Archive for June, 2017

HOT SEASON

June 25, 2017

June is the month of tests and exams. Here in Kyiv, a lady I know told me that she and her 17-year-old son had been writing cheat sheets (“shporee” – in Russian) all the night before his test to be held on the following day. Which sounded very unusual to me: I could never have thought that a parent and a child could collude to cheat during a test. In connection with this I remembered a story I heard from an American mother at one of Chicago schools. Her daughter, while sitting in English class, cheated on a vocabulary test looking up a definition. When back at home, she told her mother about the fraud. The mother said the girl had to confess to the teacher about her doing. The first thing the mother knew of it was the paper the daughter handed her with a glaring “F” softened by the teacher’s scribbled “Thanks for being honest.” “Can you believe it? Both of us, Brenda and I, were happy about the result!” the mother said.

My conclusion? First of all, honesty costs, but it buys a clear conscience. And, second of all, honesty begins at home.

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A RECIPE TO LOVE THE WORLD

June 21, 2017

Sometimes you run into strangers whom you start disliking immediately for whatever reason. It may be early in the day, when you enter a lift: someone is already there, and you say “ Good morning!”, and the person doesn’t answer. Or when you incidentally push a guy in an overcrowded trolleybus, and he goes on grumbling even after your sincere apologies. Or when you bump into an unknown person in the doorway of a supermarket and he/she gives you a somber look – heavy enough to crush a rock. It may be when you speak to a cheerless bureaucrat behind a counter, or listen to a religious bigot who deems himself a “know-it-all” in politics too, etc., etc.

At one point I began to look at such people and imagine what they were at the age of three, four, five… Vulnerable toddlers clinging to their mom’s skirts or holding their dad’s hands. Their big beautiful eyes were filled with curiosity and the belief that all people were friendly and they were protected by strangers as much as by their parents. They were ready to smile at you the moment you smiled at them, they harbored no malice against anyone, they possessed pure hearts which they wore on their sleeves, even if their shirts (with bears or rabbits on them) were sleeveless.

…When I start thinking this way, I am immediately at peace with the world at large, with myself, and… with these people.

EDUCATION REINVENTED

June 17, 2017

The Financial Times (June 16, 2017, p. 9) writes about how high school students in the U.S.A. are helped to acquire skills that are marketable in industry. One in six workers in the country is unemployed or under-employed, while, paradoxically, more than 6 million jobs remain unfilled. Youth- and long-term joblessness is especially high. One reason for it is a “skills gap” – a discrepancy between what schools teach and what is required in the market. To bridge the gap the American IBM partners high schools infusing the school curricula with courses that develop the skills needed by the company. The focus is on the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). As a rule, students stay at a four-year senior high for another two years (“Six is the new four”) and get an associate’s degree in the end. Those who are gifted enough may complete the six-year program in four years. Such schools are called P-techs (an abbreviation of “Pathway into Technology). P-tech graduates are first in line for positions at IBM and other blue-chip partners like SAP, Cisco and Global Foundries, where many students have already done their internships.

A problem with the U.S. education is the lack of middle-market technical skills. Too many students graduate with heavy debts and useless degrees, but the huge “sub-BA” market does not necessarily require degrees. It requires SKILLS. Yes, in America, as in most countries across the world (Germany and Switzerland are, probably, exceptions), workforce training is viewed as a dumping ground for less fortunate students. However, hard realities of life dictate a fresh approach to vocational training. P-techs were first launched in 2011 in New York City, and now the model spread into 57 cities in six states serving 12,000 students, as well as being launched overseas in Australia and Morocco.

When I read such articles in the foreign press, I usually compare them with what is going on in my native Ukraine. Education is also re-shaped in this country. Of course, it’s still too early to speak of Ukrainian businesses partnering high schools: businesses are too weak to finance teaching at schools according to their industrial or commercial needs, schools are too conservative to overcome their “inertia of rest.” Something is certainly done: old syllabi are modernized, new courses are introduced. Next year Ukraine is going to participate in the Program for International Assessment of Students (PISA). The concept of “democratic” education is being more and more cultivated, e.g. closer co-operation of parents and teachers, less formal relationship between teachers and students, etc. But I am afraid that flying into a rage of “modernizing” and “westernizing” of Ukrainian education, the zealots may abandon traditional strengths of our educational system. And one of such strengths has always been the discipline of learning. A non-permissive teacher setting challenging (and often exacting) tasks for students, and demanding the timeliness and perfection of fulfilling those tasks has been considered a GOOD teacher in Ukraine. And not only in Ukraine. When I was teaching abroad (in the U.K. and, later, in the U.S.A.), some teachers and parents said that I was sort of tough in the classroom, but they agreed it was an advantageous side of my teaching (I was so much flattered then :-)).

