Russia – Childeren And Education

There is one outstanding thought in connection with my short stay in Russia which never leaves me, and that is the conditions under which found children living. saw them at railway stations on the long journey to and from Petrograd to Moscow, in small villages on a drive 40 versts out of Moscow, and in the streets of the two capital cities ; and no-where in Russia at any time did I see children who in appearance or physique could match the terrible specimens of child life saw in Cologne in February, 1919. That children in Russia suffer hardships and privation from cold, hunger and disease is only too true. Typhus, cholera, smallpox are epidemic diseases which carry off old and young indiscriminately in Petrograd and Moscow. The Soviet Councils have put forth every effort to save the children : nowhere else in the world in times of disorder or days of peace has any Government endeavoured to do more. have met scores of critics who condemn the Soviet regime root and branch, but, when pressed, even the most bitter critic is obliged to confess that within the narrow limits of their means, and these are miscrably small owing to our infamous blockade and the subsidised wars, the Bolsheviks, led by Lunacharsky the Minister for Education, have done everything possible to preserve the life of the children, both mentally and physically.

It is the joyous gift of play these Russian children possess which from start to finish when meeting them captured my imagination. Whether looking at the weirdly dressed crowd of boys and girls which thronged round me on my arrival at Moscow in a vain endeavour to carry my bags, or standing, as occasionally ~ did, outside St. Saviour’s Cathedral watching crowds of laughing, shouting children of all ages skating, toboganning or sliding, it was always the same. Want and suffering had not, could not quench their spirits or damp their ardour in striving to get, joy out of life. Even the elder children who, on occasion, would be seen assisting the adults in snow-clearing, appeared to look on the task as something out of which amusement should be obtained.

In East London ~ have often seen children gather round foreign sailors, Chinese and others, and get amusement from their strange appearance : on at least two occasions I received a similar kind of attention front children in. Moscow. Although dressed in, a very long fur coat with a Russian. cap, the children understood was a stranger and so made of me a sort of post around which they slid, skated and tobogganed, chattering, laughing all the time, and, as I imagined, challenging me to talk. Every (lay during my stay the river Moskva was frozen over and thus became a playground covered at certain times and places with children, who appeared not merely capable of enjoyment, but, easily able to enjoy themselves.

Under other and less favourable conditions, it was possible to see how children lived. M mid-day every day children by the hundred could be seen going to food centres and bread stores, waiting in long queues, sometimes tor hours on end in bitterly cold weather ; others were to be found in public restaurants getting their midday meals. Very few restaurants or food stores were as effieiently equipped or, anything like as clean as in this country, long wait, a wearisome,in none of the children did I see a sign depression or lack of mental or physical vigour. The most favourable conditions for seeing children were in the great theatres and concert halls, especially on Sundays, when it would appear as if all the musical and dramatic talent of Russia was enlisted for the purpose of giving entertainment and pleasure to the children. Nowhere else in the world is more done for children, no other children in the world enjoy dancing and singing more than these young Russians, it seems to be in their blood : very soon they get to know the names of dancers, singers and actors, and applaud and cheer them with as much zest and vigour as older people.

It would be a mistake to think that theatres are used only for amusement : they are also used for educational purposes. So far, cinemas are not much used owing to shortage of materials. There arc great difficulties to be overcome before the ” movies ” are used as in other countries. When these difficulties are removed by the establishment of trade relationships with the outside world, the moving picture will be utilised to the very fullest extent for amusement and education. The story of humanity will he told in pictures, and heroic deeds recorded. There will, however, be no glorification of bloodshed and violence ; no appeal to race or religious bigotry and hatred : the cinema will he used to teach citizenship and love of humanity.

There are craches, boarding schools, villages and townships all devoted to children : the feeble-minded, mentally deficient, are for the first time in Russia being properly and humanely cared for. I like to remember in connection with work amongst children that many women who have little or no sympathy with Socialism o : any kind, feel compelled to give their services on behalf of education and care for the future generation. It is women of this sort who have materially helped to organise the ” children’s town ” which has been set up at ” Tsarkoe Selo ” near Petro-grad-a place that was formerly used as the Czar’s town or village. It is a wonderful place where everything is donc to bring brightness and knowledge into the lives ofchildren.

