The issues of brain building are raised more and more frequently. The Head of Laboratory Studies for socio-cultural identity of the "Research Institute of innovative strategies for the development of general education", Andrey Andryushkov, shared his opinions with us about what and how they should teach in modern schools.
– Andrey, where do you work and what are you doing now?
For the last 15-20 years I have been studying innovative educational issues, especially in the field of pedagogies of mental and physical approach. It was founded by Yuri Gromyko who used a synthesis of ideas of Georgi Shchedrovitsky and Vasily Davydov. I have been teaching for about 15-17 years.
– What are the fundamental differences of your approach to education in comparison to typical Russian schools?
First of all this is activity-oriented educational content which has become the standard. This idea was created in the 1960s, and now, in retrospect, it seems to me that in many ways it was a reaction to the school crisis during the Great Patriotic War. Then the whole system of education broke down, but the schools continued to exist – only grandmothers and the disabled, back from the front, became the teachers. There was a need for the technological upgrading of education, and pedagogical science began to develop rapidly. This had a strong influence in the 1960s, because, on the one hand, Georgi Schedrovitsky prepared the fundamental study "Pedagogy and Logic" on updating the content of educational activities. And Vasily Davydov’s group continued the work of Vygotsky. They came to the same conclusion from different angles: that the content of school education should not be based on the fact that children learn specific solution algorithms which, as a result, have become a form of knowledge.
Knowledge becomes very rigid in its form. An activity that was once performed has acquired a kind of stability and has become a tool for the implementation of some activities. As a consequence, knowledge itself is not alive – it lives either only in an outcome of its use, or during its use. A school is built in such a way that it teaches people to work exclusively with knowledge, but without the activity of processing the knowledge, understanding it. What does a child do with knowledge? They learn, they remember. Yet what is meant by "study from examinations to examinations?" A huge amount of knowledge that we memorize is in our head only during the examinations, after which it evaporates somewhere like smoke in to thin air.
The idea is that school should be not a school for memorizing but a school of quick thinking. It should teach children the basic types of activities that are fundamental and strategic for the development of the country. The subject should be not the knowledge and skills, but the ways of working, thinking, and the development of communication methods. This approach should be the basis of the new curriculum. In this regard, a new school teaches reflective thinking, complex polypositional communication and project activities. The classical division between academic subjects is only a tool for solving this problem.
However, the full implementation of this approach to life means that it is necessary to introduce a new active content in the educational practices of the country where there are tens of thousands of schools and educational institutions, employing half a million teachers.
– Speaking about you, in what places and where are you working at the moment?
I work in science at the Moscow Institute of Education Development, which was recently created in the ruins of the Institute of Innovative Strategies for Educational Development. I also give a special course for children in school № 1314, but not paid for. I just come twice a week and have classes.
– What subject are you teaching?
Meta-subjects, i.e. I have meta-subject learning. This is a special class, which appears to be the same as a standard classroom lesson, but in reality it is the intersection of many different subjects and, above all, it is devoted to one or another particular mode of thinking that children will learn at that lesson. I have been teaching about the meta-subject "Problem" for more than ten years already. I teach the children the ways of problem determination and self-determination in any difficult situation. For the last five years my primary material for learning is Soviet literature and Soviet history.
– Why did you start teaching at this school?
Meta-subject education at school № 1314 is a “trick”, which makes it different from other schools. This “trick” does not concern any exams or other external requirements. The thing is that it is unique work that is not done anywhere else, and they can teach it in other schools. From about the 5th grade all children must have a meta-subject education. It is mandatory to learn meta-subjects including "Problems", "Knowledge", "Signs" and "Tasks". I work with the children from 8th to 11th grades.
– Are the children old enough for it at this age? How do you work with them?
They are different. 8th grade is a very special age at which a child begins to truly become aware of their social 'me', their behavior and awareness of the world, and contrasts it to the world of adults. At this unique age the basic framework for further development is laid.
11th grade in a current Russian school is a class that is socially determined. The pupil does not perceive education as a creative search, or that it has some kind of meaning, they see education as the need to pass exams. An 11th grade student lives not by the content of education that the teacher gives them, but by the nature of life, which they experience next year when they to college. Therefore, you can discuss anything you want with an 8th grade student as they are completely open. And even in this school, where everything is designed so that children appreciate this form of study, the 11th grade students often stand up and say that they have to prepare for their finals. They don’t want to deal with Tvardovsky because they don’t need to take such an exam. But every time I make sure I’m ready for that situation and that I may have such a conversation, that I understand that I must deal with it.
– How can you stand it? How do you persuade them?
