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Ironically, as the story was put out in the Western press following Sputnik, the Russians themselves fell for the myth of their superior schools, with the result that reforms, long overdue, are only now being conceived and implemented. The author (Moscow Conversations, 1972), a former education reporter for the Washington Post, attempted to cover what's happening in the Red classroom during the years ('69-'71) she and her correspondent husband were assigned to Moscow. And despite predictable bureaucratic interference Jacoby, who speaks Russian and is a remarkably resourceful journalist, has produced the most comprehensive, balanced and interesting assessment since Uric Bronfenbrenner's Two Worlds of Childhood (1970). What has begun to spur change there is official recognition that even in the classless society some children (in urban centers, from educated families) are more equal than others (from rural areas, those belonging to minorities). Proving difficult to overcome, though, is the endemic suspicion of education among many of the nationalities. To give all children a head start on the intensive schooling which begins in first grade (at age seven), reading-readiness activities and other intellectual stimulations have been inaugurated at the day-care centers and kindergartens where heretofore concentration was exclusively on socialization and preparation for collective life. The most far-reaching and controversial reforms are in the curriculum with a new emphasis on inductive reasoning and creativity rather than rote learning -- and what effect that will ultimately have on a political society is being closely monitored. Until now of course the educational system stressed group identification, muted individualism and respect for authority, all of which has produced citizens with an extraordinary degree Of outward conformity and a deep inner alienation. Undoubtedly what's being asked at the Kremlin these days is, is one possible without the other?

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1974
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux