Written by Laura Auketayeva
In the early Soviet Union, education played a particularly important role in ensuring that the ideology reached every citizen, most effectively, from a very early age. The Soviet student schoolwork collection contains a rare set of remarkable drawings and notes. There are dozens such drawings which give us a unique glimpse into the minds and imaginations of six-year-old children in the Soviet Ukraine, 1929. They drew Lenin just as they drew shapes and animals and practiced writing those words next to them (“horse,” “house,” etc.)
As they learned how to read and write, they already knew about the Revolution, as Misha’s drawing below shows.
Besides children’s notebooks, we also get to see a few remarkable instances of how the Soviet Union redefined motherhood, by insisting that a good mother was an educated mother, and mandating that women attend school. A lot of the stories in these notebooks, likely dictated by the teacher, use shame to encourage learning. One of the stories describes a disappointed little boy who asked his mother a question, which due to her illiteracy she could not answer. This generation of Soviet women had it hardest as they needed to take care of home, work, and study.
A lot of historical evidence on the Soviet Union tends to be government-issued bureaucratic and censored material, which is why this collection of primary source material is so valuable. Moreover, there are typically fewer available sources created by children, in general. Thomas Woody, Penn Professor of Education, likely was the one who collected this material during his visit to the USSR in the 1920s and brought it with him to Philadelphia. His efforts created a wonderful time capsule that allows us to learn about the primary and middle-school education in the early Soviet Union from the students directly.