In 2006, The New York Times headlines announced an immediate Russian crackdown on foreign influence, centering upon nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating within the boundaries of Russia:
MOSCOW, Oct. 19--Scores of foreign private organizations were forced to cease their operations in Russia on Thursday while the government considered whether to register them under a new law that has received sharp international criticism ... the suspensions were the latest chapter in Russia's pressure on foreign organizations that have offices on its soil. (Chivers, 2006)
Since that time, international NGOs have continued to struggle to defend or define their legitimate roles in Russia (BBC, 2011). More recently, a move by President Obama to "free $50 million in long-stalled aid to promote democracy and civil society in Russia" has met with "accusations that the United States is meddling in Russia's internal politics" (Herschenhorn, 2012). Long-standing suspicions remain even about such well-established educational partnerships as Civitas@Russia (Civitas), part of the larger Civitas International Civic Education Exchange Program working in 50 nations around the globe (Marx, 2005).
While partnerships such as Civitas exist to benefit Russia and to promote democracy, some see those two aims as contradictory, questioning the "infiltration" of Western ideas and models globally. From a Western perspective, it is important to judge the effect Civitas has on Russian classrooms in order to evaluate the program specifically, professional development efforts generally, and the distinctions it maintains between humanitarianism and imperialism.
This study focuses on one teacher educator, Vera, who participated in the Civitas Training of Professionals program (an international partnership between Russia and the U.S. through the Center for Civic Education) in St. Petersburg, Russia. Through her case, we can trace the limitations and the influences such organizations and professional development seminars can have. We can also see how she is able to articulate her own cultural understanding of democracy from the civic education training model. This paper addresses the question of how one Russian teacher educator reconciles a democratic model of teaching, as presented at a Civitas teacher training seminar, within the context of an authoritarian state.
The larger implication considers how educational researchers trace the possible influences of Western conceptions of democracy. Here and abroad, the message of democracy is being interpreted through cultural lenses that are increasingly foreign to American audiences (Rapoport, 2007). In classrooms across the United States, we face increasing numbers of non-native students who have not grown up in the cultural understanding of democracy that we accept as "normal." In particular, educators responsible for teaching the next generation of democratic citizens need to consider the cultural implications of teaching democracy. What are the implications of teaching democracy in a diverse cultural context?
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Current research in civic education looks at the effects of civic education initiatives and partnerships in developing democracies throughout the world. However, this research often fails to ask how each location interprets the message of democracy in light of its own cultural context. A brief overview of some of the existing research will help situate this evaluation of Civitas among other program evaluations. There is a lack of in-depth ethnographic studies of civic education participants and their personal meaning-making. The contribution of this study to the existing literature, therefore, helps fill that gap.
One of the most widely recognized programs for civic education both nationally and internationally is the We the People ... Project Citizen (Patrick, Vontz, & Metcalf, 2003). John Patrick (2003), Terry Mason (2004) and others reported on its use in Lithuania and Latvia. Patrick et al. (2003) described the initial phase during which one thousand copies of the student manual for Project Citizen were translated directly from the United States version, with no cultural adaptations other than common language usage. Later iterations had specific Lithuanian cultural input that eventually became part of the civic education training conducted by the Ministry of Education and Science each year (Patrick et al., 2003).
Terry Mason (2004) has worked with and studied civic education projects in Lithuania and Macedonia at the South East European University. The results from his early survey of students at the university indicate that these pre-service educators rarely had the opportunity to practice what they were being taught. The teachers asked for the opportunity to "build community" and to "have choices." These teachers echo the concern of Russian teacher educators who comment that the training for democracy conflicts with the current living conditions within a non-democratic state (Hahn, 2008).