The Bolsbevik leaders are deadly enemies of ignorance : they know their greatest foes are to be found amongst those millions of ignorant illiterates, left as an heritage by the Czardom: therefore they organise to spread knowledge, especially among children. The work, however, of every school and college is heavily handicapped through lack of school materials, pencils, paper, reading and other books. But in spite of this deflcency, many teachers continue to work hard and persevere. Unhappily some teachers are not willing to help : many sabotage the new schemes ; some are hopeless reitetionaries ; others are quite ignorant of the first elements of education. Before the revolution the number of teachers and their capacity was extremely limited : great efforts are being made to supply this deficiency ; training centres are being established.

Most residential schools in Moscow are very small. I should think forty was about the outside number in many of them. ~ yield to nobody in my knowledge of English schools : ~ have seen, all sorts of public and private schools—Mill Hill, Eton, Shrewsbury, and scores o : Poor Law schools, besides hundreds of ordinary day schools. Consequently when visiting these schools in Moscow ~ could not be other than surprised how small they were and how limited in every way compared with our Poor Law schools. They looked and were, very mean, and in this they would ‘have rejoiced the heart of the middle and upper class ratepayers in this country, who are always complaining that too much money is spent on the children of the poor. Yet the buildings, for size, light and air did remind me a little o : the houses at Eton where the upper class boys live, but only because there seemed less cubic space than the numbers warranted.

For all this no intelligent, observer who looked either at children or homes could but be agreeably astonished that so much has been attempted and so much done ; and no one seeing the general attitude of the children towards the teachers and the teachers towards the children could fail to realise that much, very much of the work was a labour of love. The children were proud to sing, recite and dance and the teachers proud of their pupils. In all schools we were greeted with what is now the ” National Anthem “—” The International.” Sometimes it was pathetic to look at these little ones straining their childish voices trying to impress us with the words,

” Then, comrades, come rally, The last fight let us face, The Internationale Unites the human race”

Whatever else may be slurred over, am sure the meaning of these words is quite thoroughly explained and understood by the children who sing them.

At one school which ~ visited in company with several other Press representatives, we were entertained by singing, dancing and reciting. Amongst other things sung were some nursery rhymes and folk songs with dances. Although none of us understood the language we soon caught the tunes and now and then a word. Being as much a child as any of them suddenly thought would like to join in I am which consisted of dancing round in a ring—very similar to our children’s game of ” Poor Jenny is a-weeping,” but in the Russian game one child calls out another and they dance together in the centre of the ring. of course I got taken out and took out others, and then thought ” Hang the language, I will teach them ` Ring a ring of Roses ‘ and ` This is the way we go to school,’ ” and very soon with the aid of an interpreter we were singing children’s songs as in England. We were a merry party and as one of my friends as old as myself said ” Language is no bar where children are concerned.” When we left they all crowded to the windows waving hands and shouting goodbye.

I should like to say another word for the splendid women who conduct these schools. Like so much else in Russia it is a case of making bricks without straw. In many places the sanitary arrangements have entirely broken down because of shortage of fuel ; in others there can be ‘no proper school owing to the same cause ; and everywhere there is lack of every kind of necessary equipment. Great efforts are made to inculcate cleanliness and the value of each child’s body, but alas, there is very little soap ; tooth brushes, combs and hairbrushes are also very scarce, but the teeth are considered of primary importance and much trouble is bestowed upon them. 1 have no doubt an English Local Government Board Inspector or other expert going round would easily condemn the whole system root and branch, but I found myself wondering, if starting from nothing, in the midst of civil war, a blockade, and foreign wars, my countrymen and women would have done so well. In any ease I am just lost in admiration at what I have seen accomplished by these men and women, many of them without any previous training for the work they are now doing so well.

There is much discussion as to the wisdom or otherwise of co-education. I am a prejaadiced observer as I have always advocated this system. I did not see anything in the relationships of these boys and girls different from what I have seen elsewhere, except that neither children or grown-ups on the Continent are as prudish and self-conscious as we are about natural functions and sex matters generally. In any case, I saw no sign or gesture of which I could complain but I did see a freedom from restraint, a natural sort of’ relationship amongst the boys and girls that seemed to show they were being trained to respect themselves and to be respectful to others.

