Cartea lui E. Thomas Ewing, Teachers of Stalinism, Policy, Practice, and Power in Soviet Schools of the 1930s (P. Lang, 2002) este o carte fundamentală pentru cititorii interesaţi de istoria regimului şi societăţii sovietice în anii 1930, nu doar pentru cei interesaţi de istoria educaţiei sovietice.
Autorul cărţii face o analiză echilibrată şi impresionant documentată (cu surse de arhivă, presă periodică şi interviurile aşa-numitului Proiect de la Harvard din anii 1950) a evoluţiei populaţiei şi statutului învăţătorilor din şcolile primare şi secundare din URSS într-o perioadă fondatoare a regimului sovietic (cea care începe cu „revoluţia culturală” din primul cincinal (1928-1932/33) şi se încheie cu 1940). Ewing ne spune, în fond, că provocările cu care s-a confruntat statul sovietic în punerea în aplicare a învăţămîntului primar universal obligatoriu (decretat în 1930) au fost asemănătoare cu cele ale statelor occidentale în secolul 19- înc. sec. 20, doar că în cazul URSS acest proces a fost unul mult mai dur şi resimţit mai dureros de către populaţia civilă întrucît şcolarizarea de masă s-a desfăşurat aici în termeni de urgenţă, cu eforturi, dar şi cu forţe de coerciţie extraordinare asupra învăţătorilor şi a populaţiei civile (mai ales a celei rurale, cea mai reticentă la şcolarizare şi la modernizare - în formulă sovietică). Asemeni colectivizării şi industrializării forţate (desfăşurate în acelaşi timp), răspîndirea învăţămîntului de masă s-a defăşurat ca un proiect „ultra-modernist” („high modernist” – J. C. Scott), planificat de către statul sovietic, în general neglijînd insuficienţa resurselor, a infrastructurii şi a personalului şcolar.
Învăţătorii aveau un statut dublu vulnerabil: faţă de populaţia locală, care îşi manifesta deseori ostilitatea faţă de ei (fiind văzuţi, nu fără dreptate, drept agenţi ai puterii sovietice), pe de altă parte faţă de oficialii locali, care nu rareori le subminau autoritatea (învăţătorii erau cel mai adesea tineri şi femei, ceea ce le accentua vulnerabilitatea). Totuşi, aşa cum demonstrează Ewing, învăţătorul şi-a asumat, de voie sau nevoie, un rol de mediator între reprezentanţii puterii şi comunităţile locale, încercînd să uzeze de competenţe de comunicare şi strategii de acomodare în ambele sensuri pentru a remedia o relaţie altminteri foarte dificilă între puterea sovietică şi populaţia civilă, în contextul foarte tensionat al primului cincinal şi în anii care i-au urmat. Este interesant, de asemenea, că spre mijlocul şi sfîrşitul anilor 1930, populaţia rurală din URSS a recunoscut tot mai mult instituţia şcolară, împreună cu rolul învăţătorului în sînul comunităţii lor. Aceasta o face pe Sh. Fitzpatrick să afirme că şcolarizarea de masă a devenit unul din proiectele sovietice cele mai populare, în ciuda rezistenţei pe care acest proiect o stîrneşte la început, pe parcursul primului cincinal, în sînul populaţiei rurale.
Capitole importante din carte se referă la modul în care a evoluat conţinutul şi metodologia activităţii didactice. După un avînt revoluţionar din anii 1920, în care s-a încercat abolirea relaţiei de putere dintre învăţător şi elev, oficialii Ministerului învăţămîntului (Narkompros) din URSS restabilesc, odată cu începutul anilor 1930, relaţia de autoritate tradiţională din cadrul activităţii şcolare, conţinutul şi structura curriculumului şcolar şi totodată manifestă o preocupare crescîndă pentru respectarea disciplinei în şcoli.
În cele din urmă, şcoala sovietică din perioda sovietică tîrzie nu s-a schimbat foarte mult faţă de cea de la sfîrşitul anilor 1930 . Tensiunile şi conflictele din sînul şcolii sovietice au diminuat însă foarte tare în perioadele care au urmat celui de al doilea război mondial. Din acel moment putem vorbi de o consolidare a ceea ce P. Bourdieu a numit „autoritatea pedagogică” a statului (sovietic) vizavi de comunităţile locale.