Incidentally, toughness of teaching doesn’t exclude a teacher’s kindness towards students. It’s another question, how to achieve that happy blend of being uncompromising and remaining well-disposed towards kids. IMO, the more talented a teacher is, the happier that blend will be. And it hardly comes with a teacher’s degree. It’s a gift. A teacher must be born with it.

I must admit, I was rather disappointed when I read recently that there won’t be any grading in elementary schools, and in middle schools (not sure about senior highs) grades received will be a private matter of every student: a teacher will not be supposed to give grades “publicly” — for all in the classroom to hear. The approach can, as our Minister of Education says, relieve students of unnecessary stress and make the classroom atmosphere more relaxed. But… will it raise standards of education?

THE NATIONALISTS

June 7, 2017

They didn’t know each other personally, but at some point, their biographies were strikingly similar. Both of them were born into families with strong religious traditions and both were Polish citizens at the beginning of WWII. Each of them had an all-consuming passion: for one it was Ukraine, for the other Israel. Each of them served in a foreign army with an idea to be trained as a military, so that later, with the experience gained, they would serve their own countries – the countries that so far hadn’t existed by that time. In 1944, when Menachem Begin understood that the British, who had a League of Nations mandate for Palestine, were not planning on establishing a Jewish state in the Middle East, he proclaimed a revolt of a Zionist militant group he headed, against the British. In 1943, when Roman Shukhevych lost all hope that the Germans would agree to an independent Ukraine, he joined the Ukrainian guerillas who were fighting both the Germans and the Soviets, and later he ranked foremost in the Ukrainian Resistance Movement – the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). The enemies were targeted, attacked, killed, blown off, bombings were authorized… Both Roman Shukhevych and Menachem Begin were on top of the list of the most “WANTED” – the former was wanted by the Germans/Soviets and the latter – by the British (M15 placed “dead-or-alive” bounty of 10,000 pounds on the head of Menachem Begin).

In the long run, the destinies of Begin and Shukhevych turned out to be different. In 1947, the British cabinet voted to leave Palestine, and the UN approved a resolution to partition the country between Arabs and Jews. In 1948, Israel declared its independence. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, Monachem Begin served as Prime-Minister and Minister of Defense of Israel.

Roman Shukhevych and his army were active fighting communists in Ukraine for almost 10 years after the end of WWII. Shukhevych shot himself when his residence near Lviv was surrounded by some 700 soldiers, and when he was about to be arrested by the agents of the MGB (Ministry of State Security).

How are these two remembered by their compatriots? You ask anybody in Israel about Menachem Begin and they will know the person and his role in building the Jewish state. In 2013, The Jerusalem Post published an article “Menachem Begin: A Model for Leadership.” The article begins with the following words: “Of those who fought for the Jewish state, and then went on to lead it, the two outstanding figures are David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin.” After concluding the peace treaty with Egypt in 1978, Menachem Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Anwar Sadat. A slightly fictionalized Begin appears in films, plays and novels. The 10-mile Menachem Begin Expressway, popularly known as Begin Highway, passes from north to south in western Jerusalem.

Roman Shukhevych was awarded the title of the Hero of Ukraine by President Yushchenko in 2007. The award was annulled by the pro-Russian President Yanukovych in 2010. Several appeals followed and, from what I understand, the matter is still in suspension. On June 1, 2017 the Kyiv City Council unanimously voted to rename Vatutin Prospekt on the left bank of the city by giving it the name of Roman Shukhevych. (Nikolai Vatutin was a Soviet general and Stalin’s favorite who, in 1943, was liberating Kyiv from the Germans, at the same time occupying it for the communists, and against whom the Shukhevych-led Insurgent Army fought). Incidentally, a two-month public opinion survey was previously arranged on the site of the Kyiv City Council before the final decision was made, with the majority of voters having supported the renaming. However, the media controlled by money-bags, who need independent Ukraine only as a guarantee that they get a free hand in robbing Ukraine of its riches and that those riches are not further robbed away from them by Putin, set up a howl, their main argument being that Roman Shukhevych was a “nationalist.” Well, guys, nationalism is the armor used by a nation to defend its identity, to preserve its culture, history and memory – not to be dissolved or simply destroyed in the world torn apart by mutual distrust, hatred, and readiness to murder. The Jewish people, to which most of the Ukrainian oligarchs ethnically belong, could survive and live successfully on because of their nationalism. The roots of the Jewish nationalism are in the Old Testament. Just read the Bible before accusing Shukhevych of nationalism.

I esteem it an honor to write about them, the nationalists, who fought not so much because they hated what was in front of them, but because they loved what was behind them.


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