This book is way different to my normal fare. But I am glad I took the time to read it. It was published in Moscow in 1954 and is part fiction and part fact, and based closely on the writer’s own experience as a teacher working in Russia from the war until the mid fifties.
Sixty-five years have passed since this book was published, and many things have changed since then, not least in Russia, but it’s surprising how many things remain quite the same. For one thing, the boys being so keen on football, or soccer as they surprisingly call it. They are either for Spartak or Dynamo, (sound familiar?), plus the desire to learn English, which did surprise me.
Perhaps unsurprisingly England is not mentioned once in the book, and neither is the United States, maybe that was just asking too much, but other countries are referenced, such as Brazil, Australia, Norway and India.
Stalin’s birthday is reported and celebrated, though not overmuch, though he is still treated as a god-like father of the nation, and beyond any possible criticism, and his death in 1953 is not mentioned at all. Maybe it was still too fresh in the memory, or perhaps his crimes of murdering or being responsible for, the deaths of some twenty million citizens is not yet in the public domain. Khrushchev would change all that in the following years.
I am sure that teachers of today will recognise and sympathise with the day-to-day setting of lessons and the marking of huge piles of homework, and organising days out and debates, and everything else that keeps the school year ticking over. It seems that teaching doesn’t really change that much at all.
Great excitement comes to town in the year of the local elections when the adults demonstrate their “freedom” in being able to elect any one of the four candidates. All the boys are fascinated in that and make a zealous case for each man standing. No mention is made in the book of the fact that all four men, and they are indeed men, all belong to the communist party. I guess that goes without saying, and of course such a thing is never queried here.
There’s no mention in the book either about any police activity and especially the secret police, that would be asking for trouble, and any such reference would have debarred the book from ever being published. But it would have been nice to hear F Vigdorova’s take on that.
This is a really fascinating book and quite a hard one to find too, and sadly it does not appear to be available as an ebook. (If the publishers would like me to produce an Ebook version I would be only too happy to oblige!)
This work is a snapshot of teaching in a moment in time when things were quite different, or were they? As mentioned earlier, everything has changed since then, but some things remain exactly the same.
If you have any interest in the Soviet Union, teaching inquisitive boys, mid twentieth century history, and of how education rumbles on regardless of what political system is in place, then you may well enjoy this book. I certainly did, and it is thoroughly recommended.