The most powerful way is to draw a diagram and show that their desire to take their finals is described as a complex social machine. The ability to see the problem is a cogitative thought when you're able to break free from some social structure thrust upon you. I show them that in order to form their own opinion, they must be able to see the problem. If you don’t know how to do it, then you're just a classical object for manipulation. When I attended the same school as a child, we had a great course, in which we specifically analyzed the scheme of manipulation of media material of 1993-94. It was a wonderful time when the media was fighting for the people. We were taught to analyze how the media works, how the text is created so that it can affect people. That is, we were taught to reflexively see the problem in order to understand the media content in a different light.
– Do you teach in any other schools except this one?
I also teach part-time at individual forums or for some clubs. I work in about 6 schools in Moscow, and I regularly interact with teachers from 50 schools in Russia.
– According to your experience is there any difference between school 1314 and the other schools?
Each school has its own characteristics. I can’t say that this school is the only one like it because Moscow has always been very rich in innovation and experimental schools. And what is an experimental school? This is when its creator is a man who puts his soul in it. He watches everything that happens to children from the 1st to the 11th grade, charting their performance. This is a very unique thing and so you always feel it whether you are in an experimental school or not. When you come to school and you start reading a poem by Tarkovsky, or look at a painting by Vincent Van Gogh, in a regular school a child doesn’t know anything about Van Gogh, nor about Arseny Tarkovsky, because it isn’t covered in their course and study notes. If a child knows something, you realize that this is likely to be as a result of their family. And an experimental school is when the whole class recites by heart some pieces of a poem, and suddenly you understand that they can teach you more than you can teach them. Then you realize that you're dealing with something unusual. It is quite possible.
I would say that the standard Soviet system of pedagogy in the majority of upper secondary schools in Moscow requires high cultural knowledge in the academic sphere. And so their life is imbued with classical forms of immersion in the world of Russian culture.
– But in reality they don’t belong to it...
No, they don’t. But these are some of the cultural requirements of an intelligent mind, which also are important. In such an environment you can perform a very special type of work. In school № 1314 cultural development of the subject is not that important, but there are teachers with high requirements for powerful thought and intellectual work. There is the sense of absolute trust in the conversations held with each other. We must understand that there is no communication between children and adults in normal lessons. So when I say "Tell me about it", it is not an order, it’s a form of working activity rather than a communicative situation.
Schools where the children have meaningful conversations in the presence of a teacher because they are interested in the topic are a very rare. School №1314 is different in this way. There is this special confidential atmosphere created by this thinking.
– You mentioned the training expeditions for children's. Tell me, what is this form of work and how did it come about?
The idea came up to me and Olga Glazunova in 1994-95 through collaboration with one of the districts of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District – it is a compact residential place filled with Khanty, Mansi and Zyryan people. 80% of the territory has no transportation. But there was a good cultural– anthropological school, where educational content was in the form of interaction and cultural exchange between different nationalities that lived there. It was built in such a way that it broke the class-lesson system. Every subject was alive; it was worked out based on specific cultural grounds. They created amazing things. And we decided that it would be great to take our Moscow children there and together with the local children, travel to their sacred spaces. We believe that children in Russia should be able to understand and enter into an intercultural and inter-civilizational communication. This should be the content of the standard Russian education, especially for Muscovites, because modern Moscow children do not understand how this capital is different from other cities. Metropolitan children must understand, see, and feel all the ethnic diversity of Russia. It is a great opportunity, it is a great gift.
We organized two unique expeditions, including the one where we, together with the Khanty children, sailed a boat along the route of their sacred goddess. We have touched some iconic forms of life that the Khanty people were trying to restore after Soviet secularization. At Yuilsk, our end point, we played a micro-game with Russian and local children and adults in which we discussed how meaningful it is for the Khanty people to live within Russian civilization. It was a tough discussion, after which the Khanty people showed us the most sacred things that they have never shown to anyone before. They were associated with the bear festivals.
After that we made four expeditions to Lake Baikal. Three of them to the territory of the Cis-Baikal, which was settled by both immigrants from Russia and the Western Buryat tribes of Mongolia in the second half of XVII century – the beginning of the XVIII century, I organized myself. It is a unique place of long cohabitation between Russians and Buryats. One expedition to Tunkinskaya Valley (2002) was associated with an attempt to understand the Buryat Buddhist world. Two other expeditions to the Oka region of Buryatia (2003) and Mondy village, on the border with Mongolia (2004), focused on what happens to Russian culture and the Russian population in the area today. The last expedition was aimed at the development of project proposals for local authorities to develop the territory.