On three occasions I had a meal with the teachers and nurses in these boarding schools, and at every school I visited was able to see the root supplied to the children. At each dinner there was always poultry or meat : the evidence of friend and opponent and of my own eyes is quite conclusive that what there is of good nourishing food is first shared amongst children, next amongst invalids, the general public coming last, and with the great shortage this is a very bad last indeed. I never saw milk or poultry served at a meal anywhere in Russia but at these schools, except when a small quantity was served at our own evening meal. Visits to these schools were planned overnight by Barry or myself.

In order that mothers may go to work crèches have been established all over the towns and in some villages. These are run on model lines and also mainly by women who formerly belonged to the middle and upper classes. think these are among the best nurseries ~ have seen anywhere, they are not overcrowded and are light and airy. If lung power is a sign of health, then these babies are extremely vigorous. Great care is taken to prevent infection. The matron asked me and my friends to put on overalls before entering a ward.

One special thing in connection with all this work for children is the fact, that, there are no distinctions of’ class or nationality. Every child in Russia is looked upon as at child of the community. To obtain its right to sit down at the table provided by the Russian people a child must not prove itself legitimate or illegitimate : neither is a child penalised because of the sins or virtues of its parents. At the same time parents are not allowed to shirk responsibility, but exactly contrary to what happens under the L.C.C. and other education authorities in this country, children are first of all cared for and, the responsibility of either men or women for the child is settled afterwards. It was a real pleasure to find that the principle of ” care for the children ” had been adopted as a public policy.

One day, in company with some friends, I interviewed Comrade Lunacharsky, the Minister of Education. He lives with his wife and family in rooms in one of the huge buildings in the Kremlin. Like all other ministers, ~ found him in a huge, rather cold office, very busy, surrounded by officials and children. He not only has to care for and organise education for children, but has also to administer the whole business of educating the army, navy and adult civil population. In addition he has charge of all public buildings and monuments, and is on the committee which is charged with the maintenance of churches and other historic buildings. He would be classed as an agnostic, yet he has a true reverence for all ancient and religious buildings. ~ heard him deliver a splendid address to public officials at a meeting called to celebrate the triumphs of the ” Red ” Army : his one plea was for public service as the aim and object of life.

When we saw him in his office, he had only just recovered from a short illness : in spite of this he was all eagerness to tell of his schemes for better education. He was a little cynical and bitter about England and our ruthless blockade ; sad and angry at the effects of this action of our Government in preventing the children of Russia getting their chance but all the time he expressed his confident hope that the difficulties of today would be over come. He explained at length the condition of the country when he took over the work of education. We heard from him disgraceful stories of how teachers who had served under the old regime refused to work when the Soviet Government was established and deliberately set to work to hinder the spread of education. He seemed convinced that education would only really start when the young people now being trained were ready to enter the schools.

Kindergarten schools are not schools as we know them and up to eight years of age the word education is not used : after that age the boys and girls go to schools for varying degrees of training up to the age of sixteen when the choice is made whether to go on to university or to industrial training. This is decided not by ordinary examination, but by talks between teachers and the scholar concerned so that boys and girls may learn all there is to know of the profession they hope to follow. There are no schools in Russia for separate castes or classes ; neither are there class colleges, but, like the common sense people they are, those responsible for education do not attempt to force all children through one machine made sort of education ; neither do they judge capacity merely by examination papers, or the work of teachers by the number of children that pass a particular examination.

One thing is taught almost hourly w that is the honourable character of all useful work. There is no teaching of the doctrine of ” get on,” no putting before the child as a worthy object of life the ambition to become rich and powerful or even to enter public life in order to get personal power. All l education is de signed for the purpose of making the child understand that labour of every sort that is useful is honourable : iiterature and Art, History and Science are all taught with the one object of making people useful Ordinary work in factory and workshop is taught by allowing older boys and girls to go to these places as part of their school time. Girls are sent to hospItals and other publie institutions to learn how to cook, wash and clean up. Education is not’ separated from work or work from education, the object being to show that one is dependent on the other. repeat the one outstanding lesson taught all children is the fact that labour of all kinds for the service of the nation is honourable and lives lived dependent on the labour of others are dishonourable.

