This article originally appeared on a new site about Christian revival in Russia, called Russian Faith. Their presentation video can be found at the end of this article.
Given that Russia has so quickly become the world’s official bulwark of conservative values, it’s quite surprising that it has consistently fallen behind in one obvious area: homeschooling.
For most Russians, homeschooling has always been shrouded in a fantasy aura, something associated primarily with special needs and/or Amish-type Protestant groups in America.
But lately, as more and more Russian Christian families are gaining voice, energized by growing state support and heightened societal religiosity, demand for alternatives to the formal public school system, corrupted by materialism and Darwinism under the Soviet regime and now by liberal values, has become more popular and apparent.
A new film by Alexey Komov about the disastrous consequences of Soros-funded education reform in 1990s Russia based on the American model, the problems of American school systems and how homeschooling presents a solution to crisis. A Russian version of the film can be found here, along with a full transcript (in Russian).
More and more Russian parents are frightened and reluctant to entrust the education of their child to the hands of strangers, realizing that in doing so they are also giving up the moral education of their own child and allowing him to inculcate himself morals and values. it can be completely foreign.
This is where Alexey Komov and Irina Shamolina, the pioneers of homeschooling in Russia, come in. The Russian couple, passionate about education, homeschools their three sons. Irina runs a popular blog on education, and Alexey is the representative of the World Congress of Families in Russia. Both are fascinated by homeschooling and have studied it intensely since 2012. Over time, they came to the belief that homeschooling options are urgently needed in Russia.
They traveled regularly to the United States, which has the most developed home schooling systems in the world, trying to discover and learn about the country’s bustling Christian home schooling scene.
They eventually settled on Classical Conversations, a Christian home-schooling organization started in the 1990s by Leigh Bortins in North Carolina. The model creates communities of home-schooled Christian families that meet weekly and aims to teach children in a conventional way. It is based on pedagogical theories drawn from ancient Greece and the Trivium concept from the Middle Ages.
Thus, the child is homeschooled for most of the week, and the parents nurture and teach their own child within their intimate family circle. However, this system also addresses the child’s need…and the parents’ often overlooked need…for socialization and community with like-minded people with weekly get-togethers. These also always begin with prayer and provide children with skills that parents may not be able to develop in children alone.
Aleksey Komov and Irina Shamolina adopted the existing Christian homeschool curriculum and translated the resources. They also worked to adapt the program to a Russian Orthodox perspective, making it relevant to Russian culture and reality.
They found American supporters and, together with other Russian enthusiasts, helped them create an absolutely stunning website.
The program launched this fall has 27 cities and 370 children – in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It has met with unexpectedly strong interest and seems to be becoming a movement among Russian Christians.
Importantly, the Classical Conversations in Russia also immediately received extremely enthusiastic support from one of Russia’s most famous priests, Fr. Dmitry Smirnov. Prof. Dmitry is incredibly popular and has a huge following, perhaps bigger than any other religious figure in Russia. He is also the head of the Family Department of the Russian Church.
Public education happens to be Fr. Dmitry’s pet peeve and he advocates home schooling in many of his sermons. He is convinced that school corrupts the child’s mind and is a highly artificial, unnatural and destructive environment for growing children. He insists that the ideal environment for the child is the home, full of siblings and full of love and faith.
Prof. Dmitry devoted one of his interviews on his very popular blog to Classical Conversations, interviewing the American founders, as well as the Russian founders. Naturally, as a result, many members of his fan base decided to give home schooling a try.
The movement is gaining momentum every month.
According to the founders of Classical Conversations: “We are above all a community of families. In other words, the idea is that family units, working together, support each other emotionally and spiritually in their lives and in service to God.
This position echoes the concern of modern Russia to strengthen and rebuild family units; both to counter a demographic crisis and to lead a life more in keeping with the morals of a Christian society.
The idea of community is also particularly appealing to the Russian traditionalist, as Russian culture and religion highly value ‘community’, often even above the sacred Western value of ‘individualism’.
Families meet for group lessons every week. Every meeting starts with a prayer and parents are required to come, simply because the pattern of classic conversations creates a truly wonderful support system, not only for children, but also for parents.
Parents involved in Classic Conversations also have the opportunity to attend free three-day workshops, which aim to help them become better teachers of their own children, developing them on the most difficult topics and giving them practical strategies.
The philosophy of the Classic Conversations emphasizes family education as a system where God is at the center of the family and the community.
The classic education model breaks schooling down into 3 major phases.
- The first, called ‘grammar’, refers to teaching students the skills needed to learn and retain information (knowledge).
- The second stage, Dialectic, refers to the analysis of information and the transfer of skills between subjects (comprehension)
- the third, the most sophisticated, refers to the use, presentation and sharing of knowledge with others as well as the service of self-truth (wisdom).
Emphasis is placed on presentation skills throughout the program, as sharing knowledge and learning the proper presentation of information is considered essential to education.
Overall, homeschooling has found a new home. And it has every potential to thrive in contemporary Russia, which may offer the most fertile ground in the world today for a system that supports Christianity, community and family.
A video presenting the Russian faith