Greg Hamot (1998) focused on one particular partnership project in Poland. He described the main goal of developing a teacher training course that became "The School in a Democratic Society," a two-semester college-level course collaboratively designed to meet the needs of Poland's growing democracy. In order to write this curriculum, five educators from Poland came to a U.S. university to work with and observe civic educators and experts before returning home to complete their curriculum project in December, 1993 (Hamot, 1998). In this collaborative effort it became difficult to assess where the balance lies between Polish ideas and the American contributions. Mirroring the approach Civitas took with their training session, Stephen Finkel (2003) found that in Poland, individuals who were "trained frequently and [took] an active part in their own learning" displayed more positive attitudes toward democracy and their own future engagement in it (pp. 147-148). Not all research points to such positive effects, however. Quigley found that "These efforts to assist civil society in Eastern Europe [fall] far short of their lofty goals" (as cited in Rapoport, 2007, p. 191).
The Civitas International Exchange Program, administered by the Center for Civic Education and funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant, has sponsored numerous international projects for educational reform beyond the Civitas Training of Professionals program examined in this paper (Quigley & Hoar, 1999). For example, Hungary adapted the popular We the People curriculum into their own version: Citizen in a Democracy Student Academic Competition (Quigley & Hoar, 1999). Cornett et al. (2002) reports that over 7,000 students have participated in the competition since 1996. Their research included a participant survey that tracked impressive gains in cognitive understandings about democracy, including a 71-80% growth in commitment to democracy, and a 94-98% growth in knowledge about the rights and responsibilities of citizens (Cornett et al., 2002). While significant strides were identified, this research did not address the question of how that newly politically-active mindset fits within the Hungarian culture.
Hamot and Misco (2007) found that teachers in Kyrgyzstan were suffering from fear for the next generation's lack of moral development. A strong emphasis on morality underlies their civic education intentions and concerns. However, the teachers trace their emphasis on moral education to its roots in Russian traditions that stress the importance of proper "upbringing" in the Soviet system (Vaillant, 2003). In this case, the Western training gave them further backing for returning to a part of their own earlier history where moral education was prevalent (Hamot & Misco, 2007).
In sum, research in the field generally supports the approach Civitas has taken in training professional teacher educators. It supports the idea that importing Western democracy can take root within educational systems. However, studies have struggled to ascertain to what extent the results are purely Western conceptions of democracy or whether the participants have contextualized or culturally internalized the democratic educational models they have accepted. To put this another way, the question remains: Is Civitas the latest wave of academic imperialism or the best example of academic interchange and collaboration?
This study examines the Civitas University Partnership teacher training program by tracing how one participant (Vera) made sense of the conference proceedings and her perceptions of how these proceedings shaped her conceptions of civic education. My study seeks to reveal the extent to which the participant adopted the American ideas or altered them to fit her own cultural context. The study also sheds light on a question closer to home--how does the democracy we teach get interpreted culturally by our students?
Because the study focused on one individual and her impressions and experiences, a qualitative, ethnographic case study methodology proved most efficient in uncovering her personal and professional beliefs. To facilitate such an in-depth look, I relocated to St. Petersburg, Russia, to be onsite for both the conference and the semester of classes following. The story I tell is one of relationship and the meaning-making that occurs within an individual as she shapes her experience within an educational setting. This was revealed slowly and carefully by Vera through individual interviews, most often with an interpreter so she could speak freely in Russian, and I could better understand the subtle cultural nuances. Use of the naturalistic paradigm (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) combined with a case study methodology (Stake, 1995) brought the complexity of the teaching milieu to light through my long-term rapport-building with Vera as well as through the extensive observation of Vera's relationship to her students in the role of professor. It is concurrently a limitation, however, as this in-depth viewpoint restricts the formal generalizability of the findings (Stake, 1995). Yet, the study's external validity adds a new dimension to the predominantly survey-based quantitative studies examining the effects of international educational partnerships.
Data Collection & Analysis
Data was gathered in the form of field notes at the initial Civitas conference (5 days) and through formal and informal interviews with Vera, a teacher educator. Further data was collected through observations of Vera's class across the fall semester. Inductive data analysis was used to categorize, code, and sort the data collected through observations, interviews, and questionnaires. The process revealed the professor's and her students' own perceptions of the educational content and processes going on in the classroom, yielding a clearer picture of the adaptation of Western perspectives into a culturally relevant teaching model in Vera's particular classroom (Erickson, 1986; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Stake, 1995).
