Russia’s Library Night Appears to be a Success

Amid the negative news which has surrounded Russia for the past few months, the people of Russia recently organized a notable event.

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Library Night’s bright logo attracts attention to the event. Photo credit to Библионочь 2014.

From April 25-26, more than 80 Russian regions held their third national annual event called Library Night or Библионочь. During these two days, libraries, museums, galleries, and book stores remained opened throughout the entire night, well after regular closing hours. This event was sponsored by many different organizations and partners such as the coffee shop chain Coffee Bean and book store chain Moscow Book House, to name a couple.

Anybody interested in reading and the arts in general had a chance to meet famous writers, poets, and critics.

Watch this video recap of Library Night from a town called Mikhailovka. In this video, local libraries held events for both adults and children (the best part is when the little kids dance).

The event is held in hopes of educating people of all ages about local libraries, reading, and fine arts in general. This is a great way to help preserve Russian culture and foster discussions.

Not surprisingly, Crimea managed to steal the spotlight in library numbered 172. Visitors of 172 were able to experience a beautiful event. One of the makers of this project claimed:

“This evening, halls of this library will turn into little streets and beach fronts of one of the coziest Black Sea towns, so passionately described by the great Russian writers and poets. Visitors of the summer café under the Bakhchisarskiy fountain will be treated to a reading of classic writers such as Anna Akhmatova.”

Young children who participated in the events of the night were able to play many trivia games regarding literature. A little girl named Liza won a book by correctly answering questions. She said that she really liked this event, and that she will share this book with her classmates, so they can read it too.

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Children participate in literature trivia in hopes of getting a prize.

Library Night shows that Russia continues to instill educational values in its people. Perhaps this is one aspect of Russia’s culture which the U.S. should actually try to imitate. I have never heard of such an event happening in the U.S., at least not nation-wide. It would be great to see American people, especially American youth, showing more interest in their own rich literary culture.

Russian Student’s Traditions – Are We Really That Different?

No matter what school you’ve attended, chances are some of your fondest memories, whether cheering for your favorite football team, or swimming in the fountains during finals week, were all part of a long standing tradition.  At least for me, traditions give us the backdrop against which we see ourselves as the successors to those that came before us. Repeating these same actions we tie ourselves and our hearts to those places where we spent so much of our time and efforts. I think it’s important to see how we remember those times because it’s such a common denominator across cultures.

School traditions give us a reason to connect ourselves to our Alma Mater and regardless of where that place might be located, all places have certain rituals that students will cherish and remember.

In Russia, the school year begins on September 1st known as День Знаний (The Day of Knowledge.) This is an exciting time in the lives of Russian students. Parents and students come to celebrate the 1st day of school and it’s marked with assemblies, speeches from local veterans and the faculty welcoming the students back and wishing them success in their studies. Flowers are often presented to the teachers, poems are read by the upcoming senior students and in some towns a 1st grade girl is hoisted on the shoulders of a senior male student and paraded around as she rings the “Первый Звонок” (First Bell) heralding the start of the academic year. After the assembly the 1st year students are led by 11th graders to their classes. This is a time honored tradition and despite its Soviet roots has easily made the transition to the present day. Comparing my own memories of the first day of school here in the United States, it sounds like Russian students might have a bit more fun during their first day back. – source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Day

Opening Ceremonies – 1st of September – Simferopol

Uniforms are a big part of the Russian school tradition. Girls and boys dress in their best outfits, especially to mark the beginning and end of the academic year. Although not necessarily a requirement in all schools, the tradition is making it’s way back into the lives of Russian students as uniforms are expected to become mandatory.

 School Uniforms Coming Back?

Soviet Children on their way to School
Photo Credit: RIA NOVESTI

Uniforms usually consist of a suit and tie for the boys. Back in the days of the Soviet Union and even prior to that, during Tsarist times, the boys uniforms sometimes reflected military roots. Since most men upon graduation would find their way into the Armed Forces, it was only natural to begin some of their military education while still in school.

The dress code for girls usually consists of important items. A black dress is worn, over which goes a white apron. Stockings are worn but the fun part, as my mother recalled were the hair bows. Girls would compete to see who could wear the biggest bows and great care was taken to look your very best in front of your peers.

While there is a potential backlash against schools requiring uniforms; I would suspect that most people would generally want to wear whatever they choose. However, it seems that especially when it comes to holidays and celebrations, uniforms are just part of the culture. On those days students will wear a sash around them, but most of the time the sash is reserved for graduation and marks the wearer as a proud graduate completing his or her years in school.

