7 TAKING POINTS - HOW TO STUDY HISTORY IN SCHOO
This article written by Presidential Aid, Vladimir Medinsky invites our readers to discuss the problems and topics that have caused in recent years contradictions in society.
A quick insight into the history of history. The ancients had it pretty simple. They thought the will of the gods was the primary cause of any historical process. They were the ones to control the actions of people, the prosperity and the decline of empires, people were non-independent tools in their hands. Only during the era of Enlightenment the focus shifted to human affairs.
Historians of the modern period started not only describing the past, but also identifying the patterns of historical development, giving instructions to the present and predicting the future. But let's give credit where credit’s due - Marx and Engels did the most convincing job.
The Marxist theory, among other things, established clear criteria for historical assessments. For example, the French Revolution is a blessing because it drives development. Louis XVI was a kind, but a conservative man: he sought to maintain outmoded social relations. So, naturally he died by the guillotine. Robespierre, Marat – they weren’t kind people, they were ideologists of mass terror, yet they were progressive, because they managed to speed up the evolution of history and lead it to a brighter future. That’s why people erect monuments in their honor, name streets after them.
Marxism has captured the minds of half of the world ... but the historical materialism has sunk into oblivion with the collapse of the USSR.
What have we got instead?
Nothing. Hollowness. At best, we’ve got different variations of the theory of "modernization", the interpretation of history as an individual’s movement from the lack of freedom to freedom. Moreover, to freedom in its broad interpretation. From protecting minority freedoms and rights to “freedom” of gender choice and same-sex marriage. From the freedom and rights of people with different skin colors - to robberies and riots by the “descendants of the oppressed”, to the demolition of monuments and desecration of cultural heritage.
From freedom of conscience to dancing in temples. Freedom from "Russian imperial oppression", imposed on a painful infatuation with certain national peculiarities, led to the situation with Ukraine and the Baltic states, and now Belarus is probably going to face the same problems.
Nature does not tolerate hollowness – that’s why instead of historical materialism we ended up with primitive “historical libertarianism” - a sort of ideological basis for the gradual reduction of Russia to the status of a raw materials-based colony of “regional significance”, deprived of both its history and the right to vote in the present.
What do we suggest? I will say upfront – it’s not a worked out thoroughly theory. But it’s a certain doctrine, a system of views and beliefs – how we should look at the historical process, how we should study and teach the history of our native country, how we should relate it to the world’s history.
First of all, let’s talk about historical politics as part of state politics.
The concept described by the Greek word "politics" affects all spheres of society and manifests itself in everything, including the attitude of the state and society towards its history.
It is so, whether we admit it or not.
We will never get confused in our "testimonies".
Let me remind you that ten years ago the phrase “cultural policy” caused bewilderment or even resentment among some. Today the "Fundamentals of State Cultural Policy" is the basic sectoral document signed by the President. Just as the defense of the historical truth, the heroic deed of the people, the veneration of historical memory, historical policy is now also enshrined in amendments to the Constitution.
In fact, the concept of state historical policy is even broader, it is an integral part of the sovereign policy of the state, both foreign and domestic. That’s where the second taking point emerges.
About the importance of "historical sovereignty."
Historical policy is directly related to our ability to independently interpret our own history and path of development. Or to our failure - in the absence of historical sovereignty.
For example, the United States has been interpreting its vision of world history since its inception and intrusively spreading it by all possible means - both by using the "soft" and the most rigid force. The United States does not have to fight against the falsifications of history, like we do. It shamelessly imposes its outlook on history - everywhere and in every possible way. From Facebook to Hollywood, from the White House Twitter and Sorosis textbooks to their babbling vassals: MEPs, politicians of the "limitrophe" states and others.
Therefore, I would actually propose to stop combating "falsifications". We have to stop making excuses - we need to attack, to push our point of view. It’s way easier for us, than for our “opponents”. We always tell the truth, that’s why we never get caught up in our own lies, in our "testimonies". We don’t need to check with the latest “guidelines from the center” to back up our outlook on history. We only rely on facts, figures, chronicles and archival documents. We rely only on historical truth. And we believe in what we do.
We understand that today the “fight for history” is just part of the competitive battle of states, a routine, propaganda, carried out deliberately.
But I also want to stress something else here - the stable historical consciousness of nations can be achieved only through objective historical knowledge. That’s why the third taking point is so important.
About objective assessments in history.
There have always been and will be disputes and discussions about this or that persona, about certain events in history. There’s nothing wrong about it. What is wrong is leaving someone or something out of historical memory, thoughtlessly praising or criticizing. Giving assessments, exclusively on the basis of our today's ideas of good and evil, morality and law. Judging yesterday's leaders, while knowing the results and consequences of their actions.
Simply put, one shouldn’t compare Ivan the Terrible with Mahatma Gandhi and Princess Diana. They lived in different universes. They should be compared with their contemporaries: for example, Ivan the Terrible should be compared with Henry VIII and the actors of St. Bartholomew's Night.
In fact, one should only judge by the laws and concepts of that time, striving to recreate history. What made the historical figure take this or that step? Under what circumstances? How did his contemporaries act under the same circumstances? It’s the only way we’ll be able to understand how our ancestors thought and why they did what they did.
