School of patriotism: Kremlin seeks to force parents to sit through propaganda lessons

Novaya-Europe asks parents of different political views what they think about the initiative

School of patriotism: Kremlin seeks to force parents to sit through propaganda lessons
Illustration: Novaya Gazeta Europe

The Russian Education Ministry has unveiled plans to impose the “Important Conversations” lessons, which are meant to nurture patriotic sentiment, not just on schoolchildren and college students, but on parents and pedagogical university students as well. The minister said that the “format is being discussed now”.

Novaya Gazeta Europe spoke to parents of varying political views to learn their attitudes to the initiative and whether they would listen to these “conversations”.

‘Everything that starts with lies is unacceptable’

Anna, mother of a third-grader from Moscow, supports the concept of “Important Conversations” but believes that these lessons are pointless for parents

My position is very simple: everything that starts with lies is unacceptable. When “Important Conversations” turned up in schools, it was announced that this is a mandatory lesson on Monday morning, no details were shared. Later, it became clear that it is not a lesson but an extra-curricular activity which is not a part of the official school curriculum. Teachers treat them as just another imposed obligation, they are not interested in it.

Parents did not see any plans on what their kids will have to listen to. No one understands what is considered important.

I let my child attend the “Important Conversations” selectively, depending on the topic.

To be completely honest, I can say that there hasn’t been a single good lesson since September. Even important topics are somewhat blurry. For example, my daughter did not remember a single thing after the lesson on the Siege of Leningrad. I understand that the most important conversation about it will still take place at home.

If I wanted to make the “Important Conversations” more popular, I’d restructure them. Let’s first determine what we view as “important”. What is important to communicate to children? These are the simplest things: people should stand together, should respect each other, their country, and traditions. We can just review basic principles of the Constitution. We should speak about friendships and our history.

But how do you organise “Important Conversations” with parents? I am an adult. Who will decide what an important conversation is for us?

Parents bring up their kids as they deem necessary. Let’s not interfere in any internal family affairs.

So far, there have not been any grounds to drag me to school or force me to watch the “Important Conversations” on TV. But will they want to change laws to make these lessons mandatory for children and adults? They are striving for it. But many parents now read the laws and understand them. Parent councils are now emerging in schools, people unite and speak to lawmakers on different levels. Therefore, I think that these initiatives will be nipped in the bud.

‘We can find all the information relating to the topics important for us online’

Tatyana, mother of a seventh-grader from Krasnoyarsk, opposes the “Important Conversations” for parents

The “Important Conversations” are doomed to fail. We can find all the information relating to the topics important for us online or listen to a person who has more authority than our homeroom teacher. If those behind this initiative really want to make these lessons significant, a lawmaker and or a city hall representative should be in charge of them. Then the discussion topics will be the most current.

I personally don’t even think about attending these lessons. Even if faced with a fine. Should the “Important Conversations” be introduced for parents, I’ll have to evade them somehow. Yet another outpour of propaganda — slogans far removed from any common sense — affect our health a lot. And this is exactly what I expect from the government, especially when it’s time to show unity, or whatever is a hot topic now.

A child holding a sign ‘Grade 6G’ at a school assembly. Photo: Pavel Pavlov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A child holding a sign ‘Grade 6G’ at a school assembly. Photo: Pavel Pavlov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

‘A teacher should teach children, not parents’

Olga, mother of a six-grader from Moscow, backs the “Important Conversations” for children but rejects this idea for parents

I think that the “Important Conversations” initiative for kids is good. My child attends them. It is a beautiful thing to foster patriotism and love for the homeland in children. As far as I understand, the lesson was created specifically as a patriotism propaganda tool. Schools have always been used to bring up kids in an ideology that the government wants, there’s nothing unusual here.

However, I view the idea to impose these lessons on adults as populism and a mad fantasy of education ministry officials. Even children are not obligated to attend “Important Conversations”, and parents even more so. I’d like to find out how officials imagine this happening.

A teacher should teach children, not parents. It is not part of a teacher’s obligations. And parents are not mandated to attend school lessons.

I personally would only attend these lessons if [Education Minister Sergey] Kravtsov or [Digital Development Minister Maksut] Shadayev came to speak with parents about important issues to listen to real parents face to face. That would certainly be a conversation about important things. Otherwise, I won’t.

I don’t think that parents would be forced to attend the “Conversations”. Even face masks were not obligatory during COVID despite all the scaremongering, and now making people attend lessons? A federal law should be drafted to achieve that. I don’t think it will happen.

‘We need to serve others — it was called communism in our childhood’

Anna, mother of a first-grader and a ninth-grader from Moscow, supports the “Important Conversations” for both children and parents

I believe that it’s a good idea to have “Important Conversations” for parents. We need to look for some meeting points and highlight important topics to unite people with some sort of a common idea. It’s crucial for a society to have an idea.