Iată cîteva citate din carte:
In 1931, the Communist Party Central Committee repudiated a decade of experimentation by calling for a return to classroom-based instruction with a standardized curriculum, stable textbooks, regular examinations, and competitive grading. (...) Whether teachers chose this approach because of proven effectiveness or because of the limits of their training, they contributed, however inadvertently to the consolidation of structures and relations necessary for maintaining this dictatorship. (8)
Lenin called on all teachers to work "for the victory of socialism". Lenin's successor, Stalin, declared that education was "a weapon," and then added: "the force of which depends on who possesses it and against whom it is to be struck." (8)
Defining schools as "weapons" made teachers into both the instruments and the victims of repressive power. (8)
The number of teachers directly affected by state repression was always a small proportion of the overall profession. Yet state repression had far more profound indirect effects by heightening a sense of vulnerability, compounding the stultifying effects of censorship and propaganda, and, more, importantly, coercing teachers into believing that their best hope for self-protection would be found in enforcing the new authoritarianism. (9)
As teachers recognized, often white painfully, their location between the "outside" world and the peasant community [in late Tsarist Russia], their vulnerability to the arbitrary authority of state and church officials, their economically impoverished and culturally deprived status, and, for women teachers, their subordinate position in the patriarchal village were real obstacles to acquiring authority of state among the peasant masses. (19)
By the late 1920s, teachers were thus left with an ambiguous legacy, in which the activism of visible minority, which had been initially suppressed [after 1905 Revolution] but now was encouraged by government authorities, was accompanied by broader patterns of conformity, dependency, and vulnerability. (19)
Like the incident involving teacher Antonov, but in far more violent terms, the attempted murder of Sokolova illustrated the vulnerability of rural teachers on the school front. The brutality of this attack was consistent with brutality of life in Soviet villages, as the state unleashed a virtual war upon the peasantry, beginning with escalating repression of kulaks, intensifying with grain procurements and collectivization campaigns, and culminating in draconian measures to control food supplies at a time of widespread famine. (21)
(...) teachers’ vulnerability to both opponents and agents of Soviet power. (27)
The sexual harassment of women teachers was thus part of a broader pattern of suspicion, resistance, and outright hostility toward women who exceeded traditionally defined gender boundaries within the peasant community. (34)
Many teachers were accused of refusing to take sides in the bitter struggle between Soviet regime and its opponents. (45)
Western historians have recognised the difficult position of rural teachers between state and society, vulnerable to both anti-Soviet peasants and the agents od Spviet power: Lynne Viola suggests that "most teachers were apolitical and simply attempted to do the best they could under difficult circumstances"; Holmes concludes that "teachers were victimized by the public as well as by local officials" and were both participants and victims of a brutalization of life" during collectivisation; Fitzpatrick agues that rural teachers lived "a difficult and precarious life" in their "ambiguous position between Spviet power and a resentful peasantry"; and Johnson refers to "the increasingly desperate position" of rural teachers. (...) In addition to recognising this vulnerability, this study also calls attention to teachers' purposeful actions within the constraints of their positions. While the Soviet term of "neutrality" implied passive refusal to take part in a conflict with only two possible sides, the concept of "mediator" is a more useful way to understand the active engagement of knowledgeable actors as the conjuncture of multiple structures of opportunity and constraint. (48)
The duality inherent in teaches' role also suggests that gender shaped identities. While this study presents numerous examples of women teachers harassed and abused by male peasants and officials, it is also important to recognize how teachers' identities were gendered, that is, constructed in ways that correspond to, reaffirmed, and thus were strengthened by culturally defined differences between men and women. By acting as mediators in ways that allowed for meaningful engagement even within the constraints of their multiple vulnerabilities, Soviet teachers behaved in a manner culturally defined as "feminine." (49)
(...) universal education offered teachers a more proactive role, and thus a more secure position, in the "revolution from above". By assuming a central role in the most effective and popular campaign of the First Year Plan, teachers participated actively in the Stalinist transformation of Soviet society (55).