In this case, we’ll be able to look at their deeds in a totally different way, with greater understanding. No doubt. Moreover, we will definitely start seeing them in a more positive way.
Therefore, the next, fourth thesis is about positive history.
Russian historical science emerged as a critical and instructive science. But it’s impossible not to notice that all Russian historians starting from Nestor, Lomonosov, Karamzin, Pushkin to Klyuchevsky, Solovyov, Tarle and Rybakov - they all prioritized not just the detached "surgical interest" or the desire to "learn their lesson", but also to love their own past.
Such history, written with a sense of belonging to the affairs of its fellow tribesmen, with "love for its smoldering ruins, its fatherly graves" – has always been perceived positively. With respect to its country, with its strength and talents.
Positive history makes it possible to judge the past (both good and bad), based on the sense of belonging to your loved ones, relatives, compatriots.
You’ll say: "Ok, we get the reasons we can be proud of, but what about those we cannot be proud of?" The answer is simple: history must be honest. Especially when it comes to analyzing its dark periods. Let me give you a clear example.
I don’t think that the information given about the repression of the 1930s in a school textbook is enough. We have to go deeper. We have to show that it was not simply generated by the regime, it derived from the system created by Lenin and Stalin.
You have to understand this in order to exclude even the theoretical possibility of reconstructing such a system.
At the same time, it is very important to stress, and this is our fifth taking point - historical continuity.
Our history is unique and continuous, there cannot be any unnecessary figures and missing links that are hushed up in accordance with the political situation.
We have no right to rip out pages from our history textbooks, from our memory. For the denial of our past is one hundred percent guarantee that we will repeat our mistakes.
Our history is great, voluminous and continuous.
Modern Russia is the successor of the USSR in exactly the same way as Soviet Russia is the successor of the empire, and that, in turn, of the Muscovite state and ancient Novgorod-Kiev and Vladimir Rus.
And this continuous history must be studied, and not only to praise something or criticize, but to understand. I will repeat it again – it is important to understand the motivation, the logic of the actions of our ancestors.
It’s very important.
Sixth taking point (hereinafter we will talk about teaching history at schools and universities). About "synchronous history".
The traditional approach to teaching history at school - from ancient times and gradually up to modern days, isolating our history from the worlds history – has flaws. It's like studying the geography of our country with its own globe, separately, without considering the rest of the planet... Until we get to Moscow and present times, we have already forgotten about the rest of the world with similar nature, climate, rivers and lakes, winter and summer - and similar patterns of the existence of the animal and plant world.
The current attempts at the next reform of teaching - the vagaries from a "linear" to a "concentric" system of presenting the material and vice versa – don’t do much good. Each of these approaches has exactly as many advantages as disadvantages. The main goal is completely different.
These stated taking points are not dogma.
We have to let go of Euro- and Moscow-centricity in teaching history, we should teach the history of our Fatherland, constantly comparing it with the world’s history, showing what was happening at that time in Russia, in Europe, and in the East.
This way of studying history (I wrote about it many years ago in "Myths about Russia") will allow us, without varnishing the past, not to give rise to new Chaadaevism – a flawed sense of our own historical inferiority, the syndrome of “lagging behind the civilized the world".
It’s the only way we’ll be able to approach the next most important mission.
Seventh taking point. How to raise a complex person at school.
A simple mechanical extension of history lessons hours at school, as well as the introduction of the Unified State Exam, the Basic State Exam, and the return to the "linear system" for the umpteenth time - as they say, these are all details. Obviously, for our children to grow up as responsible citizens of a great country, they shouldn’t just only memorize the correct answers for the exam.
I’m not offering an out-of-the-box solution here, but I can see that we desperately need one. And it’s going to be a difficult one. We’ll have to raise not a "tin soldier" kind of student, but a complex person.
A person that is able to think not in a binary system kind of way (I’m talking about multiple choice answers - yes / no). His education shouldn’t be based on the glorification and mockery of the past. But on understanding and acceptance. On his own answers to the questions: why and how did this happen? Under what circumstances and why did my ancestors act that way? What did they think about? What did they believe in? Where did they make a mistake? In what ways were they better than us? And in what way should we take an example from them?
Such comprehension of the past will give us a vision of the future based on our basic values: freedom and independence, sovereignty and integrity of our land, memory of the heroic work of our predecessors, reliance on the millennial culture and tradition of Russian statehood.
And I’d specifically like to stress that we should treat process of teaching history at school with more respect. We should form a standard of teaching history (nowadays every school has one), select the best textbooks (nowadays we only have 3 or 4 worthy educational publishers, but I think that’s enough).
We should free the teacher from endless bureaucratic accountability, allow the school maximum freedom in choosing the form, that it considers best to more effectively transfer knowledge to children.
Let the teacher and the school principal decide what is better to teach in a classroom, what should be taught at an interclass conference, what to tell the children when visiting a museum, an art gallery, and when it is better to show them a historical movie or a play. After all, there isn’t a school subject more interesting than history! So let’s make it so that not only we, parents, but also our children, students of pedagogical institutions, and teachers themselves think so.
Of course, all these taking points may look like a doctrine – but it’s not dogma at all. And not even a guide to action. It’s an invitation to a discussion for everyone who is not indifferent to our past, and therefore to our present and future.