contains this information. But there is extensive information on Tutankhamun...

      Eteri Tsurkan, teacher of history, School no. 247: - I'm strongly against
      priests teaching this course. It must be a teacher. I'm not saying it has
      to be a school teacher, a history teacher. It might be a teacher with a
      special training.

      Father Iliya Zubriy, Rector of the church of St. John the Theologian, Head
      of the Sunflower Orthodox club for children and teenagers: - I don't think
      the issue should be artificially complicated like this. A priest is a
      member of the society like everyone else. I think it would be interesting
      for children to talk to a priest, to ask him what defined his choices, why
      he became a priest, why he thinks that a person needs spiritual life like air.

      For more than 70 years of atheistic state, the majority of people ceased to
      understand that Christianity, Orthodoxy is not only the object of religious
      studies, but the foundation of the whole Russian life and culture, the
      foundation of our moral beliefs. Unwillingness to know anything about your
      nation's spiritual life is tantamount to forgetting your own roots. And a
      tree, as we all know, cannot grow without roots.

      ***
      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Many people complain about the lack of spiritual
      values in the modern society, in our children. They say that even the
      Soviet children were morally purer and better brought up. In those days,
      ideology was the instrument of upbringing. A lot was wrong in it, no doubt,
      but at the same time it is obvious that most of the moral values were based
      on Gospel truths, on Christian morals, even then. Is there a similar
      instrument of upbringing today?

      Olga Vasilyeva: - I can give a very short answer to your question. I think
      that in the school that we have lost, the instrument of upbringing was
      really very strong and obvious. Actually, personally I believe that the
      family should bring a person up first and foremost, and not those school,
      but our tradition has always made the school responsible both for education
      and upbringing.

      Nowadays we don't have anything of the kind, and I call this generation a
      lost generation. I think that many teachers will agree with me. I just want
      to say, that, as a historian, I can say that this is connected to what
      happened to our country as a whole. A country ceased to exist, it's not
      there on the map any longer. The ideology that gave people certain moral
      guidelines also disappeared, and nothing came to take its place. And that
      is why we have started to recall our toots, it stands to reason. But to be
      perfectly honest, we have to say that our people have always been
      religious. I work in the archives of the 1970-s, and I become more and more
      convinced. It's wrong to say we were all atheists without exception.

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Certainly, I was a school pupil myself in the
      19790-s and I became a believer in those atheistic times, probably no
      thanks to the school, in spite of the school more likely, but anyway, it
      happened. But nowadays, many people believe that the Foundations of the
      Orthodox culture course could become this missing defining instrument at
      school. We have asked people in the streets. Let's see what they have answered:

      Item: Questioning the passers-by

      - It will be much better, people will start to understand one another better.

      - I think it's very good for general education.

      - Children are very susceptible to religion at that age, and if this is
      introduced against their will, I think it will be wrong.

      - I think that children should make their choice, I think this course must
      be optional.

      - What's the point of separating culture as a whole and Orthodox culture.
      What's the difference?

      - It will be a waste of time and the kids will become confused, because
      they will say one thing at one lessons and completely different things at
      other lessons.

      - I think nowadays, in view of all the current affairs, it's a necessary
      course. Let the kids believe in God, and not stand about in dark lanes
      shooting drugs and all.

      ***

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - A lot of people don't understand the difference
      between Catechism and the Foundations of the Orthodox culture. They suspect
      the Church of trying to start a religious mission in state schools. But
      what we are talking about is not preaching of faith but teaching the
      foundations of Russian culture. And the question arises, who can teach this
      course? Does a priest fit a school?

      Olga Vasilyeva: - I think that those who believe that are deceiving
      themselves. I firmly believe that this campaign is politically motivated.
      You remember how large-scale it was last year, with polls and so on. And
      because there were attempts to introduce Catechism, some people were
      scared, of course. The main thing here is to understand what we want to
      teach and how we want to teach it. The thing is, we can glean some
      information from the course of the Russian literature, although it's been
      narrowed lately. But we need some spiritual knowledge, we must nurture the
      germ of goodness that a child is born with. Someone has to take care of it,
      teach it. The question is, who?

      I think that this has to be a person of high moral fibre, first of all,
      because you cannot deceive a child when you teach one thing and do the
      opposite. The teacher has to follow the moral principles. Whether it has to
      be a teacher or a clergyman, well, I think that some co-operation is needed
      here, because a teacher can show, explain and teach, but then the children
      must really feel it with their own hearts, and this is where the clergyman
      comes in - keeping in mind that parents have to give their consent, because
      the school is worldly and the Church is separated from the state. I don't
      think any parent will be against his child becoming better and nobler.