According to a contemporary, Lenin firmly believed that "public education meant revolution and revolution - public education." (56)
Each step toward universal education made the state into a more intrusive presence and pervasive force by bringing people into direct contact, and even confrontation, with the agents of Soviet power. The counting of school-age children, the first step toward universal enrollment, illustrated the political dimension of this campaign. While ostensibly intended to determine the number eligible for schooling, the call to "expose" such children connected this campaign to broader efforts to classify and control individuals. (61)
In rural regions, Soviet officials demanded that all homes confiscated from kulaks, priests, and noblemen be converted to schools. (61)
While demanding "liquidation of kulaks as class" in political and economic terms, therefore, the Central Committee seemed to recognize mass education as a way to reintegrate children of "class aliens" into the dominant system. (63)
While resistance to schooling never attained the level of peasant opposition to collectivization, the fact that mass education was often greeted with doubts, suspicion, and even hostility provided important insights into developing relationship between state and society in the early Stalinist era. (64)
Resistance to mass education thus revealed broader conflicts between indigenous traditions and centralized power. (64)
The most emphatic statements of resistance, however, revealed deep fears about authority within families and communities. (...) (65)
The universal education campaign occurred during dekulakization and collectivization, which provoked the most widespread, sustained, and significant resistance to state power in the entire Soviet period. Resistance to mass schooling was undoubtedly reinforced by broader fears about state efforts to destroy community values, elites, and relationships. (66)
Parents and children came to accept Soviet schools because they promised some improvement in the lives of individuals and communities. This process of building support for mass education did not happen automatically, but depended upon ability of teachers to serve as mediators between the values of the community and the structures of the Soviet system. (66)
The expansion of secondary education did not encounter, or provoke, the same conflicts and disruptions as did the campaign for universal elementary education. Whereas elementary school expansion threatened to disrupt broader relations between state and community by enrolling all children in established schools, in many cases fort the first time, the process of encouraging and even compelling pupils who were completing the fourth-grade to continue to the next level did not pose the same challenge to established elites and traditional values. (72)
According to historian Fitzpatrick, efforts to expand rural schooling in the late 1920s met with considerable opposition from peasants suspicious of any extension of Soviet power. Over the next decade, however, these attitudes changed dramatically, leading Fitzpatrick to conclude that widespread enthusiasm for education was "the rare example from the 1930s of wholehearted adoption by most adult peasants of a key component of Soviet ideology". (79)
Whereas dekulakization accentuated divisions within the peasant community by marginalizing anc eliminating certain groups, universal education was a far more inclusive and conciliatory process. (80)
According to Soviet figures, teachers earned more than collective farm employees, about the same as urban workers, and less than engineers or managers. (89)
Soviet officials expected that "rejuvenation" (omolozheniia) and "renewal" (obnovlenie) among teachers would transform schools into pillars of the socialist system. (Nota) At the same time, these same officials expressed concern about "tens of thousands of new people" flooding into schools (...)" (123)
On paper, Soviet educational policy in the 1930s actually precluded discrimination based on social origins, as well as nationality and gender. In practice, however, the treatment of teachers based in social origins depended a great deal on the assumptions, agendas, and ambitions of those in power at the local level, on the one hand, and on a broader dynamic of uncertainty, anxiety and intolerance characteristic of the 1930s, on the other. (132)
Stalinist repression depended on sets of relational, rather than absolute, constructions. The power to determine when and how family background mattered was just one of the ways in which a repressive system defined and exploited personal and professional vulnerability. (139)
During the "cultural revolution", from 1928 through early 1931, this radical call for total experimentation was embraced by a few teachers (...). But radicals' inflammatory rhetoric tended to alarm and even alienate teachers, parents, and local officials. (154)
Subjects central to the "polytechnical school" of the 1920s, such as political economy, technology, and labor, were eliminated. Over the course of the decade, therefore, the Soviet curriculum increasingly resembled that of the prerevolutionary school, except where communist instruction took the place of religious study. (158)
Teachers who “allowed” too many pupils repeatd a grade could be punished. (174) (…) Teachers who did not have any failing pupils, by contrast, received lavish praise and material rewards. (174)
(…) Soviet teachers thus came to recognize the delicate balance between what was expected, what was possible, and what had to be made up. (176)
[September 1935: CC decree:] „On the organization of instructional work, and internal order in elementary, incomplete secondary, and secondary schools.” (196)
In some cases, teachers’ enthusiasm for establishing discipline exceeded norms set by authorities. The Siberian teacher who promised to campaign for „iron discipline” was criticized for misunderstanding the meaning of „conscious discipline,” while those who demanded that police officers be stationed in schools were accused of abdicating their own responsibility for maintaining order. (199)
The striking similarity between teachers’ views and policies enacted by political leaders suggests that the convergence of influences „from above” and „from below” directly contributed to the construction of authoritarian relations in the Soviet school of the 1930s. (199)
In place of physical punishment therefore, officials and teachers looked for strategies that reduced the visibility of the mechanisms and agents of control while making individual students into objects of total surveillance [cf. Foucault] (207).
[During the Great Purges of 1937-38] teachers were made vulnerable not only by their family origins, but also by the actions of their family members. (232)
The most extreme applications of the principle of “guilt by association” were the so-called “black lists” of teachers to be dismissed exclusively because of their personal relations. In late 1937, the Moscow educational department placed almost 600 teachers on such a list. (233)
In terms of the relative impact of the terror, however, teachers appear to have been less victimized than other social groups.
A former teacher offered this striking warning: “In order to avoid every unpleasantness and trouble with the secret police, I would advise a young person to keep his mouth shut, not to say anything unnecessary, to be less active and more passive.” Recalling that colleagues “never spoke about political matters,” (…) (247)
(...) the long-lasting influence of Stalinist education on the development of the Soviet Union. The young women and men who began teaching in the Stalin era became the generation that would dominate education, and the Soviet system more generally for the next several decades. (276)