Another expedition in 2010 was held in the Crimea, in the outskirts of Simferopol and Sevastopol. This expedition was devoted to cultural and economic relations of the Crimea and Russia in the past and present.
– What kind of children do you take with you on expeditions and how do you organize them?
All expeditions to Lake Baikal were organized by the children of school № 1314. In the Crimean expeditions there were children from four Moscow schools. Children come up with their own topics that they explore within the general theme framework. During the expedition they are divided into groups by topic and each group has a team manager. Each day starts with planning who will do what. We build a camp in a specially chosen place, so that we can easily get to the villages and other places where we need to be according to our plan. Children with their team manager go to the houses of locals – to the shaman, for example, or someone else, or they go somewhere by bus ... In the evening we gather together and comment on what we have done, what we haven’t done, and discuss the next steps.
– What do such expeditions give to the children?
Expedition is a period of mildly planned events. It is clear that I can organize a meeting with the shaman, but I never know what will happen at this meeting. I do not have to tell the children what exactly will be told to them or will happen. This is anti-lessons. And this is the uniqueness of such a form of education.
Once we were out walking and suddenly we saw a house – it was a normal cottage, but with an Orthodox cross. It turned out to be a former Russian settlement, where only three old ladies lived now. They were maintaining the Orthodox prayer home. These old ladies were sent there by the government in 1957 after they graduated from the institute. At that time a lot of graduates of social institutions came to work there: teachers, doctors, and other municipal employees. Young people went to Siberia and the Far East after graduation, and now they are the most respected people in the village. One of the old ladies has taught all the children in the Buryat School, she has raised three generations of villagers. So she is the bearer of Russian culture. And our children suddenly realized that at that time Russian people performed the function of bringing science and education to all people of the country, giving access to the minimum benefits of civilization, and now see its mission in preserving and maintaining the Orthodox Church in the area. It was impossible to foretell what will happen, but as soon as that happens, I just can make it a theme for their thinking and self-determination – what happens to the Russian mission in that territory.
The basic level of education is when a child from the capital experiences the difficulty and understanding of the world, which is different in social, cultural and everyday life. You kind of snap out of your everyday urban life by living in a tent, having to knock at someone’s door, walking, submitting to another rhythm of life and other landscapes. You meet a person who prays to the river every morning for some reason. You must answer – what is he doing? On the other hand, you see the crumbling condition of the infrastructure, you see people drinking too much. It is also very important to answer the question of what is happening and why.
The expedition gives the opportunity to have this experience, understand and fix your position in relation to what you see with your own eyes. I believe the child gets some much-needed level of personal formation, which they would never be able to get in Moscow. They should pass this test. And when a Buryat says: "You, Russians are actually destroying us", they should be able to respond.
Children should be educated to a high level of meaningful interfaith understanding of the difference between Orthodox and Buddhist cultures, to a more sophisticated understanding of the mission and role of the Russian people to other nations.
But ultimately it awakens us to the fact that we should immediately design and start some projects for this area. So you're not just going through the motions, but you also come up with some project that you immediately discuss with the locals. But for me the most important thing is spiritual meaning of meetings with the different things, which I stage for children. Maybe I'm wrong, I’m still thinking.
– All that we now discuss is either about the present, or about the past. How do you see the development of this work in the future?
I want to formalize this work and then describe it all. The entire series of expeditions is called "Borders of the Russian world". These expeditions are held in different remote parts where the Russian population is, in fact I’m starting to feel like the border guards. It is not necessarily related to the graphic boundaries – it can take place both inside Russia and even somewhere in Paris among Russian immigrants. I would like to take different types of places on the frontier and use the same logic, common units of educational content of the work with children. And ultimately I would like to try to fix it all and create a book with recommendations for others who want to make similar expeditions with children. I’m planning to do another 10 missions. The difficulty is that we are working with a 10th grader who, two years later, becomes a student and I have to look for other 10th graders. It would be wonderful if I could go on all these expeditions with the same children. But it’s impossible. So only I go on all of them.
My other goal is to develop and describe the course of meta-subject for historical memory. And the third goal is to add socio-political self-determination of the child in relation to the surrounding world into an informal school work. This is perhaps the most difficult task, because, in my opinion, school has now become even more totalitarian dependent than in the Soviet Union. There is a stupid situation regarding the spiritual destruction of civic identity in children. We must do something about it. Here it is necessary in addition to aiding purely psychological development, which we already have, to carry out a political action. However it’s unclear how to make it under the current conditions. It's more the youth policy of education which also probably needs to be changed.
Photos are from Andrey Andryushkov archive.