Site and Participants Chosen
St. Petersburg, Russia. Since its founding in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great, St. Petersburg has claimed to be the "Window to the West" bringing Western influences to the Russian state and culture. Modern Russian educators Smirnova and Smotrina (2002) report that recent changes in St. Petersburg classrooms are beginning to foster a newfound freedom among teaching staff to express their own opinions, which is met with a sense of "relief from the diktat that is so annoying to everyone" (p. 16). St. Petersburg is also home to the Turgenev Pedagogical University, one of the premier teacher educational institutions in Russia.
Vera, Teacher Educator. I was first introduced to Vera by Anatoli Rapaport at the summer Civitas conference held in Pushkin, a village just outside of St. Petersburg. Anatoli explained that Vera was a professor at Turgenev, in the Department of Civic Education which was housed in the School of Law Education. As a rather young, fairly conservative, teacher educator in her mid-30s, she welcomed the opportunity to participate in this study. Over cups of tea in the dining room, I spoke about my aims and research plans (Y. Avtova & V. Sadovaya, personal communication). At this early point, we began building the rapport that would allow for a significant degree of trust during the subsequent interview and observation processes.
Program Description: Civitas
Operating internationally since 1995, Civitas "seeks to advance the teaching of civics in Russia through curriculum development projects, teacher institutes, conferences, publications, and other activities" (Schechter & Voskresenskaya, 1998, p. iv; Nelson & Rapoport, 2006). Stephen Schechter, one of the directors of Civitas, describes the project as a "process [that] is intentionally designed to be equally Russian and US in an effort which is very unusual in cultural exchange" (S. Schechter & Y. Dybenko, personal communication).
Civitas disseminates a text, The Active Classroom: Ideas and Practices for Teaching Civics, which is a collected work of articles that are reprinted with permission from reputable journals of pedagogy and civics. While the articles cover a broad range of topics--democracy, human rights, character education, simulations, assessment, mediation, reading skills, and cooperative learning--they all aim to create a democratic classroom. The Introduction labels this a "civic laboratory," where "students can acquire the information, skills, and attitudes they will need to participate in and contribute to the civic life of their community and their country" (Schechter & Voskresenskaya, 1998, p. v). The contents reflect a solidly Western viewpoint on civic education. The Active Classroom outlines Civitas' main tenets concerning civic education as the following:
(1) that responsible and effective participation is the key to responsible and effective citizenship in a democratic society; (2) that civic participation can be learned through acquired information, skills, and attitudes; ... (4) that within the school, civic participation is best learned in an active classroom where the student is engaged in the learning process through direct participation in individual and group research projects, in reading primary sources, and in simulation and other role playing activities. (Schechter & Voskresenskaya, 1998, p. v)
In sum, Civitas attempts to bring an active methodology to civic education classrooms in Russia by training teacher educators to go back to their regions and set up professional development programs for teachers.
The results of this study showed that Vera took what was presented at the Civitas conference and filtered it through cultural lenses to create an appropriate curriculum for her classroom. In so doing, Vera constructed a version of civic education that, in her view, fit within her Russian cultural context. To understand this process, the next section outlines the message of Civitas (as noted previously in the textbook excerpt, and as demonstrated in the vignette which follows) and how Vera responded to that message. Then, it traces Vera's response to the method of Civitas and its effect on her teaching.
The Method and Message of Civitas: Participatory Democracy
A vignette of the conference follows, giving the reader an opportunity to taste a slice of the message and methods of Civitas.
It is early in the morning on the fourth day of the conference. Participants walk into the White, Room--which is the main gathering place in this lavish 18th century palace--an ornate, grand room with rococo dripping from the ceiling and enormous crystal chandeliers overhead. They make their way to the back table where coffee and tea await in serve-yourself style.
