PROSECUTOR GENERAL TAKES AIM ON "SOURCES"
Parents of pupils complained about religious propaganda in school
by Alexander Chernykh
Kommersant, 9 December 2016
Kommersant has learned that a group of parents of pupils of capital school No. 2065 sent to the office of the prosecutor general a complaint against "imposing religious ideology by the Department of Education." The Muscovite parents consider that the subject "Sources," which is taught in 62 regions of the country, is "an antiscientific manipulation" and "pressure on children's psyche." The authors of the appeal emphasize that the course with a confessional bias is "obligatory for all pupils," among whom there also are Muslims, Jews, and Catholics. Capital bureaucrats insist that the subject is secular and elective.
On 1 September 2015, the Ministry of Education and Science introduced into the mandatory part of the curriculum of grades five through nine a subject area "Foundations of the spiritual and moral culture of the peoples of Russia." At that time the capital department of education launched in 40 schools an experiment in the required study of Foundations of the spiritual and moral culture of the peoples of Russia amounting to one hour per week. Parents of fifth graders were advised to choose between two textbooks: a resource titled "Orthodox Culture" and a course titled "Sources." Now "Sources" is taught in educational institutions of 62 regions of the country. In November 2016 the first deputy governor of Vologda province, Aleksei Sherlygin, declared that the leadership of the region had sent to the Ministry of Education and Science a request to extend the course to the entire country. However the first attempt of the Department of Education to introduce "Foundations of spiritual and moral culture" into the Moscow schools with a multi-confessional composition of pupils was turned into a joint declaration to the office of prosecutor general from parents, including Christians, Muslims Jews, and atheists.
"In September at a parents' meeting they told us about the Department of Education's experiment,' the mama of a pupil of school No. 2065, Inna Gerasimova, explained to Kommersant. "There was no kind of choice. They said that all fifth graders would go once a week to the class 'Sources,' and one cannot refuse." Mrs. Gerasimova opened the textbook of a subject unknown to her and "I was simply in shock." "There was all this talk about evil force, holy water, and guardian angels, and there was quite serious description of miracles worked by icons," the mama of the pupil says. Inna Gerasimova stressed all the dubious—from her point of view—assertions of the textbook and she published photographs in the parents' chat room. "I myself am an atheist, but all the believers were in general displeased," she says. "In our class half the children are from Muslim families. After all, this is New Moscow. We have Jewish families, there are Catholics and Adventists. And Orthodox parents also spoke out against the explicit imposition of their religion."
The courses "Sources" and "Socio-Cultural Sources" were developed in the early 2000s under the aegis of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, a public organization which has nothing to do with the Russian Academy of Sciences and is frequently criticized by scholars. There exists a whole line of resources, which begins with books for kindergartens and proceeds from first to eleventh grades of schools and concludes with textbooks for colleges. Their authors are a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences and chief editor of "Sources," Igor Kuzmin, and corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences and professor of the Vologda Pedagogical University, Alexander Kamkin. According to information from kartoteka.ru, "Sources" earned about 22.5 million rubles in 2011-2016 from sale of textbooks.
Mrs. Gerasimova sent her complaint to the capital Department of Education, which redirected the letter to the leadership of the school (Kommersant has the correspondence). The director summoned the parents to the school and declared that she does not have the right to reject the subject since it is an initiative of the department. "In the end we agreed that the subject would remain, but the school would drop the 'Sources' textbook and change the subject into a secular one," Mrs. Gerasimova says. "But after a couple of days at a parents' meeting they told us that everything remains as it was before. At most one could give up the textbooks if they are not liked." At the same meeting, all 24 parents present signed an appeal to the capital prosecutor. "I have some legal education, something I picked up in life," Inna Gerasimova says. "I showed the other parents the constitution where it is explicitly said that religious associations are separated from the state. I showed the law 'On freedom of conscience,' where it is said that it is forbidden to teach religion to children against their will and without the consent of parents. Everybody agreed that such experiments violate the law." On 28 October the appeal was sent to the Moscow prosecutor's office, which transferred it to the Department of Education. After this the parents sent a similar complaint to the office of the prosecutor general.
