A Bit Of Russian Humor To Provide Perspective

As an American, I am envious of the Russian sense of humor that culminates in the ubiquitous anecdote.  No matter what the event or the occasion, the anecdote is up to the task.  It is the voice of the people, coming through a barrage of political slogans, twisted phrases and distorted language.  I believe that the Russian anecdote is a release, a coping mechanism for all the struggles and problems this great nation has had to endure.

A digression with a quick return to our topic:  We often forget how different Russians and Americans are.   Russia is largely a misogynistic culture, although there have been many strong women throughout Russian history and quite a number of “superfluous men”.  I remember a UCLA professor telling me I was going to take a men’s exam rather than a women’s exam.  At the time I was shocked, but realized later that such an attitude is common.  Anti-women anecdotes still predominate.  Such an anecdote could never be printed in an American paper:

At the zoo, a little girl asks her mother:

–Mommy, why is that goat looking off in the distance with such a sad expression?

–And, do you often see your Daddy smile?  That’s just the way men’s lives are.

Putin has been characterized as a swaggering bully.  He is a former light-weight champion.  To the White House, he has been responsible for a number of problems and there is an anecdote for that:

At the White House:  –Did you hear the latest?  Obama’s Press Secretary is pregnant.  Do you know who was responsible?

–I can guess.  It must be Putin, since he’s responsible for everything else!

And about the Ukrainian situation:

A lady from Israel is talking to her friend from the Ukraine:

–So, what’s been happening over there?

–We’re having a little war with Russia.

–Have you had any losses?

–Just a few things:  the Crimea, a couple of regions, some airplanes, some helicopters, some weapons and some of our people.

–And what have the Russians lost?

–Would you believe it?  They haven’t arrived yet!

And, of course, there is the Russian economy.  We look at two different perspectives:

The reality of the Russian economy:  The director of a major business was given the gift of a hen that could lay golden eggs.  Within a month, the business failed to make a profit.

–My dear Holmes, what do you make of the fact that in one year the ruble has dropped to half it’s value, while the euro has dropped to a fourth of it’s value?

–Elementary, my dear Watson.  The given fact indicates that European help is twice as terrifying as it’s sanctions.

And there is the medical profession.  Two anecdotes:

–Russian medicine is very simple.  Whatever illness you go into the hospital with, you die from.

–Why don’t we fall off the earth when it rotates on its axis?

–We’re stuck to the hospitals.

And, lastly, the all embracing topic of alcoholism:

–Hello!  I would like to buy some alcohol on credit.

–Judging by the color of your face, I would say you have an excellent credit history!

–Do you have a dream?

–I do.

–Please tell me what it is.

–It’s to give up drinking.

–So, give it up!

–And then, how could I live without a dream?

Indeed!  How can anyone live without a dream?

“How Can Mothers Give Birth To Such Monsters?

It was late at night.  Most of the patients were sleeping, but one was not.  He was tossing and turning, hovering between sanity and insanity.  The pain from the shrapnel wound he had received fighting for the Ukrainian resistance had not subsided, but that was not what was troubling him.  Only a few hours ago, he had learned of the death of his new wife and child.  His wife had been the prettiest girl in the village and they had looked forward to a long life together.  She, too, had been a fighter for Ukrainian independence, but had been captured by the Germans.  In a narrow prison with grimy walls, she had been tortured, and finally hanged, but not before she saw her baby’s skull shattered at the hands of the Nazis.  One thought tormented Vasya:  “How can mothers give birth to such monsters?”   He continued to moan from pain and despair.  Where was his future happiness now?  He thought back to his first date, and the sparkle in his bride’s eyes.  The Ukrainian steppe, which once seemed a boundless reach of possibilities, was now shrouded in gloom and uncertainty.  The more he thought, the angrier he got, and gripped the bedsheets, clenching his teeth.  Yet those actions assuaged some of his anger and he thought of his dead child and the many helpless children that are subjected to man’s inhumanity.  A new look shone in his eyes.  This was a confident look, a look of determination.  Vasya had made a decision:  “I will give my heart to children.”

Suddenly, his mind spun out a series of ideas.  He thought of his mentors:  Anton Makarenko and Janusz Korczak.  Makarenko had transformed would-be delinquents into future lawyers, doctors, architects, builders, teachers.  He had written his Pedagogical Poem in three parts after Dante, showing the progression from student hell to student heaven.  However, to achieve his aims, he had to make use of corporal punishment, and sheer intimidation.  Vasya would have none of that.  He would build the pride and confidence of his pupils, but he would do so from trust and love, not from coercion.  Korczak had been a hero to Vasya.  He had marched with his students to the gas chambers at Treblinka,  accompanying them as their teacher and friend to the very end.  The “Old Doctor”  had placed great emphasis on the health of his students.  This was a concept Vasya could embrace, because he believed in beautiful, healthy children.  He could not know that on the other side of the globe, in the despised imperialist U.S., another writer, the children’s writer, L. Frank Baum, had said the same thing many years before:  ” In all this world there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child.”  Vasya would see to it that the children had ample time for exercise and he would expose them to the elements to strengthen their bodies.