 

More info on Russian school uniforms here: http://listen2russian.com/russian-culture/last-bell/last-bell.html

One of the biggest days in a Russian student’s life is Graduation Day. Although the experience is probably just as exciting from our own memories – Russian’s do love to put out all stops when it comes to having a last send-off for their students.

Graduation in Russian schools is the long-awaited cherished memory for many students. Just as in the beginning of the year, the Last Bell (Последний звонок) is rung to signal that school is finally over for the graduates. Usually around May 25th, the academic year comes to a close and many students take this opportunity to have one last party with their friends before departing for the next stage in their lives. To paraphrase a lesson from “http://listen2russian.com/russian-culture/last-bell/last-bell.html“, the getting ready and taking extra care to look sharp on their last day, students dress up in traditional school attire. The entire school gets involved in the preparations for these festivities. The day is marked by assemblies, speeches, tearful farewells and warm wishes for the future. Following the same traditions as on the 1st day of the year, a 1st grader accompanied by a graduating senior rings the last bell signaling that 11 years of academic studies are finally over for the graduates.

 

Just as in any country, students take the opportunity of their new found freedom to celebrate in their own style. The day is usually marked with parties, walking around the cities parks, and most students find their way to the fountains where it is tradition to splash around. Most can easily imagine what takes places at the end of the day when the recent graduates, realizing that this might be the last time with their school friends, get together for parties to mark the end of one chapter in their lives and the beginning of a new one. Although the party culture is as much a part of student life in Russia as it is in the U.S., I feel it’s interesting and different enough to warrant it’s own blog post. After all, they’re Russian students and that part of their culture is a rich and fascinating story all it’s own.

Despite having graduated from school, the students are not quite finished with their academic obligations. They now have to pass the official state exam for graduates and receive their diploma. The Единые государственные экзамены (ЕГЭ) – or Unified State Exams are held about one week after the completion of the academic year. The diploma won’t come for at least a month. But once it does, it’s time to celebrate again!

Russia’s equivalent to Prom takes place after everything else is finally over. It’s called the выпускной бал, (Graduate’s Ball) and the evening is filled with familiar prom dresses, dancing and a final conclusion to their time together much like the ones experienced in the U.S.

 

My best memories of senior year came from the last days of school. When the anxiety of exams is finally over, graduation has come and gone, and a last farewell party with friends still ringing in my ears, my thoughts turned toward the exciting realization that my next journey was up to me. It seems that my experiences are not so different from my Russian compatriots after all. Despite the differences in academic structure and even academic traditions, the desire to celebrate together and reflect on a closing chapter of our lives binds all students in their memories.

I am sure that there are a few traditions that I might’ve overlooked and I am very happy to invite you to share your own.  What traditions do you have at your school? Are any of these similar to your own?

– Dima

 

Some worthwhile links I found on this subject –

Quick overview of September 1st Holiday:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Day

A small collection of photographs from that day:

http://sennaya.com/forum/index.php?topic=37.0

Very interesting blog/article about the Last Bell celebrations. This one has a lot of information on the uniforms and traditions. I highly recommend giving it a click.

http://listen2russian.com/russian-culture/last-bell/last-bell.html

Great collection of photographs of a Russian school and it’s students:

http://englishrussia.com/2012/09/09/time-to-study/

An expatriates experience with the Russian school system:

http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/03/a-summer-cut-short-for-russian-school-children/

SLAM

In brief, far from all of these uncertain certainties, Slam is before all the mouth that gives and the ears that take. It is the way that is easiest to share a text, to share emotions and the desire to play with words. Slam is perhaps an art, Slam is perhaps a movement, Slam is surely a Moment… A moment of listening, a moment of tolerance, a moment of meeting, a moment of sharing. Finally, good, I said it…” – Grand Corps Malade

Slam. You’ve probably already heard of it.

Slam originated in the United States during the 1980s with Marc Smith as a way to redefine poetry and encourage the search for personal identity, and it still remains a popular form of poetry today. Type “slam poetry” into the YouTube search bar – you’ll likely come across American slam artist, Taylor Mali, and my personal favorite video:

by Jaclyn

But what does Slam have to do with France?  Would a country home to such legendary poets as Baudelaire, Hugo, Verlaine (to name a few) accept this new phenomenon of poetry? The answer: an overwhelming yes – the slam movement seems to have taken France by storm.

It is necessary to emphasize that Slam, considered a positive and educational movement, is especially influential on the French youth. According to 129H Productions, Slam is a means to face the civic disempowerment of French youth – notably within the banlieues,which have reputations for violence, poverty, and poor education. With the use of Slam, participants learn to reflect on themselves, on the society they live in, and on their sens de vie (sense of life or role) in society through artistic and literary practice. It also gives participants the opportunity to voice their opinions, and to address conflicts that the community is currently facing. This encourages the search for personal cultural identity as well as strengthens the community as a whole.

While Slam poetry itself has enough power to spread the slam movement throughout France, it helps to have an ambassador. Grand Corps Malade, currently known as the the “Le Maître” or “master” of Slam, is the stage name of successful poetry artist, Fabien Marsaud. His contributions have escalated the slam movement’s popularity not only in France, but throughout Europe as well.

Check out Grand Corps Malade’s new single, “Roméo kiffe Juliette,” which gives a fresh take on the classic Shakespeare tragedy by conveying some of France’s current racial and religious conflicts. In this version, Roméo is Muslim, and Juliet, Jewish:

*NOTE: The word “kiffe” is French urban slang for “like” or “love”

Like it? Grand Corps Malade’s next album, 3ème temps, will be released in France on October 18, 2010.

The Muslim Threat

Thilo Sarrazin presenting his controversial book

Presenting his controversial book: Thilo Sarrazin

Germany is becoming stupid and it’s the Muslims’ fault.

Germans should be able to live among Germans and should not live in a country where the main language is Turkish or Arabic, women wear head scarves, and daily life is organized by the call of the Muezzin.

Says Sarrazin. His rhetoric is certainly more than just questionable. It has made him the target of public criticism and has driven him into resignation from his job as a member of the executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank and a member of social democrats.

It is obvious why he received so much criticism. What’s surprising is that hardly anyone who does so has not read his book. This does not by any means mean that I support his theses. However, Sarrazin’s direct and offensive language has almost averted objective discussions on a topic that is not only of national but international importance. (“Es geht mir vor allem um Klarheit und Genauigkeit, die Zeichnung ist daher kräftig, nicht unentschlossen oder krakelig. “)

Sarrazin based his argument on facts but his language stands in his own way. While it is true that, for example, the German elite and academic families have fewer children than Muslim families from predominately lower class backgrounds, it is very problematic to find cultural reasons for the  IQ of Muslims, which – on average – is lower than the IQ of Germans. If you take this whole argument one step further and claim that the above statement is also due to genetics, it becomes impossible to discuss it objectively.

In a very blatant way, Sarazzin mixes facts with myths or half-truths and claims that our society has turned Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest into a survival of the most fertile, i.e. the Muslims. The truth behind this argument is that lower class families in Germany have more kids than academics and many immigrants, unfortunately, still belong among the least educated part of society. This cannot, however, be blamed on genetic defects caused by intermarriages but is more likely to originate in the cultural value of education in general and the education of women in particular. Furthermore, Muslims usually learn differently than Europeans.

That's not funny, Ahmed!

In the Western world, logical thinking and independent thinking are valued much higher than in the East. (Another problem is that these arguments usually generalize and are thus, prone to stereotyping certain ethnic or cultural groups. This article is no exception.)

Research shows that the decisive factor in a child’s intellectual development is not their national or cultural background but the upbringing and education. During childhood and adolescence, the child’s IQ grows by about 5 points per year and about 80 % of this growth happens in school. While intelligence is hereditary, the genes only play a minor role in the development of cognitive ability.

I don’t want to defend Sarazzin’s theses in any way, but the public reaction to his book shows that he touched a very sensitive topic in Germany. Germany is divided into two sides either supporting Sarrazin or resolute opposition. Ist er ein Hetzer oder ein Held?

Adolf Hitler was a soccer coach?

hitler-livesSometimes you have to wonder how it is that people manage to twist around common knowledge that is written in every history textbook and turn it into something ridiculous. Is the educational system at fault?

Recently, a survey was given to 2,000 students in England and the results were shocking. Every 20th student was convinced that Nazi-leader Adolf Hitler was a German soccer coach. Even worse, the same amount of students believed that the Holocaust was a celebration that was held because of the end WWII. Every sixth student was sure that the Concentration Camp in Auschwitz was an Amusement Park and some believed that “Blitz”(air strikes on London) was some sort of clean up attempt after the war was over.

