Emotional, Moral, and Symbolic Imagery of Modern History Textbooks
Tatyana Tsyrlina-Spady and Michael Lovorn
While citizens of the world pursue communal advancements in technology and information sharing, emerging forces, particularly in the political sphere, seem to be reverting to the tones and postures of previous generations. Superpowers continue to polarize, straining international relations, and one observed side effect of this trend is a sharp escalation in hyper-nationalistic sentiments and rhetoric among the population of these countries (Zajda & Smith, 2013). Not surprisingly, political leaders have looked to their educational systems to perpetuate and even exacerbate this dynamic. Since classroom instruction in many parts of the world is still driven by nationally approved textbooks, it is also no surprise that governments keep a close eye on their content and design. An informational vacuum manifests itself especially in history classrooms wherein instruction is guided by and even centered on grand narrative style textbooks (Lovorn, 2014; Williams, 2014; Zajda, 2015).
There is hardly any other country where this trend is more apparent than in the Russian Federation. Recent studies of Russian history textbooks show that many of them may actually be impeding promulgated endeavors to develop independent and critical-thinking global citizens (Alexashkina, 2014; Korostelina, 2014; Lovorn & Tsyrlina-Spady, 2015; Tsyrlina-Spady & Lovorn, 2015; Zajda & Smith, 2013). Studies also support the notion that traditional history textbooks seldom give adequate attention to historical or political
T. Tsyrlina-Spady (*)
School of Education, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA, USA M. Lovorn
Department of Instruction and Learning, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
© The Author(s) 2017
M. Carretero et al. (eds.), Palgrave Handbook of Research in Historical Culture and Education, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-52908-4_36
perspective (Chudakova, 2014; Potapova, 2015). This dichotomy is in no way unique to Russian schools; however, recent military actions coupled with political rhetoric at the governmental level have magnified this dilemma and thrust history education into the forefront of public consciousness. As a new “national priority,” Russia’s history, particularly that of the past 15 years, is now being presented to students in a way that challenges post-perestroika initiatives to advocate democratic values and global citizenship. As history experts and educators, we consider this a problem of global significance, and our research into this evolving trend is guided by four distinct observations.
First, while the aforementioned military actions and political rhetoric in Russia have fueled a firestorm of fierce, international scrutiny and debate, they have also ushered in an intense, state-supported campaign promoting national identity and patriotism. In turn, this ideological shift continues to alter content, context, and methods of history teaching in Russian schools. A recent study conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center reported that the past few years have been marked by a significant and observable expansion in “regime-like” advancements of hyper-nationalism across Russian society and popular culture (Vladimir Putin: tri goda posle vyborov-2012, pyatnadtst’ let vo Glave Rossii, 2015). Other news reports have expressed concern about how sharp increases of ideological content in Russian history classrooms may result in elevated vulnerability of students (Putin vystupaet za yedinuiu kontseptsiu prepodavaniia istorii, 2014).
Second, in this current state of external economic sanctions and constant internal reminders of growing Western enemies, Russian officials have seized the opportunity to reconstruct a national history, complete with State-authorized textual sources, intended to shape genuinely nationalistic Russian citizens. The emerging historical narrative prizes military prowess and champions the actions of noted leaders, and simultaneously minimizes or completely erases the memory of the crimes and failures of the State. In some ways, it reminds scholars of the history education of previous generations in Russia, when textbooks, especially in social and humanitarian studies, traditionally served multiple purposes, including fostering strong preferences for developing certain personality traits and types of character (Klokova, 2004).
From its inception, perestroika1 provided teachers with pedagogical and textual options. Schools were considered “ideology-free” zones, and teachers were able to present content the way they deemed appropriate. A paradigm shift began in the early 2000s, as policymakers and politicians started to express interest in redefining Russian identity and promoting a nationalist agenda. Nikitenko, a distinguished textbook author, captured the impetus of this shift when she noted:
It should not be forgotten that education is an ideology... A future citizen of
Russia should be developed in the spirit of his/her own culture: a feeling of
patriotism should be formed together with the feeling of pride for one’s inner circle and one’s country, and also an interest to other languages and cultures. (Nikitenko, 2008: 1)
Third, we observe that the current dynamic is one primed for spirited debate among academics and scholars over the nature and purpose of history research and history education in Russia. On several recent occasions, impassioned arguments between these academics, politicians, textbook publishers, and teachers have spilled over into the mainstream media, further publicizing agendas for the manipulation or protection of historical content and narrative. The topic seems to garner so much attention because all sides recognize the inherent power in the story of the nation. Thus, famous Russian historians Petrov and Shnirelman indicated in the publication of the results of the international project on data falsification and national histories:
‘Memory wars’, historical appeals and accounts among states, discussions about the results of the conflicts, historical guilt, territorial roots, cultural role and heritage—all these together make history a relevant part of the current politics and a serious factor of public-political life. (2011: 5)
As they further pointed out, this historical, ideological, and pedagogical conundrum had also resulted in an influx of pseudo-academics, and once again raised the question “whether patriotism could successfully replace the ethics of a scientific research” (2011: 6).
Finally, Russia is one of the few world nations wherein the chief executive himself has taken a personal interest in the national history curriculum. President Putin speaks on the topic frequently, makes suggestions, communicates expectations, and keeps an eye on the process of textbook selection. Most recently, following his recommendations, the Russian History Society conducted a contest of new eight history textbook sets and announced three winners (RosVuz, 2015). The impact of this evaluation has been immediate. At the time of Putin’s directive, there were about 65 textbooks in circulation around Russia. In September 2015, there are only three so-called lines/sets (lineiki) of history textbooks left. Still, there are political forces, such as the Great Motherland Party, who are unsatisfied even with this amount and have demanded a return to one unified textbook for all (Serdechnova, 2015). The research discussed in this chapter is therefore focused on history textbooks recently published in Russia.