REVIEW of REVIEWS

Education In Russia

English Author Investigator Discloses Good and Bad Points of New System Tried to Trick Him.

H. G. WELLS February 1 1921
REVIEW of REVIEWS

Education In Russia

English Author Investigator Discloses Good and Bad Points of New System Tried to Trick Him.

H. G. WELLS February 1 1921

Education In Russia

English Author Investigator Discloses Good and Bad Points of New System Tried to Trick Him.

H. G. WELLS

THAT the Bolsheviki who have up to now maintained control of Russia number less than five per cent, of the population of the former empire of the czars, is pointed out in the fourth article, “Creative Effort in Russia,” by H. G. Wells, in the New York Times. “They retain power in Russia,” Mr. Wells enlightened us, “because they were and are the only body of people in this vast spectacle of Russian ruin with a common faith and a common spirit.” Mr. Wells is convinced that the re-civilizing of Russia must be done with the Soviet Government as a starting phase. The present state of Russian education, as depicted by the English author, however, is possibly the section of this article containing the most acute interest:

“Although I had heard Gorky arrange for my meeting with Lenin by long-distance telephone days before, Moscow declared that it had had no notice of my coming. Finally I was put into the wrong train back to Petersburg, a train which took twenty-four hours instead of fourteen for the journey.

“These may seem petty details to relate, but when it is remembered that Russia was really doing its best to impress me with its vigor and good order they are extremely significant. In the train, when I realized that it was a slow train and that the express had gone three hours before, while we had been pacing the hall of the guest house with our luggage packed and nobody coming for us, the spirit came upon me, and my lips were unsealed. I spoke to my guide, as one mariner might speak to another, and told him what I thought of Russian methods. He listened with the profoundest respect to my rich, incisive phrases. When at last I paused he replied in words that are also significant of certain weaknesses of the present Russian state of mind. “You see,” he said, “the blockade—”

“But if I saw nothing of Lunacharsky personally I saw something of the work he has organized. The primary material of the educationist is human beings, and of these at least there is still no shortage in Russia, so that in that respect Lunacharsky is better off than most of his colleagues. And beginning with an initial prejudice and much distrust, I am bound to confess that in view of their enormous difficulties the educational work of the Bolsheviki impresses me as being astonishingly good.

“Things started badly. Directly I got to Petersburg I asked to see a school, and on the second day of my visit I was taken to one that impressed me very unfavorably.

“It was extremely well equipped, much better than an ordinary English grammar school, and the children were bright and intelligent; but our visit fell in the recess. I could witness no teaching, and the behavior of the youngsters I saw indicated a low standard of discipline. I formed an opinion that I was probably being shown a picked school specially prepared for me, and that this was all that Petersburg had to offer. The special guide who was with us then began to question the children upon the subject of English literature and the writers they liked

most. One name dominated all others. My own. Such comparatively trivia) figures as Milton, Dickens, Shakespeare ran about intermittently between the feet of that literary colossus. Being questioned further, these children produced the titles of perhaps a dozen of my books. I said I was completely satisfied by what I had seen and heard, that I wanted to see nothing more—for, indeed, what more could I possibly require? And I left that school smiling with difficulty and thoroughly cross with my guides.

“Three days later I suddenly scrapped my morning’s engagements and insisted upon being taken at once to another school—any school close at hand. I was convinced that I had been deceived about the former school, and that now I should see a very bad school indeed. Indeed I saw a much better one than the one I had first seen. The equipment and building were better, the discipline of the children was better, and I saw some excellent teaching in progress. Most of the teachers were women.

“The school was supplied with abundant pictures. There was plenty of chemical and physical apparatus, and it was evidently put to a proper use. I also saw the children’s next meal in preparation— for children eat at school in Soviet Russia

and the food was excellent and well cooked, far above the standard of the adult rations we had seen served out. All this was much more satisfactory.

“Finally, by a few questions, we tested the extraordinary vogue of H. G. Wells among the young people of Russia. None of these children had ever heard of him. The school library contained none of his books. This did much to convince me that I was seeing a quite normal school. I had, I now began to realize, been taken to the previous one, not as I had supposed in my wrath with any elaborate intention of deceiving me about the state of education in the country, but after certain kindly intrigues and preparation by a literary friend, Mr. Chukovsky, the critic, affectionately anxious to make me feel myself beloved in Russia, and a little oblivious of the real gravity of the business I had in hand.

“Subsequent inquiries and comparison of my observations with those of other visitors to Russia, and particularly those °f.Dr. Haden Guest—who also made surprise visits to several schools in Moscow— have convinced me that Soviet Russia, in the face of gigantic difficulties, has made and is making very great educational efforts, and that in spite of the difficulties of the general situation the quality and number of the schools in the towns have risen absolutely since the Czarist régime. (The peasant, as ever, remains scarcely touched by these things.) The schools I saw would have been good middle schools in England. They are open to all, and there is an attempt to make education compulsory.

“Of course, Russia has its peculiar difficulties. Many of the schools are understaffed, and it is difficult to secure the attendance of unwilling pupils. Numbers of children prefer to keep out of the schools and trade upon the streets. A large part of the illicit trading in Russia is done by bands of children. They are harder to catch than adults, and the spirit of Russian communism is against punishing them. And the Russian child is, for a northern ehild, remarkably precocious.

“The common practice of co-educating youngsters up to 15 or 16, in a country as demoralized as Russia is now, has brought peculiar evils in its train. My attention was called to this by the visit of Bokaiev, the former head of the Petersburg Extraordinary Commission, and his colleague Zalutsky to Gorky to consult him in the matter. They discussed their business in front of me quite frankly, and the whole conversation was translated to me as it went on. The Bolshevist authorities have collected and published very startling, very shocking, figures of the moral condition of young people in Petersburg, which I have seen.

“But there can be no doubt that in the Russian towns, concurrently with increased educational effort and an enhanced intellectual stimulation of the young there is also an increased lawlessness on their part especially in sexual matters, and that this is going on in a phase of unexampled sobriety and harsh puritanical decorum so far as adult life is concerned.

This hectic moral fever of the young is the dark side of the educational spectacle in Russia. I think it is to be regarded mainly as an aspect of the general social collapse; every European country has noted a parallel moral relaxation of the young under the war strain; but the revolution itself, in sweeping a number of the old, experienced teachers out of the schools and in making every moral standard a subject of debate, has no doubt contributed also to an as yet incalculable amount in the excessive disorder of these matters in present-day Russia.

“I find it difficult to hold the scales of justice upon many of these efforts of Bolshevism. Here are these creative and educational things going on, varying between the admirable and the ridiculous, islands at least of cleanly work and, I think, of hope, amid the vast spectacle of grisly want and wide decay. Who can weigh the power and possibility of their thrust against the huge gravitation of this sinking system?”