Larissa, one of the leaders of the sessions, compels the participants to gather in a circle where we are all reaching up toward the "sky" because "human rights are as far away from us as the stars." "What do we do to get human rights closer?" she asks rhetorically. What follows is a full reenactment of extending a telescope, cleaning the lens, focusing, and sighting a satellite. After finally sighting human rights and bringing them into view, participants are turned loose to return to their comfortable chairs.
Following this active exercise, Arkady asks, "What are the findings we made yesterday?" This question models the review and preview strategy, as well as the importance of reflection and student participation. Comments from the audience show that they truly have been reflecting upon the techniques and content of the conference. Several comments were directed back toward the activity involving a visual image used for justice,: a Greek goddess. The activity had asked them to understand the underlying concepts of justice by relating them with the visual image of this statue. One participant suggested they need to find similar images for the other concepts which students find difficult to master. Other comments from participants prove that they were indeed making meaning from the activities. One participant appreciated the content training: "I am a teacher, not a lawyer, and yesterday was interesting for me since I am a teacher who has not studied law." Another participant said, "Yesterday's work helped me to see that there are other views from Kant and Alexei. Now I am quite sure that lessons should be run differently than before. So what I saw yesterday will be important to my teaching."
Participants made several comments which tied the presentations of the day before to today's presentations. Links were made, and the organization was clear. The presenters had a purpose for each lesson, and perhaps more importantly, participants recognized this.
This brief vignette suggests that the conference was organized to impart not only content but also methods useful for civic educators. The message of Civitas, then, was one of participatory democracy as the heart of a democratic society. In order to foster habits of mind and attitudes in students which reflect democratic values, Civitas trains teacher educators in creating a democratic classroom environment rich with active debate/ discussion, multiple perspectives, and multiple forms of assessment.
How Vera Made Sense of the Civitas Message
Having met Vera at this partnership conference uniting Western and Russian educators to help design civic education programs for Russia, I assumed Vera would understand and embrace the new models and messages for civic education being presented. First impressions and brief interviews with other participants led me to believe that all participants were keen on implementing exactly what was being shown. Little adaptation of the Western model seemed necessary judging by their enthusiasm.
However, after getting to know Vera and sharing several pots of tea, I came to realize she did not support or intend to implement all of what she saw at the conference. In fact, she even spoke of how several of her colleagues gave sweeping approval of the model while at the conference, but now, in talking with each other, admitted they are fond of their old ways and more hesitant to change than they had revealed. She explained, "we prefer to work as we had worked, and work as we had worked earlier without getting the society excited, not to break the traditions, and to keep the best way."
After having attended the conference, Vera expressed her understanding of the main message of Civitas: "The main point of the seminar was that in America there was that social policy--obshestanie politica--and it's a part of democracy, and it must be here (according to Civitas)." Vera struggled with the Russian phrase, obshestanie politica, describing it as "not the government, but we and our neighbors, being active."
She agreed with the conference presenters that Russia does not have this active citizenry, but she firmly disagreed that Russia needs this in order to be a democracy. She added, "An American presenter ... said that with the help of social organizations, it's possible to create an active citizenry." But, she argued, "Russian people are passive. Russian people are pleased with what they have. So, additional worries ... are additional problems for them. And they adjust to the current situation. So they don't need being active as they do in the states." Still, the discussions had challenged her, as she recalled, "it made me think about what is social policy (civil activity), and could we have it here in this country? Can it exist in the same form? ... [do] we need that activity which American citizens possess?" The answer she found contradicted the goals of Civitas; she saw "active citizenry" as "not relevant" to the cultural and political context of Russian society. Rather, she conceptualized the purpose of civic education as creating a citizen with a new attitude of respect for the law in a "Rule-of-Law" society.