The mind that had been immersed in gloomy thoughts, now spun out more and more positive, expansive thoughts.  Vasya turned once again to his Ukrainian homeland with fruit trees, winding meadows and the ripening fields of grain.  Yes, he wanted children to experience nature in all its grandeur.  He wanted children to experience the awe and mystery of their natural surroundings.  And the thought came to him:  “I will build a school of joy.  I want students to feel beauty in all its manifestations.  Nature will be a wellspring for reading, writing and counting.  Already, he could see parts of future compositions floating about, lighting up the dreary hospital room:  “The Little Sun has arisen.  The little birds have wakened.  A lark ascends into the sky.  The sunflower has also awakened.”  And I will teach the children fairy tales, and we will listen to the music of the streams…

Vasya had exhausted himself with his thoughts and he fell asleep.  However, he never lost his concentrated look and his determination.  From dawn until the evening he would work with students, teachers, parents, and other staff, to create his special school in Pavlysh.  Despite attacks of angina and weakness, he would persevere, and fight for the dignity of children to the end.  When the doctors opened him up at the last, they could not believe he had lived as long as he had, so damaged was his body.  But Vasya had triumphed to become Vasilii Sukhomlinsky, one of the greatest educators of the twentieth century.

A proud Vasilij Sukhomlinskij

A proud Vasilii Sukhomlinsky

The Circles Of Sukhomlinsky By Nata Krylova, Part 2.

Sukhomlinsky’s ideas are from the Second Circle:  1.  The main educator’s skill is the ability to feel the inner world of kids.  The main task for the educator is to teach a child to feel another’s heart;  2.  Learning is part of a child’s spiritual life.  3.  School is the heart of four domains:  the Motherland, the humane, the book, and the native word.  4.  The educator and the child are connected by heartfelt threads.  Sukhomlinsky uses the following concepts as key-words:  spiritual community, heart, deep love, many-sided emotional attitudes, attachment to the child.  That is the OTHER LINE of concepts, different than that used by scholars, who consider research problems only on the first level!

The Third Circle:  Teachers’/Kids’ Community.  In the last years of his life and after his death, Sukhomlinsky enters into the Third Circle;  the spreading of his ideas and growing popularity.  The lines of like-minded educators grow.  We can talk now about the time he lives in as a Historical Circle, in the same way we talk about “Pushkin and his Circle/Surrounding,” or “Shakespeare and his Circle/Surrounding.”

The seeds were sown.  Many teachers followed Sukhomlinsky’s lead.  There was a time for Pre-reformation.  The school reforms and the education in the middle of the 80s had begun.  The new conception of “Educators for Collaboration” was published, summarizing all that had been done in teachers’ Humane Community after Sukhomlinsky’s death.  That community has maintained a connection with the kids’ community in their schools.

The Fourth Circle:  Common World Space.  It is possible that there are the same or similar circles for the development of  educational ideas in various countries.  At the intersection of the 20th and 21st centuries, we have a real opportunity to bring together humanist educational ideas and values of different cultures, including Sukhomlinsky’s ideas.  It doesn’t mean that those ideas will become the same.  It means that educators can enter into the common spiritual space for the upbringing of kids in the Second and Third Circles and there is more which each teacher can give his/her heart to children.(I Give my Heart to Children was the title of one of Sukhomlinsky’s last works.)

Vasilij Sukhomlinskij explores a field with his student.

Vasilii Sukhomlinsky explores a field with his student.

My Russian Air Conditioning

I consider myself a most fortunate man, because I am surrounded by people, who think of my well-being.  My architect went out of his way to ensure that not a precious ray of sunshine escapes my room, so that I should not suffer from an overdose of oxygen.  My mailman is conscientious enough to deliver my neighbor’s mail to me on a regular basis , so I will get sufficient exercise.  My “significant other” drains my wallet monthly, so I’m not burdened with too much money.  And I am the first on the block to have a repairman install Russian air conditioning.  When the technician arrived, he told me he was a Russian from the Ukraine and that he had a special treat for me:  “This pound of freon will only cost you $150.  If I had come the day next, it might have cost you $400.”  When he left he said: “You can count your stars lucky.  You have Russian air conditioning made in China.”  So I sit and I schwitz, and I choke and I croak.  However, occasionally I feel a stream of lukewarm air wheezing through the vent and am content.  I have Russian air conditioning.