So, this is exactly what is happening with kids. They now, unfortunately, don’t have any such idea.

Before it used to be the pioneer movement, but now it’s a free for all really. Many are under the Western influence, some are lost and confused, they don’t understand what they want. Very few people want to do anything in the name of an idea.

These people are apathetic.

My younger son comes home from school every Monday and shares everything that was said during the “Important Conversations” that day. He remembers a lot and it’s a good thing. The elder daughter is not really processing these lessons. She says that they “have a blast”, laughing at everything there. She possibly knows less about the Siege of Leningrad than her first-grader brother. I think that this generation is a little lost.

Of course, empathy is instilled in the family but not just there. Teenagers are more looking up to each other than parents, they take cues from each other. Parents can only teach love because they unconditionally love their children. Meanwhile, teenagers are conceptually brutish, they don’t like each other. But if you slowly plant seeds of important topics, they will sprout with time. The “Important Conversations” are one of the tools to achieve that, the first step to achieve something more global.

Naturally, it’s more difficult to motivate parents to listen to the “Important Conversations”. But possibly if you keep saying something to a person, they will potentially start accepting this information. I suspect that the people who are tasked with this already have a plan and understand how they will popularise it.

I think that these lessons for parents should mention something patriotic and recall important dates. The concept can be similar to the “Important Conversations” for children. They should communicate the idea that you cannot just live for yourself, it’s selfish. We need to serve others — it was called communism in our childhood. And then it all collapsed.

Someone with authority should lead these conversations. Elders play that part for kids, while adults can listen to labour veterans, distinguished professionals.

Maybe they should let Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin teach these lessons: he is an authority for many now.

If this practice was put in place, my husband and I would definitely seek to take part in it and, if appropriate, would take our children with us to immerse them in this topic.

‘Lessons for parents would stay exclusively on paper’

Tatyana, mother of a second-grader from the Krasnodar region, does not want the “Important Conversations” for children or parents

I would never attend these lessons. What do I need it for? I oppose the [Ukraine] war and do not support the “Important Conversations” for kids and parents alike. I don’t want my child or myself to be told that war is peace and everything is great and wonderful.

Our local school added these lessons in the curriculum to follow maths. It is not always possible to skip maths to avoid the “Important Conversations”. But if my daughter is forced to sit through these lessons, she does not internalise what is said, it just flies right over her head. She knows what is happening in Ukrainian cities and can draw her own conclusions.

If the school, let’s say, starts demanding feedback from students about how well they comprehend the “Important Conversations” or forcing them to attend these lessons, the very next day I will collect her documents from there and will sign my child up to study remotely in a normal place.

When the “Important Conversations” for parents are introduced, I think there will likely be people who will attend them, those who ardently support the government’s actions.

But I think generally these lessons will be held just to tick the right box on paper.

‘I am not sure that even threatening prison sentences for those who refuse will work’

Oxana, mother of an eighth-grader from Moscow, opposes the “Important Conversations” in any form

Under no circumstances would I attend the “Important Conversations” due to my political position. I categorically reject propaganda in any form: for children, parents, or any people in general. I find it hard to imagine how I can be forced to listen to this. I think it’s interference in private life, which is unacceptable. They can possibly force me to sit down and listen to this and if I refuse, they can threaten to arrest and throw me in prison, but I still doubt that it will work. But I don’t think it will come down to this.

Before the academic year began, I called our homeroom teacher in the summer and told her that my daughter will not attend the “Important Conversations”. She tried to talk me into this, saying that it would be all about peace and other good stuff. It turned out differently later: when various patriotic activities began, like congratulating military personnel, she was inviting parents to take part in it because it is a ‘sacred cause’.

I was outraged by her subjective statement and wrote to her to say that I didn’t agree with it and was exasperated about it: she likely says similar subjective things to kids. So, she is taking sides and splits the classroom into those “for” and those “against”. She responded to this by saying that her husband is a military man and had it not been for a Chechen War injury, he would have been on the frontlines because it is his duty and a right thing to do in general. We agreed to never discuss it again. In any case, my children did not attend these lessons (I have a schoolgirl and an elder daughter that goes to college where these lessons were also introduced).

I think parents will be told the same thing as to kids during the “Important Conversations” — everything that has been shown on TV for many years now and what our president says: “We did not want to [attack Ukraine], we were not the first to strike”

— so that those who don’t watch TV became involved in politics. I am sure that our homeroom teacher would share her subjective views during the lessons.

In general, I can’t really imagine how parents can be forced to attend these lessons if I, for example, don’t watch TV and do not attend [regular] meetings of parents and the homeroom teacher. I haven’t been showing up at those meetings since 24 February 2022 when people in the parent community started clashing with me and threatening to report me to the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Investigative Committee over my position. After that I left all parent chats and stopped communicating with the homeroom teacher because she supported it all.

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