Despite her hesitancy toward change, Vera frequently spoke of Civitas events and members as influencing her thinking on civic issues. As she later admitted, the arguments of Civitas challenged her preconceived ideas and made her rethink her own opinions. This questioning was the same democratic process she championed for her students--to do what Civitas forced her to do--think through and decide one's own informed position. While she might have rejected what she saw as Civitas message of mandatory participatory democracy, she inherently embodied the practice of democracy in freedom of choice and expression.
How Vera Adapted the Civitas Method in Her Own Classroom: Two Examples
Two examples are given here of aspects of the Civitas method of democratic teaching, multiple perspectives and assessment, that Vera considered and then altered or rejected to meet her own cultural context.
Example #1: Multiple Perspectives
According to The Active Classroom (Schechter & Voskresenskaya, 1998), exposing your students to multiple perspectives is the duty of a democratic teacher. Modeling their dedication to multiple perspectives, the sponsors of the conference invited several speakers from diverse organizations, even some of their rivals in the field of civic education. At the opening session, the lead presenter's welcome speech set the tone for the entire conference. He told the audience of civic educators and other professionals that civic education was a "far from finished" concept and was being mutually created and designed with the valued input from the participants. Later, participants themselves also drew attention to the need for highlighting multiple perspectives. One Russian educator reflected, "What we saw yesterday helped us hear each other, which is also important. We have to focus on different viewpoints." The team presenting from Krasnoyarsk commented, "We shouldn't insist on one opinion being the right one. We should be ready for criticism and discussion on every piece of content we have." Finally, Olga Malunova, from the Moscow Institute for International Relations, modeled a game called "Argumentative Opinion" where moral dilemmas were debated from multiple perspectives.
Vera found confirmation and encouragement in Civitas for her teaching of multiple perspectives. She explained to her class, "Yesterday we had one idea, now we have pluralism." She designed her seminar classes to include student presentations on works of law theorists which argue "different views upon the law." As she explained the format for their classroom debates, Vera told the students: "There used to be just one viewpoint on a problem in our country; now there are many viewpoints in a democratic system." One of Vera's preservice teachers got the message clearly. She wrote in the student questionnaire, "I think that I should teach my pupils to have their own opinion, to form their opinion about the world."
Observations revealed only one occasion when this open discussion was not promoted--and it occurred over the issue of democracy and nationalism. Vera and I spoke about the fact that, although some students in her class were prodemocracy and some antidemocracy, she did not address ways to let each state his or her opinions and learn to respect one another. During a follow-up interview she explained (in a concerned voice) that instead, "We must find an approach which doesn't cause conflict (in the class)." In describing the one student who was from a Central Asian country (Muslim), Vera said with marked caution, "I will not touch her;" not wanting to appear to question the student's point of view. Despite this isolated case, a majority of students listed "being able to express my own opinion" as one of the more significant aspects of the class on the student questionnaires. In general, Vera purposefully welcomed multiple perspectives into her class curriculum, just as Civitas encouraged.
Example #2: Multiple Types of Assessment
The importance of formative assessment was modeled extensively throughout the Civitas seminar. Two sessions, "How Civic Assessments Inform Teachers and Administrators," focused solely on assessment. These sessions explained the use of preassessment to help the instructor better match the needs of the students. Assessment was presented as an integral tool for teachers, not just a measure of student progress.
Vera's instructional strategies did not incorporate any pre-assessment because the focus was not on the students but on the act of delivering the content required. According to Vera, this was the task given to her with the job. It came with a list of topics/guidelines set forth by the administration and the Ministry of Education that determined the content of lectures and assessment in the class.
Vera's primary mode of assessment was her instinctual evaluation and tacit knowledge of student progress through observation. The summative assessment itself was comprised from the sum total of her impressions during the semester. Her basis of assessment is best illustrated in her own words about how students pass her class. In the final interview, Vera commented:
Researcher: As I understand, some students did not have to make arguments to pass or not pass; they already passed. You read their names and they did not have to defend their progress, right?
Vera: Da (yes). I asked them to prepare a little question. Not all students, some pass automatically because they worked independently; they worked well in the seminars; they worked in the library. So, they were not included in the "exam." It is a so called "automatic pass."