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - The question of teaching Orthodox culture
      triggers heated discussion. But don't other religions try to teach the
      foundations of their cultures, the cultures of Islam or Buddhism?

      Olga Vasilyeva: - Yes, there are attempts of the kind. And when we were
      listening to Alexander Zhuravskiy, the expert, he showed us textbooks
      published for these ends by various religious groups. I think this is
      right. By the way, as different from the tumult accompanying the
      Foundations of the Orthodox culture. Other religions have done this quietly
      and brought about no political dispute.

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - In large cities, in Moscow, for instance, when
      there are children of various religious backgrounds in a class, teachers
      are often afraid of conflicts that may appear in case the Foundations of
      the Orthodox culture are introduced. How well-grounded are these misgivings?

      Olga Vasilyeva: - You have stated from the very start that this course
      operates within cultural studies, and carries, first and foremost, a moral
      task, this is the most important thing. I think there will be no problem if
      the content of this course is tactfully constructed - this question was
      raised by experts, too - and if the textbook gives information on the
      foundations of other cultures that exist in the country. We have always
      been a tolerant country. Our biggest national group is the Tartars, they
      are Muslims, and the Orthodox people have traditionally been very tolerant
      to them.

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Bu the way, how did they get round this problem
      before the 1917 revolution?

      Olga Vasilyeva: - Very simply and tactfully. The Catholic and Protestant
      pupils attended the Catechism, and Muslim children and their teacher did
      something else at the time, they were not compelled to attend it.

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - My spouse's grandfather grew up in a very
      religious Jewish family, but he attended the Catechism when he was a
      schoolboy before 1917, because he wanted to, he was interested.

      Olga Vasilyeva: - This is another proof of the fact that we have very good
      historical experience and sound principles.

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - And there's another thing I'm thinking: if I were
      living in a country with a different culture, say, India, I would consider
      it necessary to study the foundations of the country's religious culture,
      so that I and my children would be able to communicate properly within that
      society.

      Another question: very often, bureaucrats and headmasters think that the
      worldly character of education means it has to be atheistic. Is it really
      the same thing?

      Olga Vasilyeva: - Of course not, there is a huge difference. The difference
      lies first and foremost in the laws. The school is subject to the state. In
      Poland, on the contrary, some schools are subject to the Catholic Church,
      they are church schools, which give an education equal to that of lay
      schools, with a valid diploma. Our schools are subject to federal laws.

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Thank you, Olga Yuryevna, for coming to our show
      today, all the best to you, and have a nice day.

      Culture is a huge, complex phenomenon, which makes a country's population
      into this country's nation. The name of culture has always embraced
      religion, science, education, moral foundations of the people's and the
      state's behaviour. These words by Academician Likhachev could be said about
      the Foundations of the Orthodox culture school course.

      ***

      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - And here are the results of our quiz. Which
      educational institution did the young Mikhail Lomonosov enrol to having
      arrived to Moscow to study? The first one to get the answer right was
      Natalia. Congratulations! You are getting a volume of the Orthodox
      Encyclopaedia. And now, here is an item with the correct answer.

      Which educational institution did the young Mikhail Lomonosov enrol to
      having arrived to Moscow to study?

      In winter 1730, the 19-year-old and nearly moneyless Lomonosov walked on
      foot all the way from his native village of Kholmogory (now Archangel
      region) to Moscow, where he enrolled at the Slavonic Graeco-Roman Academy.
      This was Russia's first and only higher education institution then. It was
      founded in 1682 by Tsar Feodor Alexeyevich and was located nearby the
      Kremlin, on the Nikolskaya street, in the monastery of
      Saviour-behind-the-Icons. That is why it was popularly known as the
      'Saviour Schools.'

      Here, statesmen, priests and teachers were taught. Students studied grammar
      and physics, arithmetic and church history, philosophy and theology. In the
      early 18th century, the Slavonic Graeco-Roman Academy became the largest
      seat of Russian culture and education. In 1814, it was reformed, given the
      name of the Moscow Ecclesiastic Academy and moved to the Lavra of the Holy
      Trinity and St. Sergius.
      Father Alexiy Uminskiy: - Our programme is over. I thank everyone who
      called the studio and took part in the discussion and the quiz. You can
      read the online version of the show on Sedmitza.Ru, were you can also read
      the most recent news on religious life in our country and abroad almost in
      real time. Next week, we will witness the Archpastors Council of the
      Russian Orthodox Church, and our show next Saturday will be wholly
      dedicated to this moist important event. All the best to you, and may God
      guard you all.

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