A Joint American-Russian Agenda for
Research and Development on
Common Issues in National Social and Political Life
In both the USA and Russia, education faces serious problems. Some of those problems are internal to schools, the ways in which children are educated and schools are managed. But many educational problems are in fact simply reflections of the problems faced by the wider societies in which educational systems are located. Previous exchanges between Russian and American educators have focused largely on the exchange of students and teachers, or on specific projects regarding instruction in particular subjects.
Given the interest in both countries today in constructing closer links, the time seems ripe for a series of exchanges that would focus on problems of education in a broader social context. This preliminary statement of themes is offered as a starting point in considering such exchanges.
1. Education and Democratic Society. In both the USA and Russia, educating citizens to take part effectively in a democratic society is an important goal. In the USA, many are disinterested and fail to take part in either local or national political life; in Russia, a "civil society" and the forms of democratic politics are just appearing, and there is much uncertainty about what qualities of mind and spirit are needed so as to make them functional. Education (through schools, but also through forums for adult education and the media) offers one way of dealing with this problem. Agenda:
¨ Assess the problem; determine what aspects of the situation could be addressed through education.
¨ Design educational approaches and materials that can be used to increase citizen participation in political life at all levels of education.
¨ Develop working relationships with print and broadcast media to increase recognition of problems and seek solutions.
2. Education and a Multi-cultural, Multi-ethnic Society. Creating a society in which persons of varied social and cultural backgrounds can find a worthy place is a challenge for both societies. While the issues are different in each case, the problems are similar. Schools have a role to play, as do the media and other social groups. Agenda:
¨ Identify ways of generating positive attitudes that are appropriate in each society.
¨ Create multi-ethnic working groups to develop proposed solutions and ways of disseminating these.
¨ Develop materials that enhance prospects for productive interaction.
3. Education and the Economy. In Russia and the USA, many students leave secondary school under-prepared to take productive roles in national economic life. For each society, this results in wasted education, alienated youth, and decreased productivity. Agenda:
¨ Create improved linkages among schools, institutions of higher education, and business and industry; assess needs and problems.
¨ Develop collaborative projects that allow students at various levels to participate more fully in economic activity.
¨ Create models for continuing education that focus on flexibility and creative problem-solving ability.
4. Education, Parents, and Communities. How to enhance the sometimes-weak links among schools, parents, and communities is an issue for both Russian and American societies. Both countries have experimented with local "councils" to provide the community with a stronger voice in how schools are run and educational decisions are made. Agenda:
¨ Investigate how school-community councils can best be created, and what problems there are in shifting some management decisions to them.
¨ Consider how such councils could interact with communities around a broader range of issues affecting education--latchkey children, social services, continuing education, services to retired persons.
5. Education and the Schools. Reform (or restructuring) of the schools is an important goal for educators and policy makers in both Russia and the USA. Agenda:
¨ Consider the effect of national standards on reform efforts.
¨ Explore new ways of running schools that allow teachers to take more initiative and define more aspects of their work.
¨ Consider new models of preparing teachers that involve joint efforts of schools and teacher-training institutions.
¨ Develop new models of teaching that move teachers away from the position of "master of knowledge," and toward positions of coach, guide, mentor for pupils.
¨ Explore the creative uses of new information technology to foster pupil growth and enhance problem-solving abilities.
6. Education and the National Agenda. In both societies, much lip service is given to the importance of education, yet in both also the actual place of education on the national agenda often appears woefully low. What are the roots of this problem? What could happen if we were to really provide education with a prominent place in national political and social thought? Agenda:
¨ Determine the priority attached to educational goals within the scope of other national priorities.
¨ Consider how that order of priorities might be changed; assess the relative weight of financial and other factors.
¨ Develop models for effective action at national, regional, and local levels.
Initial joint conferences on these themes would be held to determine a working agenda. Common approaches would be decided upon by both sides, and regular exchanges of information would be provided. Key point: a working group on each side would pursue each of these projects, with local affiliates organized and initiatives undertaken as appropriate. The idea is not merely to exchange ideas, but to work together on topics of common interest and common value to both countries.
Support for these initiatives is to be sought from relevant American and Russian sources.
Stephen T. Kerr
Professor of Education
College of Education
115 Miller Hall
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington 98195 USA
Telephone: (206) 543-1847
Fax: (206) 543-8439