Economics are taught in an elementary manner : history is taught as something which concerns humanity and not as a matter of primary importance only to one’s own nation. Consequently internationalism is the keynote, and in order to emphasise this the children are taught by experience that in their schools and in their relationships with each other, no matter to what class or race or creed their parents may have belonged, they, as children born in a socialist state, have no rights, no privileges, except those which are shared by all.

As children grow up the question of advanced education arises. This is very much hindered owing to lack of teachers. When peace is signed there will be a great opening for teachers from other countries, especially for those capable to take part in what is called higher education. There are evening classes going on now in every industrial centre in the big towns ; new colleges are being established, but all lack teachers and professors. In order to cope with the great shortage of capable and efficient administrators, schools for training these have been established and thousands young people are being trained in order to become local government servants, teachers, diplomats, etc.

Lunacharsky tells with great pride that his department for education spends more money per head than any other Government in the world : that since the revolution they have established 62,288 first grade schools, and 8,780 other schools in thirty departments; in addition 5,800,000 primers and 2,000,000 books for teaching have been distributed ; 2,458,000 children have received clothes, and 9,450,000 pairs of boots have been given away. The schemes for the future training and care of children are very ambitious. if the Bolsheviks retain power all Russians will know all there is to be known about Russia, as the years of training will be spent, in different parts of the country. Not only will they get knowledge of their own country, they will also travel abroad. Ships are to be chartered and parties of three hundred children at a time will visit the world People may ask who is to pay : it is proposed to use the natural resources of Russia for this and all national purposes. But in addition the Government of Russia will be the cheapest in the world : there will be no gilt or ginger bread courts and puppets, no imperialist armies and navies The whole material wealth of this great; people will be spent on the service of all men, all women and all children ; there will be plenty to spare for all.

But great as his achievements are amongst children, Lunacharsky has also done splendid work amongst adults in addition to evening classes and extension lectures. A regular campaign has been carried on in army and navy. It is ignorant folly for critics of the labour armies in Russia to write and speak of these as uneducated dupes of Trotsky. Nothing is wider from the truth : from being the most ignorant army in the world the Russian army is rapidly becoming the most intelligent and best educated. The defeat of Koltchak and Denikin, the marvellous fortitude and patience, heroism and effort shown by the Red armies is due in a large measure to the fact that they knew what they were fighting for. Before the Bolsheviks gained power only 15 per cent. of the army could read ; now over 65 per cent. are able to read and reason. Every day newspapers are distributed ; every day classes are held ; and every day small sectional meetings take place at which discussions are started for the purpose of spreading information. There never can be an imperialistic Russia while this sort of thing continues, because these soldiers are told the bare simple, truth ‘about politics. It is this which will make the labour armies successful : the men now regimented for labour are not dumb driven cattle : they are intelligent human beings accepting all that is involved in an army of labour in order to accomplish certain well defined ends.

I have not dealt with the religious education here as I do so in another chapter. ~ can only say here that in a society where opinion on official religion is as it is in Russia, there can be no official religion. All that those of us who care for religion are entitled to ask is that; religion shall have its chance.

The priests and ministers who desire to teach ethics should be allowed to do so freely and without hindrance of any kind : but as ~ see this matter in connection with children I must put on record my belief that Lunacbarsky and his colleagues arc living up to the gospel conveyed in the words, ” Suffer the little children to come unto me,” for they are giving to every child full opportunity to develop the highest and best. Unlike the British and German system, education is a means not for personal ambition and grandisement but for social service and if is true we ” worship God by doing good, that deeds not words are understood,” then these Bolsheviks, feared and hated because they are feared, are the true Christians ‘ of today, for they bold aloft the beacon light of truth, that each child’s life is of equal value and that each boy and girl born in the world has an equal right to share in all that the great world of ‘humanity has to give.