September 07, 2023

Protection From Propaganda: a Back-to-School Essential


Protection From Propaganda: a Back-to-School Essential
Empty chemistry classroom in Russia. Acmii54, Wikimedia Commons.

On September 1, children returned to school in Russia, but not everything was the same.

A recent draft of the 2024 state exam for children had no questions about classic authors like Pushkin, Lermontov, or Gogol. Instead, there were prompts about Alexander Fadeyev's "The Young Guard," a factually inaccurate book about anti-fascist resistance in Ukraine during the Nazi German occupation.

How are parents protecting their children from propaganda? Independent Russian outlet Meduza gathered testimonies from mothers and fathers across Russia.

Parents said they are concerned about "Conversations About Important Issues," a mandatory extracurricular activity conducted in all public schools each Monday after the raising of the Russian flag. There, children are taught about the "special military operation" in Ukraine. Multiple parents have opted out of sending their kids to these activities, which is legal, though frowned upon.

Evgenya from Krasnoyarsk said her sixteen-year-old son "became perpetually ill" to avoid "patriotic activities." Alexandra from Petrozavodsk told her nine-year-old, "If you see a man in military uniform, run! If they try to ask you about Putin or the war, answer, 'I don't know anything. I don't understand what you are talking about.'"

Parents are also worried about history lessons and books in schools. Anastasia from Kolomna opted to teach history at home with YouTube videos. Yara from St. Petersburg began homeschooling her eleven-year-old after the start of the last school year. Alexei from Izhevsk told his seventeen-year-old daughter to focus on passing entry exams for university, giving the answers officials want to hear, but not to incorporate these ideas in her head.

Yet hopelessness seems to be widespread. As Daria from Kirov explained, "No matter how hard you try at home, children will absorb what they are told at school."

According to UNICEF, only a third of students in Ukraine can attend classes in person. On the first day of classes, a video of kids singing with their teachers in a bomb shelter in Kryviy Rih went viral. 

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