The survey was made shortly before British Rememberance Day, a day in honor of the fallen soldiers of both WWI and WWII. The results were shocking. Not only did 40 percent of the students have the slightest idea what Remembrance day even is; one-fourth of them admitted that they could care less about the soldiers who fought in the World Wars.

ronald_mcdonald_jumping1The only positive thing that came out of the survey was that 70 percent of students admitted that they would like to learn more about the World Wars.

A similar study was conducted in the US in the documentary film Super Size Me. The film attacked corporate America and the way it advertises their items and ideas for kids. The results showed that kids could easily recognize the face of Ronald McDonald. Yet they struggled to realize that the guy in the picture in front of them was Jesus Christ.

According to the PISA 2000 study , the knowledge and skills of German students were consistently below the performance of US students that year. There is some controversy going on about PISA, but it is still a good indicator on how countries are performing academically (US scored around the international average). It is intriguing how the youth of a country that scored so well in the PISA study struggles with common knowledge. It is also puzzling how a country with an educational system that has a reputation of being the oldest and best, scored below the international average. Is the education system in the US flawed or inferior to the German version of it?

There are huge differences between both educational systems. High School education consists of all students attending the same school till they are off to college. Germany has tried this and called it “Gesamtschule.” However, many Germans were opposed to them because they believed it to be too socialistic. That point of view disregards the fact that the quality of high school education depends on the area it is located and whether it is public or private.

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Gymnasium in Germany

The traditional German school system divides students at age 10 (after 4th grade) into three groups. Only one of those schools, the Gymnasium, leads to University provided you make it through school and receive the Abitur. The decision on what school you are assigned to, is based on your performance. It is possible to switch over to the Gymnasium in later years, however it is very difficult and rare. On the other hand, getting kicked out of the Gymnasium or repeating a grade is very common. All it takes is one 6 or two 5’s (6 = F; 5 = D) and you have to repeat an entire school year. If at some point in your school career you mess up like that again, you are officially out of the Gymnasium.

There are a lot more possibilities of points at US high schools. Even if you perform poorly at an exam you can still make it up with quizzes and homework. German schools will not give that opportunity and the main focus of students are the exams.

US students have a lot more vacation time than German students. Then again, German school days are usually over by 1 pm, while US school days last until 3 or 4 p.m.

US high schools are perceived to be easy, but it all depends on the student. If they were to take only AP (advanced placement) classes, it might prove to be a lot more challenging than a student taking only regular classes.

It is hard to tell which educational system is superior and they each have their pros and cons. However, this does not make the survey results or the Super Size Me documentary any less shocking.

20 years on & a “spoiled” generation?

berlinwallOn the night of November 9, 1989, the night the Berlin Wall fell, some 80 babies were born in Berlin alone. That year, when two halves of Germany became one again, more than 880,000 children were born. They have come to be known as Generation 1989.

This year, the children born in the shadows of the Wall will turn 20. Most will have just graduated from college and will be starting to find their own paths in life – one that will have no first-hand experience of what it was like to live in a divided Germany.

That sets them apart from previous generations of Germans, whose lives were defined by the epic events that shaped more than four decades of Germany’s – and much of the Western world’s – history: the rise of communism, the Cold War, and a period of hardship.

Tina Oerlecke, Born in June 2009

Tina Oerlecke, born in June 1989

A look at some German blogs and news reports suggests that some of today’s twentysomethings are tuning all that out. “As far as I’m concerned there’s no longer any division between East and West. I have many opportunities in the reunited Germany,” Tina Oerlecke from Haldensleben (Saxony-Anhalt) and born in June 1989 told young-germany.de.

It’s a generation of children that have been “spoiled”, author Jean-Christophe Bas told cafebable.de. His book “L’Europe à la carte menu” is dedicated to his children who are 15 and 16.

“Diese Generation hat nur eine sehr vage Vorstellung davon, was die Grundlage beim Aufbau Europas nach dem Krieg war: Frieden und Versöhnung… Die heutige Generation betrachtet den Frieden als etwas Normales, eine Selbstverständlichkeit,” he tells the website.

Still, some of the old ways have inevitably seeped into Generation 1989. In an article by Faz.net filed in 2007, 20-year-old aspiring filmmaker Christian Smoljanicki said the concept of “Besserwessi still lingers. The term, which is a pun on “Besser Wessi” or “better westerner” and better translated as “know-it-all”, was used by East Germans when they felt that West Germans didn’t give them the due respect and felt they were being assimilated instead of being united.

