Thursday, 15 September 2011

A Russian Experiment

My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling

Fascinating article in the New York Times about one family's move to Moscow and their experiences in a Russian private school. Apart from the discussions about the linguistic challenges (3 non Russian speaking American children) and the cultural differences, the teaching style employed is extremely interesting as exemplified here:

New Humanitarian had standard subjects, like history and math, and Danya had many hours of homework a week. But Bogin added courses like antimanipulation, which was intended to give children tools to decipher commercial or political messages. He taught a required class called myshleniye, which means “thinking,” as in critical thinking. It was based in part on the work of a dissident Soviet educational philosopher named Georgy Shchedrovitsky, who argued that there were three ways of thinking: abstract, verbal and representational. To comprehend the meaning of something, you had to use all three.

When I asked Bogin to explain Shchedrovitsky, he asked a question. “Does 2 + 2 = 4? No! Because two cats plus two sausages is what? Two cats. Two drops of water plus two drops of water? One drop of water.”

From there, the theories became more complex. In practice, though, the philosophy meant that Bogin delighted in barraging children with word problems and puzzles to force them to think broadly. It was the opposite of the rote memorization of the Soviet system.

At dinnertime, the kids taunted me with riddles. “Ten crows are sitting on a fence,” Arden announced. “A cat pounces and eats one crow. How many are left?” “Umm, nine,” I said, fearing a trap. “No, none!” she gleefully responded. “Do you really think that after one crow is eaten, the others are going to stick around?” 

Philosophy and classes on "thinking" should be mandatory everywhere!

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