“I just tried to stay honest with myself,” says Maria Andreeva (names in this article have been changed to keep their privacy). She is a social studies teacher from Russia who risked her career while pushing back against the Russian government’s official stance on the war in Ukraine. Simply calling the “special military operation” a war ended up with her being forced to leave her job.
This school year, Russia’s Ministry of Education has introduced a new course that intends to promote patriotism in students. The official Telegram channel of the Ministry of Education states that “these classes educate the kids about the current world situation and cultivate patriotism.” However, the class has not always been welcomed, with some parents and teachers keep actively confronting it.
According to the Russian Ministry of Education starting September 2022, every Monday will begin with patriotic classes for all students along with raising the national flag and singing the Russian national anthem. The classes are called “Important Talks,” and their main goal is to implant the love of motherland and persuade the children to support what the course characterizes as saving the Ukrainian population of Donetsk and Luhansk regions from fascism and nazism.
The teaching instructions, posted on the Important Talks platform, describe patriotism as being “the most prioritized moral value” in the lives of young people and explains how young people can sign up to become a volunteer in Russia’s war effort.
However, teachers such as Andreeva are avoiding these topics, trying to pick the most uncontroversial ones on the platform, such as national holidays and family values.
She says that what is most important to her is the responsibility teachers have of helping the new generation grow, and that they “should be able to make their own decisions instead of blindly following propaganda and trying to adapt to the new ‘inevitable realities’.”
Some teachers who support the idea of raising patriotism among young people are still dissatisfied. “No orders from above, no perks, no freedom,” states Mr. Tretyakov, a geography teacher.
There are supposed to be around 34 classes in a school year but none of them are paid because they are a part of extracurricular activities which are normally done for free. Teachers were never guided about the new course’s structure, Andreeva says, except the clear absence of rights to tell the truth.
She also shared how the school officials are instead highly encouraging their students to donate food and clothes to Ukrainians whose houses were destroyed after Russian bombardment.
“Teachers’ Alliance” is a union that consists of teachers from schools and kindergartens from every region of Russia. According to Meduza, one of their social media accounts published some templates that suggest how teachers might answer the kids’ questions about the war instead of the ones that the Ministry of Education offered in the teaching instructions, which were full of such ideas like “Ukranian Nazism,” “American Biolaboratories,” “Our Wise President” and “the Kyiv Regime.”
After much public criticism of the government’s topics, they were removed.
Teachers were also encouraged to remind parents that the class was optional. “It is not a mandatory class,” the union material said, so parents are free to decide themselves if their kids should attend it or not. However, that situation didn’t last long. On November 5, the government made the Important Talks mandatory for all students around Russia to attend.
About a month after the classes started, the pressure from parents and teachers made the government change the course’s outline. All mentions of the special military operation were removed. The next day, the teachers union reported about new upcoming pro-war sessions for Russian students. Even though people started to notice changes they were aiming for, they keep being very cautious in terms of other newly immersed extracurricular activities for Russian students.
On top of being patriotic, the sessions also may to be illegal. Critics say even discussions of the most banal topics in the course always contain ideological ideas and refer to Article 48 of the Educational Decree of The Russian Federation which states “Educators are prohibited from using educational activities for political campaigning.”
When Maria Andreeva tried to express such thoughts on the topic such as “war is evil” and “Putin has no right to attack another government for the fake reasons,” she was asked to leave her workplace.
After she refused to do so, she said that the principal blackmailed her, saying “either you’re resigning now or I will fire you without any future prospects of becoming a teacher again.”
After suing the school officials she got compensation with a right to return to her job, shares Ms. Andreeva.
But Ms. Andreeva had already had enough.
“I have never been trained how to love my mom, so I am also refusing to teach my students to love their country by any means,” says Ms. Andreeva, leaving her teaching career forever.