Graphics from Nytimes.com

While most Berliners were initially eager to tear down the city’s most detested symbol, in recent months there has been a major effort to restore the 3/4 mile-long (1.3-kilometer) dilapidated East Side Gallery – the last long section of the wall still standing in its original place, now a major tourist attraction with 106 different paintings and graffiti. It’s a way 69-year-old artist Gerhard Kriedner and some other 90 mural painters hope will remind today’s youths of the nation’s past.

“We thought it was really important to recreate the paintings because, by now, there’s a whole new generation that no longer remembers the original Berlin Wall and the historic events that led to Germany’s reunification,” Alavi told The Associated Press. The Iranian-born artist, who escaped from communist East Germany to the West himself as a young man, had already restored his own mural of East Germans crossing Checkpoint Charlie into West Berlin on the night the border opened for the first time.

Picture 1

It’s no surprise why German children these days don’t care much. Germany’s high school history curriculum allows little time to discuss East Germany, reports Deutsche Welle.

Some teachers say they just never get to the GDR, because their students need more time to digest all of the heavy history before it. Other teachers and parents simply don’t want to relive their past.

This week, the only wall youths of Germany seem to be concerned about is a 61/2-foot high one in front of the Brandenburg Gate organizers of a free U2 concert erected. The Irish rockers returned to Berlin for a free mini-concert on Thursday playing their classic singles and a duet with Jay-Z even as the show was obscured from public view by the metal barrier.

Do the youths of today seem to ignore history? Are we really a “spoiled” generation? Which part of your history resonates with you most?

Public Enemy Number One Part 2: Texting Vs. Textbooks :-(

Have you ever been in class or somewhere far from home and felt a wave of overwhelming panic come over you when you realize your phone is nowhere to be found?

Even lil rascals like this one are finding the need for a cell phone in France. But will he have it for long? Photo courtesy of Laur5785 from Flickr

Even lil rascals like this one are finding the need for a cell phone in France. But will he have it for long? Photo courtesy of Laur5785 from Flickr

No, it’s not lost, it’s at home. Left on the charger. The one thing that you need that you forgot to pick up this morning in a rush.This nightmare happens to many people.

Although you might say to yourself, “It’s fine, I can go one day without my phone,” the reality of what you are missing hits you: missed lunch invitations; a text message from a friend about a forgotten assignment; the opportunity to play Word Mole during a dull meeting; and that call you’ve been waiting for from the cutie you met at your friend’s birthday soiree. Darn.

This feeling of panic and confusion that most people feel when they realize they don’t have their cellular phones will now be an everyday feeling for students under the age of 15 in France who will be forced to go through a whole school day without their handheld bundles of joy.

You see, while only a few years back it was irregular for a child under 15 to have or need a cell phone, now it is a constant in their hands and unfortunately, in class. So much so that Parliament is in the process of ruling to ban children under 15 from bringing mobile phones to school. They aren’t talking about making the students leave the phones in their bags; rather, they don’t want them anywhere on school grounds for those in elementary schools, junior high and high schools, otherwise known as ecoles maternelles, elementaires and colleges. Lycee, or University students obviously wouldn’t be affected.

The ban comes after a survey was done on 12 through 17-year-old students found that half of these young men and women confessed to using their phones during class. Many were even admitting to filming teachers during class as well…peeping Tom’s in the making I see…Some also cite that exposure to cellular phone signals can be dangerous to children. For further information on the health risks of cellular phones, check out the corresponding post by author Asia Jones.

While many people might look at this and think “Cell phones in elementary school!? They don’t need ‘em anyway,” many are up in arms about the possible ruling. Child protection agency Action Innocence opposes the idea because they feel that without cellular phones on school grounds, children wouldn’t be able to inform anyone if they were in trouble or if they wanted to check in with their parents.

While this may be true, those of us over 18 know what’s real. I didn’t have a cellular phone until I was junior in high school, and that was only because I was driving a car to school. From Kindergarten all the way to junior year I used the school phones and went straight home after school unless I was in after-school sports to avoid any drama or trouble. If I went to a friend’s house, I checked in from their residence. I survived without a cell phone, and I’m pretty sure these kids will be alright. In all honesty, I think only one emergency/familial call was made out of all the ones I made in a day during high school, so I doubt the students will be upset because they can’t contact their mommies. And if they are, payphones could slowly make their way back into style…