"In 126 pages of the book, mention is made of: God, 60 times; icon, 66; miracle, 20; prayer, 26; cross, 31; church building, 83; angel, 31," the parents calculated carefully. "Since in a substantial number of cases religious dogmas are at odds with a modern scientific worldview, we will be forced to regularly criticize the statements of the textbook and the points of the teacher, which will have a destructive impact on the authority of the academic process as a whole," the complaint says. "Use of the authority of the school for religious propaganda we consider to be absolutely impermissible." At the same time, the parents asked for a verification whether there was an element of corruption in the selection by capital bureaucrats of "Sources" as a textbook.
The Moscow Department of Education told Kommersant that "Foundations of the spiritual and moral culture of the peoples of Russia" is not connected with "encouragement of religious practice or study of the rituals of any religious confession." The officials maintain that the textbooks "Sources" and "Orthodox Culture" were selected "by the staffs of teachers as the result of sessions of pedagogical councils and study of the opinion of parents." And the schools "made the decision for study of the classes of 'Sources' and 'Orthodox Culture' as the result of discussion with all parents." At the same time, officials acknowledge that, besides "Sources" and "Orthodox Culture," parents have the right to demand "inclusion of topics associated with the spiritual and moral culture of the peoples of Russia in subjects of history, social studies, literature, music, and representational art." Or to be confined generally "to field trips to historical museums and concerts by Russian musicians." (tr. by PDS, posted 13 December 2016)
Monastic priest Gennady, representative of the synod's Department of Religious Education and Catechesis of the Russian Orthodox Church:
The course "Sources" went through all necessary expert analysis and was accepted by the Ministry of Education in the secular school. It is focused on the study of the history and cultural tradition of Russia. To speak of its evangelistic character is not even absurd but is banal ignorance. I can only express regret that anyone swoons when viewing in this culturological course such topics as "Solovki," "Church of the Intercession on the Nerl," and "Icon of the Life-giving Trinity."
As regards the alternative, the undeveloped content of the course on Foundations of the Spiritual and Moral Culture of the Peoples of Russia is the failure of the Ministry of Education and Science. This is the entire source of the controversy. And it is very good that the experiment which is being conducted in a number of schools is revealing "problematic areas." I hope that with the expansion of the order of subjects within the framework of the subject area of the Fundamentals course will lead to other courses, including full-fledged secular ethics. Incidentally, Muslims have already years back had the opportunity to teach foundations of Islamic culture in a number of constituent elements [subjects] of the federation.
We have always insisted on the guarantee of free choice by parents of the classes within the framework of both the Foundations of Religious Cultures and Secular Ethics and the Foundations of the Religions and Cultures of Russia. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 Deember 2016)
The RPTs [Russian Orthodox Church] denies the "evangelistic character" of the "Sources" course. But it should be noted that the developers of the course have awards from the leadership of the RPTs. Thus, in 2010 Patriarch Kirill awarded one of the authors of "Sources," Alexander Kamkin, the prize of the "For teacher's moral achievement" diploma of the third degree. Mr. Kamkin was specifically noted for development of the textbook "Sources" for general education institutions.
And in 2015 the "Sources" publishing house became one of the winners in the competition of "Enlightenment through books" which is conducted with the blessing of Patriarch Kirill. At that time the group of authors of textbooks for grades one through four and preschool institutions took third place in the nomination for "Better Textbooks."
At the same time, a search of websites of the RPTs produces also other examples of links of the RPTs and the "Sources" course. For example, on 8 September 2016 priests delivered textbooks for the course "Sources" to school No. 3 of the city of Viazemsky (Khabarovsk territory).
The chief enthusiasts for the promotion of "Sources" are the authorities of Vologda province. We recall that one of the developers of the course, Alexander Kamkin, teaches in the Vologda Pedagogical University. In November 2016, there was an All-Russian Academic Practical Conference, devoted to the "Sources" courts. The event was opened by Metropolitan of Vologda and Kirillovsk Ignaty and the first deputy governor of the province, Aleksei Sherlygin. The official declared that in Vologda province the course "Socio-Cultural Sources" was being studied by more than 80,000 pupils, which was two thirds of the pupils of grades 2 through 9. "By decision of today's conference, there should be an advance of the 'Sources' course to a yet higher level and its inclusion in the new academic educational curricula in the entire territory of the Russian federation" the deputy governor declared. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 December 2016)
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