Researcher: So you knew when they went to the libraries?
Vera: Of course, I can't check it exactly, but judging by those sources they used, I can judge. Some of them are not cunning. They just copy the part of the text, and they assure me that they worked. But it can be clear, when he starts reading, it is clear that he is not very familiar with this text because he has difficulties even with the reading.
Researcher: So you can feel it, if they know the material or not. Is this what you are saying? (some present shared laughter about the way that teachers feel they can just sense things about students--perhaps a universal teacher experience?)
Vera: First of all I try to ask him questions so that he doesn't look into the text, but he doesn't understand what he is talking about, and I know. And the main point for me is for them to think, for them to know what they are reading, and think and comprehend.
As the selection illustrates, formative assessment did not play a large role in Vera's instructional decisions. There was no pre-assessment, nor any ongoing assessment, except what she perceived from their participation in class. Final assessments (oral exams) happened only for those in question of passing. Data analysis suggests that while Vera did reflect upon her own teaching, she did not solicit student input or evaluations. Turgenev University does not distribute student evaluations of their professors. Although she participated in the final evaluation of the Civitas program, as Vera pointed out, doing so is not a culturally-relevant practice. Thus, she rejected this idea, as she did not feel the need to incorporate it into her practice.
While we see Vera implementing multiple perspectives, she does not concur that on-going assessment is necessary or applicable within the educational climate where she teaches. In observing her self-selection of certain appropriate methods, and rejection of others, Vera demonstrates that she did not feel forced to comply with Western ways, nor was she even held accountable for implementing them. Here we see her supporting Rapoport's (2007) claim that "the new knowledge and skills become meaningful only if they are placed in the framework and context of existing educational culture" (n.p.). In her classroom, it was apparent that Vera sifted the methods and message of Civitas in order to find the appropriate matches within the cultural, political, and social contexts of her students.
Other components that were modeled at the conference did not transfer to Vera's classroom. For example, a democratic community with shared vision and ownership for the learning characterized the Civitas model (Schechter & Voskresenskaya, 1998). Vera did not promote this in her teaching. Observations showed no visible objectives, no syllabus, no preview or review of the material. It appeared that Vera did not surrender the authoritarian control over such issues as the progression of the class toward meeting certain goals (invisible to the students). She maintained a common Russian distance between authority figure and student, paralleling the traditional distance between the tsar and a mostly peasant population. She incorporated certain activities, but not the transparent organizational elements of structuring a class (Schechter & Voskresenskaya, 1998). Vera included the activities, but not the full embodiment of a democratic classroom where the teacher and the students are truly co-creators of knowledge.
Still, her students felt the tone of the class "democratic" in their definition as open and welcoming. Evidence from the end-of-semester student questionnaires suggest that students felt very comfortable expressing their opinions in class. They commented that they "respect each other, respect different views," "listen each other," and "all students can tell their opinion, their point of view." Vera had purposefully constructed that atmosphere to encourage student to, in her words, "have (their) own personal opinions" and to "live together with different points of view." In this, she embraced the value of teaching her future teachers to create open spaces for freedom of expression.
Observations of Vera's teaching revealed that she did not blindly implement the Civitas message and method in her classroom. As she admitted, there were certain aspects of the conference that underscored her own beliefs and others that prompted her to reflect and stretch her own understanding, and still others that she fully denied. Perhaps, in this way Vera's teaching reflects the state of democracy in her own country. In the end, Vera's conception of civic education, although informed by and yet distinct from Civitas, was well-matched to her Russian cultural context.
This case study points to a much larger issue--that of recognizing the embeddedness of an American version of democracy being either exported abroad or taught in the diverse classrooms of the United States. Given the current waves of immigration to the U.S. from nondemocratic or newly democratic countries, do we adequately consider the cultural complexities of interpretation? What Vera suggests is that we should at least recognize that any message of democracy we teach will be seen through the lenses of our students' cultural and personal histories.
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