In Russia, Children Get To Sesame St. In a New Way
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"If a person learns that nobody else is to blame for his faults, I suppose that's good," she says.Skip to next paragraph
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John Lambert, assistant director of education programs for the US Peace Corps in Russia, sees an effort by Russian educators to adopt some of the strong points of American schooling even though "the average Russian kid has successfully negotiated a lot more information than the American kid has."
He sees great interest among Russian educators in better teaching leadership, civics, group problem-solving, consumer education, and ethnic understanding.
Enter "Sesame Street," which begins airing here Oct. 22, with its lessons on environmental responsibility, resolving disputes, expressing feelings, appreciating differences in race and culture, and including children with disabilities - along with counting and letters, of course. Perhaps even more important, as a cultural influence "Sesame Street" is full of active, expressive children.
The idea of including disabled children is especially new to Russian culture, which segregates children with disabilities in special schools. In one "Ulitsa Sezam" episode, a deaf girl is the only one who can read the lips of someone locked in a room with a window. Next season, if the show continues, producers plan to add a character from the Adigei ethnic group in the Caucasus Mountain region. The producers ran out of time this season after American advisers convinced them that an Adigei character should be played by an Adigei actor, and not by someone who just looks Adigei.
All this American childhood independence can go too far for Russians, of course. When Russian writers were scripting in the need to keep quiet in public places, such as libraries and museums, an American adviser objected to this dampening of children's spirits. Guenina, the "Ulitsa Sezam" director of research, was a bit dumfounded, arguing that children can have self-esteem without being noisy.
The other side of this equation is that, in academic terms, American children do not learn as much. Through every level of schooling, Russian students read more and read better than their American counterparts. They are far better at math. They know more about the sciences, history, and literature. And they speak more languages.
Russian schools may not deserve the credit. The Peace Corps' Dr. Lambert suspects that Russians know more than Americans in spite of their poorly managed education system. The reasons he cites: First, American kids are inundated with verbal and graphic information; their lives are full of distractions. Second, Russian culture values knowledge in a way that American culture does not.
Poetic vs. practical
Mrs. Rusanova notices the difference both when American exchange students come to Moscow's Gymnasium No. 1543, and when she recently taught in a high school in a prosperous area in Tenafly, N.J. The American students, she says, work at lower academic standards. "Americans may be more practical," she suggests diplomatically, adding that Russian students are far more likely to read poetry or look at art and to want to talk about it.
"Sesame Street" will not help Russia in one respect. More jumpy, quick-changing, bouncing, dancing television aimed at children may not help them sustain their attention spans. But the show's director, Mr. Grammatikov, says that Russia's reading culture is already in decline. It is impossible to stop the influx of computer games, television shows, and other new channels of influence over the young, he says, "So we need to use them."