Sunday, March 28, 2010

Russia for Christian Homeschoolers

Soviet School Visit

Today a relative let me look at a K-8 religious curriculum on Russia for Christian homeschoolers entitled Russia: The Land of Endurance. This text, written by Jessica Hulcy, Colene Lewis, and Shari Autrey, appears in the Konos Culture Series. Interesting, the book both fosters creative thinking, and hinders it, by linking all subjects to the Bible as interpreted by the authors. It's not enough for the students to learn facts and dates about Russia; instead, they must use critical thinking skills to see how Russian history makes sense in the light of Biblical truths.

Not surprisingly, the flip side of this approach to education is that "Biblical truth" is not subjected to that same kind of critical appraisal, nor is the authors' interpretation of that truth scrutinized. Thus, the authors' own bias in rather more blatant than secular approaches to Russian history tend to be. There's a trade off, to be sure, but certainly it's interesting to look at Russian history--or any history--with the benefit of a clear and omnipresent moral perspective. Thus, the authors roundly critique the very essence of socialist logic, as if the Bible were an economic treatise opposed to anything other than the theories of 19th century free-trade liberal economics.

They also condemn Russian vices, such as alcoholism, by appealing directly to Biblical passages on the subject, as if socialists didn't also campaign against this vice. Although the authors have done their research, there are a few egregious errors of fact, such as when they overestimate the number of Stalin's executions by approximately a factor of thirty (Probably, they merely confused direct executions under Stalin with all non-natural deaths under Stalin, including those caused by famine and indeed the Nazi invasion).

No matter, this is a well-done book. It's most fascinating insofar as it gives parents and students a hundred different ways to make Russian history come to life. Students make borscht and solchi, create Mongolian and Orthodox Priest customs, fashion maps that highlight Russian trading patterns, explain the workings of a samovar, scientifically observe beets and turnips, hold a Novgorod "veche" with siblings to determine what to do that evening, create a paper cutout model of the Kremlin, take away half of a sandwiche to illustrate the essence of serfdom, dance a Cossack jig or pereplya, watch the Fiddler on the Roof, hold a family council to immitate how the mir tried to reach unanimity in its decisions, take apart a household object to portray Peter the Great's insatiable curiosity, glue chicken bones on a map of St. Petersburg to explain that this was a city built on the bones of peasants, count to ten in Russian, sit under a dining room table for one full day to emulate and imagine Catherine the Great's first sleigh journey from Germany to Russia, clean rooms superficially to demonstrate how Potemkin villages were constructed, calculate the percentage of Napoleon's troops who escaped Russia (Answer: 1.4 percent), dance the troika with twelve other children, paint Russian nesting dolls, let dad be a czar for a day and disallow any form of questioning throughout the day, prepare a news broadcast on the Decembrist revolt, eat just one M & M to simulate dissatisfaction with Alexander II's decision to grant the serfs freedom but not the ownership of the land, approximate Marxist re-distribution processes by taking everybody's lunch and giving back only very small portions (while putting kids who complain in the bathroom or even outside to show what Siberia was like), et cetera and so on.

Who says Russian history isn't fun?

Books of Russia fair opens in Moscow


  1. Thank you for this review. The book was a delight to write and the people and land of Russia are a delight and an wonder.
    Colene Lewis

  2. It really is a very creative approach to education. I was impressed. And my relative--who is a brilliant home schooler--likes your work a lot. And thanks for reading the review!

  3. I've not had the pleasure of meeting Colene. My direct relationship was with Jessica Hulcy...there is a brilliant homeschooler. I'm just a copycat of sorts.