Symposium Participants Drawn to Russian Experience
On November 15-16, an international symposium dedicated to childhood and adolescence took place in Moscow in honour of the 120th anniversary of Lev Vygotsky’s birth. Several participants in the symposium, entitled ‘Lev Vygotsky and Modern Childhood’, were especially interested in the unique Russian experience that flowed from the traditions established by the renowned Soviet psychologist.
‘The Russian traditions have a foundation on long history and careful philosophical considerations, with deeply rooted institutional practices’, said Jarkko Hautamäki, Professor Emeritus Centre for Educational Assessment at the University of Helsinki and Finland & Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Psychology at Moscow State University. ‘A strong emphasis on sciences, mathematics, humanities, literature and art is also obvious and penetrating. A poly-technical education also used to have an important role’.
For Maria Cristina Galmarini-Kabala, Assistant Professor in the Department of History at James Madison University, the attraction to Russia goes back much further in her professional career.
‘I became interested in Russia in 1995, when I graduated from high school and needed to pick a major in college’, she said. ‘After much wavering, I decided to double major in Russian and German languages and literatures. The reason behind my choice to study Russian culture was double: love for Russian literature and fascination with the country's political past and current situation. Those were the 1990s, when it suddenly felt possible for a young Italian woman to go to Russia and observe the country's momentous changes first hand. I have never stopped observing change in Russia since then’.
Later on, while completing her doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Professor Galmarini-Kabala chose to focus her dissertation on the history of social rights in Soviet Union. ‘When I went into the archives, I discovered that a whole array of Soviet organizations was devoted to “helping” specific social groups. So, I became intrigued by the issue of help and what it meant to be entitled to state help in the early Soviet and Stalinist regime’.
On their own childhood
Both before and after the symposium, many participants spoke about what they would change about their childhood if given the opportunity. While their answers varied to a certain extent, most seemed to agree that traveling earlier and gaining exposure to other cultures would be one aspect that they would gladly change.
‘I would have started to travel abroad earlier, and I would have selected Russian for my third foreign language’, said Professor Hautamäki.
‘Thanks to my wonderful parents, I grew up surrounded by love and attention, always shielded from all the problems my mother and father had’, said Professor Galmarini-Kabala. ‘One thing that I would change is my exposure to art and music classes. I did not have any, and I deeply regret that. I also wish I had started traveling and seeing the beauty of the world at an earlier age’, she said.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, especially for HSE News service