Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Russian History Outreach

Generally speaking, this blog is a personal, self-reflective, and indeed idiosyncratic undertaking.  Placing little emphasis on public dialogue, I document my own investigations into Russian, and especially Soviet, history and literature.  The result is personally satisfying but also somewhat isolating and indeed solipsistic. Therefore, in recent months I've started thinking about interacting more intentionally with a greater variety of actors in order to enrich this project.  With this end in mind, I've applied for, and received, a short-term (i.e., two-week) Fulbright to Russia for this coming April, entitled the Fulbright Russia Community College Administrators Seminar.  As part of a small group of American community college administrators, I'll travel to Moscow, and then a regional city, in order to learn more about the Russian system of higher education. Needless to say, I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to travel to Russia, and even more grateful to participate in a dialogue on education with my counterparts in Russia.  My hope will be to bring back some of this knowledge to my home campus in order to continue the process of internationalization we've already begun.  

My second effort to interact with others on the subject of Russian history is very different.  Yesterday, I had my orientation to become a volunteer book club facilitator to seriously troubled teenage boys.  In this book club, we'll be reading a book entitled, Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida.  My goal is to introduce students to Russian literature, but also to history and, more broadly, "college readiness" concepts.  Of course, my experience with troubled teenagers is very limited, and I may not be able to get these students interested in reading Pushkin, Gogol, Leskov, and Babel.  Perhaps the texts will prove to be too complicated for them, or the subject matter far too remote.  But I have a hunch that perhaps my own passion for the subject will translate into something positive for them, over time.  

Many years ago I used to go to Zen teacher once a week.  The teacher arrived at a Unitarian church and set up a circle of pillows and began his meditation.  He did this whether students showed up or not, and he charged no fee.  Often, I was the only student to arrive.  Sometimes I would regret the fact that the instructor's spiritual practice didn't have an audience, but over time I started to see that his willingness to show up each week for no ostensible reward was itself part of the spiritual message he was delivering, either to himself, or to his few students.  This Zen teacher's self-discipline and generosity were the most important education he offered us.  In this way, I  hope that somehow offering my own fascination with Russia to students will somehow touch them, or inspire them.  My goal will be to make these students a little more interested in history, a little more knowledgeable about Russia, and a little more willing to believe that people care about them.  I doubt many of them will develop an active and sustained interest in Russia, but perhaps some of them will develop their own equivalent, life-sustaining interests and passions.  

While I'm sure my preconceived notions of doing a book club on Russia to this particular student population will quickly be altered or overturned, I am presently hoping that I'll be able to bring back some of what I learn on my Russian Fulbright and share it with them.  


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