Education, literacy and popular culture

More than anything else in post-Petrine Russia, the expansion of primary schooling and the spread of literacy in the last decades of the nineteenth century held great promise. Both religious and secular elites hoped that a basic education would disabuse the people (narod) of their ancient customs that had left them ignorant and poverty-stricken. To achieve spiritual and moral enlightenment and prosperity, the Education Statute of 1864 established the principles for what would eventually become a national secular primary school system that was soon paralleled by parish schools. According to this statute, the main purpose of primary education was to instill the people with religious and moral precepts while providing basic literacy and numeracy. Although the support of the political system was added to these goals after the 1866 attempt on the life of the tsar, the secular primary school retained a deeply religious component and satisfied a widespread demand of peasants for such a curriculum. So strong was the interest in religious instruction that in 1884 the holy synod established a parallel parish school system that challenged its secular counterparts for more than two decades. Despite this rapid expansion of primary schooling, parish communities were at a financial disadvantage. While they excelled in attracting pupils, they failed to attract financing for permanent buildings, well-trained instructors and basic instructional materials. New regulations introduced in 1907 by the Ministry of Education linked school funding to rigid standards of quality that few parishes could meet. The result was the precipitous decline in the number of parish schools and their enrollments in the decade preceding the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II.18

Primary schooling brought a new interaction between the peasantry and the lower urban classes on the one hand, and their social and intellectual superiors on the other. Among the ranks of the burgeoning profession of schoolteacher were clergymen and their daughters (even in secular schools where religious education was required to be taught), who worked alongside secularly trained instructors. Teachers' different worldviews brought new perspectives to their pupils' limited experience and often these educators of the people inspired revolutionary activism aimed at reforming the social and political system as a means of ending poverty and deprivation. By the 1890s, zemstvo schoolteachers

18 Eklof, Russian peasant schools, chs. 2, 6; J. Brooks, 'The zemstvo and the education of the people', in The zemstvo in Russia: an experiment in local self-government, ed. T. Emmons and W. S. Vucinich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 243-78; J. Brooks, WhenRussialearned to read: literacy and popular literature, 1861-1917 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), ch. 2.

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