• The Day of Knowledge

This day is indelibly scored in my consciousness as the 1st day of the school year in Russia. The long summer holidays end with a tinge of magical touch of Autumn in the air. Children  have been getting ready for this day for the past week, with mums and babushkas furiously buying exercise books, plastic set squares, rulers, pens and crayons, expensive calculators for the older classes, and missing pieces of school uniforms. Whole new uniforms have had to be purchased if their charges have stretched another few centimetres over the summer break.

The younger children, as I remember from our own daughter looked forward to this day, with a mixture of expectations and trepidation. For her, Russian school was a serious social experience with bonding and group experiences being very important, school friends were more than friends, they were almost family complete with a few evil brothers and sisters, the odd demonic teacher and tortuous PT classes. For the older children, expectations of meeting Sasha, Dasha, Petya and Natasha again, catching up on what their families had put them through over the summer over a secret cigarette round the back of the school shed are the positive aspects of this day. On the negative side: the annoyance of once again losing new found summer freedoms, and renewed subjugation to a school regime that has little to do with the digital age  that has been their experience for the past glorious three months.  The flowers, warm smiles from the teachers, the petite pony tails with flowers in them, the white frilly shirt collars, and the smart pressed trousers from the boys with their white shirts – whatever would gender warriors say about such an astoundingly clear division of sexes back home in the West?, all speak of a grand ritual, a kind of reawakening of the monstrous self-productive machine of society, but at the same time of a handsome, civilised and even gentle way to wean children and parents back into the school regime. It speaks of the fact that secondary education in Russia is to some extent a hangover from the previous Soviet system when parents were also as responsible for their children’s successes or failures as the children themselves, and perhaps, in view of the various social experiments with education in the West, this actually turns out to be not a bad thing.

The parents would never admit it to anybody else apart from a well trusted inner circle of friends – and few Russians talk to anybody else, are secretly relieved. As that first school bell is rung, mum and dad know that now they only have to take their son or daughter to the school gates every morning, instead of having to arrange and finance entertainment, family holidays, constant shopping sprees in Mega jungles where plastic cards offer no protection from the hell of nascent unquenchable desires for just about everything, although parents usually accepts such duties with unbounded joy in the full knowledge that their sacrifices only bring their rewards in the form of renewed family bliss. For some strange reasons, the mums usually share such common experiences with other mums and the dads with the dads, rarely do you find both mums and dads openly comparing notes in common in pairs in secret cathartic sessions.

The 1st of September is not such a fancy do for returning university students. Some professors are still away lapping up otherness in a foreign land, and term doesn’t really start for a week or so. For many university students who actually want to study this day is a good day. For others, who are at university for other reasons, this is not such a good day.

This day is in fact memorable because the huge act of surrendering one’s offspring to strangers for most of the day is at least made public and talked about. In general terms, despite shades of cynicism in the above text, Russia and Russians handle this day extremely well, it is in fact a real holiday, in the public eye, and that surely is not a bad thing.

Happy Day of Knowledge from RK.