The Day of Knowledge

In the pictures you see, on the left, me on my first day at school in 1987, and on the right – me during my teaching practice at one of Moscow schools in 2001 (the practice was mandatory for all History students). I still remember all the excitement of getting ready for school, going there with flowers, entering the class for the first time. It was a custom to give flowers to your headteacher every year on the first day at school, which is why on the First of September in Russia (celebrated as the Day of Knowledge) one can still see multitudes of pupils and their parents going to school with bouquets of flowers.

As you can see on the picture of me in 1987, the customary school uniform then consisted of a brown dress and an apron: the black was for everyday use, and the white was for special occasions. The picture on the right was produced in 1988, at the end of my first year at school, and you can see me in that very “apron-for-special-occasions” and my first teacher, whose name was Valentina (the inscription next to her photo actually reads “my first teacher”). What you can also observe is the white lace collar: the sets of matching collars and cuffs were sold in the shops in those days, and it was practically obligatory to adorn your brown dress with them. You could also be reasonably fashionable, despite being a child, and could have your lacy cuffs and collars changed every so often. I am also wearing the badge, and that is the sign of me being an Oktyabryonok (stress the second syllable from the end). We were all made Oktyabryata (the plural; again, the second from the end syllable is stressed) in the first form at school, so that two years later, in the 3rd form, to become the pioneers. Entering the school automatically had you qualify for the Young Leninists, and at the centre of my badge there was actually the face of a very young Lenin. Later on, as I’d become a pioneer, the badge would be changed, and at the centre of it would be the flame, and it would be compulsory to wear it together with the red pioneer tie.

There is a lot I can tell about my school years, some things are nice to recall, some, naturally, are not. I think, one thing that stands out now is that back then the first ever lesson we’d have would be the so-called Lesson of Peace. Thanks to the political climate of the second half of 1980s, in my school we weren’t brainwashed. Instead, we would talk about our country, then the U.S.S.R., of the republics. We would touch the subject of war, but in a very simple way, like something that should be avoided at all costs. As we grew older, the Lesson of Peace waned, and I obviously do wonder if it was really for the better.

Perhaps, the fondest memory of everyone’s time at school are the songs about being a pupil, being taught. So, in the video below you can see the slideshow of pictures of the newest Moscow pupils, but the song is actually quite old. The verses were written by the famous Mikhail Playtskovsky, the music was composed by the no less famous Vladimir Shainsky, and the song is aptly called “What they teach at school” (my verbatim translation is not adapted to the music). The last three lines of each verse are repeated twice.

To write different letters
With a tiny pen in your exercise-book –
This is what they teach at school (3 times).
To subtract and to multiply
And not to offend the youngsters –
This is what they teach at school (3 times).

To add 2 to 4,
To read the words by syllables –
This is what they teach at school (3 times).
To like the good books
And to be polite –
This is what they teach at school (3 times).

To find the East and South,
To draw a rectangular and a sphere –
This is what they teach at school (3 times).
And never to confound
The isles and cities –
This is what they teach at school (3 times).

About the verb and the dash
And about the rain in the yard –
This is what they teach at school (3 times).
To be great friends
And to cherish friendship since childhood –
This is what they teach at school (3 times).

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