Teaching Russia, killing 3 Birds with One Stone and Auld Lang Syne

My last post for the student blog that I finished yesterday, in honor of the centennial of the murder of Rasputin led me to re-examine how to include the Russian Revolutions in the curriculum.  When the World History Topics were 20th century World History Topics, and before Route 1 and Route 2 were ever conceived of, certain topics were taught by most IB History teachers, most notably World War I and the Russian Revolutions.  This was further reinforced by the Prescribed Subject 1998-2002: Russian Revolutions and New Soviet State.  How to integrate Russian history was not an issue – excluding it was more difficult.

This brought to mind the advice that was given by the Chief Examiner in History, Sonia Clarke.  Almost every year we would meet teachers – especially those in international schools – who inherited classes which had not been taught according to DP specifications and ultimately had to teach a 2-year curriculum in one.  If they were doing History of Europe, her advice was simple: when in doubt, teach Russia.  There were 3 items on the HL syllabus that pertained to Russia/USSR, Single Party States included Russia/USSR and there was the Prescribed Subject – it later became USSR under Stalin, allowing the continuation of this model.  Although other material needed to be taught as well, the idea of killing 3 birds with one stone gave new teachers in bad situations a good starting point and a degree of confidence that they needed.  This was the stopgap measure to ensure student success; a more nuanced and varied curriculum could be developed for the Year I DP students.

Russian Revolution

Russian Revolution, in http://robertgraham/wordpress/chapter 18/Russia

Russia/USSR no longer figures quite so prominently in the IB curriculum but it’s importance in understanding current events is even more critical than it was even 10 years ago.  Just as World War I is critical for understanding the creation of current states and national conflicts, Russian and Soviet history are critically important for understanding modern Russian leadership, the nature of international power and US-Russian relations today.  So – how do we fit it in?

  • Evolution and development of democratic states: this is a bit tricky but the Duma period falls in here, as does the Provisional Government period, and the collapse of the USSR and creation of new, post-1991 states.
  • Authoritarian States: from the creation of the Soviet state in 1917 through its collapse in 1991, the regimes of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev can all be studied.
  • 20th century wars: the Russian Civil War (1918-1921) can be used.
  •  Cold War: any of the above-mentioned leaders can be used in a depth study, and the Cold War is a study in US-Soviet relations

If you also teach History of Europe, sections 12 and 16 are specific to Russia/USSR and then a number of the sections can include Russia as a case study.

We may not be able to kills 3 birds with one stone but the subject recurs enough to be an efficient use of time.

Sonia’s influence in our subject continues to this day.  She was a wonderful workshop leader and her method, informed by common sense and responding to teacher questions as they were asked  is still the best approach that I’ve seen.  She was sensible and firm in her delivery; she kept current with historiography and had a good understanding of what 17 year-olds were capable of.  She did not try to dazzle her audience with power point bells and whistles and yet most teachers were engaged from start to finish.  Her explanations of assessments were unparalleled and she mentored all of us who came into the IB from the 1990s until her death.  We learned her Sonia-isms (end-on account anyone?) and learned to translate them to new IB teachers.  The inclusion of medieval and early modern history are part of her legacy.  So, on New Year’s Eve, I raise my glass to Sonia (a teetotaler herself), and take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne.

Best wishes for 2017.

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