Insightful Interview with Russian Representative of the World Congress of Families on Homeschooling

Editor's Note: This article was generated by machine translation, so our staff cautions the reader about possible inaccuracies that may have resulted from this. However, it was deemed worthwhile to still publish such a piece because of the intrinsic value of the message - which remains evident even in its translated form. 

Much has been written and argued about homeschooling and educating children at home rather than at school. We decided to talk not only about the advantages of home education, but also about various related issues with Alexei Komov, a representative of the World Congress of Families in Russia, an ambassador of the WCCS to the UN, director of the international department of the Patriarchal Commission for Family, Maternity and Childhood Protection, head of the family education support program "Classical Conversations" who has been dealing with these issues for a long time.

"Orthodox parents, unlike schools, do not teach children Darwinism."

Yuri Pushaev: Alexei Yurievich, what, in your opinion, are the advantages of home education when a child does not go to a regular school, and studies in the family?

Alexey Komov: There are several factors here. First, if we believe in God and want to follow what is commanded in Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, then we should learn that children are given to man by God. Children are not given by the government or social workers, but by God! And the Bible says very clearly that man is responsible for the way he raises his children. So our Christian conscience would be more at peace if we were serious about this issue, not just handing over the upbringing of our children to some other people. And in today's schools, teachers are overwhelmingly women, often with unformed personal lives; male teachers in schools have traditionally been very few. The work in schools today is, let's be honest, nervous and twitchy.

Yuri Pushaev: There have been more men in schools lately, though...

Alexey Komov: I wish to God there were. We are all in favor of a good education, including schooling, which is a good thing for everyone in society. And we understand that family education is not for everyone, but only for those who are willing to put in the hard work to raise and educate their own children.

Secondly, family education yields positive results. Statistics clearly show this. In Russia so far it is very difficult to collect such statistics, but in America on the test, similar to our USE, children in secondary schools get on the average 50 points, and children who were on family education, get about 86 points.

By the way, this figure is not greatly influenced by whether the parents of these children have higher education. And even if both parents do not have a college degree, their homeschooled children still score at least 80 points, as a rule.

The parent acts as a moderator: he or she must properly structure the educational process, create the conditions for the child to learn

Yuri Pushaev: But how can parents without higher education successfully teach their children?

Alexey Komov: Because here the parent acts more like a moderator. He has to structure the educational process in the right way, work out an individual plan and create the most favorable conditions for the child. Give him the opportunity to read the right books, watch videos, go on excursions to museums, awaken in him independent critical thinking, and so on. There are plenty of specialized materials for acquiring specific knowledge, so a parent does not need to be, for example, a chemist or physicist.

Yuri Pushaev: But people with higher education probably have better skills in assimilating and transferring information, including moderating the learning process.

Alexey Komov: There are special programs for home schooling, where educational routes in different subjects are developed that work effectively when teaching at home. As an example, I can give you our "Fundamentals" primary family study guide for the Classical Conversations program. It's a very simple and straightforward tool for parents that contains a plan for each week for a different subject: history, geography, math, etc. So there is no issue with the curriculum, it is already solved. We have almost 400 children in 27 cities: Vladivostok, Siberia, the Urals, the Volga region, Moscow, St Petersburg, and even in Ukraine in Kiev, where, as you know, they recently actually banned even school education in Russian. We also have children in Belorussia. So there are three countries - Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine, 27 cities, 400 children from 4 to 12.

Yuri Pushaev: And older children?

Alexey Komov: We are now developing training programmes for older children as well, we are planning to reach 6 years old up to the end of school. That is, I'm not afraid to say it, we will have the first systemic alternative to school courses in Russian, which at the same time does not contradict the Orthodox worldview, unlike the school curriculum. "Classical Conversations" is not a catechetical but an academic program, but our materials, for example, do not contain the postulate that man descended from an ape and that this has supposedly been proven by science. This is a cliché that is pseudo-religious and in fact has already been disproved by science many times over. There is plenty of scientific data that contradicts this theory. Also, we have a chronology of world history beginning with the Creation.

Yuri Pushaev: Will your students then be able to enter, for example, the Biology Department of a university?

Alexey Komov: The children of our participating families undergo annual FSES assessments with the help of the Center for the Support of Family Education. There are about 100,000 children in Russia today who are homeschooled. Federal law 273 allows choosing a family form of education with the right to be attached to a school that has state accreditation for certification. There the children prepare for the USE and pass it. Alas, on exams, it is true, children will have to present the point of view of the authors of biology textbooks, who believe that man evolved from an ape, because that is what the state educational standards require today.

Our children should have the opportunity to study school subjects not on the principles of materialism and Darwinism.

In my opinion, this is a bad situation, and recently in the Public Chamber, where I spoke, I suggested that the Ministry of Education and Science should be concerned about the possibility for believers who do not identify themselves as materialists and atheists, to study school subjects not on the principles of materialistic Darwinism. But today Darwinism, unfortunately, is imposed without any alternative. However, I think it is quite possible to change this. Otherwise we get a kind of "schizophrenia": even at the best private Orthodox grammar schools during the lessons on natural subjects a child is taught according to the FSES-textbooks, which say that there is no God, everything happened by itself from the Big Bang, and man arose from a monkey. And then he comes to the lessons of the Law of God, and he is told exactly the opposite. At the same time, according to various surveys, about 80% of the population of Russia say they believe in God, and 70% consider themselves Orthodox.

Yuri Pushaev: But are they conscious believers, church-going people? After all, there is even such a thing as an Orthodox atheist.

Alexey Komov: Well, yes, probably most of them go to church once a year - at Easter. But even if you take into account the 5-8% of truly religious people, at least for them there should be an alternative, a choice of training within the framework of a worldview that corresponds to their views.

Yuri Pushaev: In your work, do you rely on some tried and tested methods, on someone else's experience?

Alexey Komov: Yes, rather than reinventing the wheel, we have studied various methods of family education, spending a lot of time and effort. My wife Irina Shamolina and I read dozens of books, everything significant that was written on the subject of family education. And we chose a program to support parents who decided to educate their children themselves. It is a very successful program - Classical Conversations. There are about 115,000 children in this international program today. It's 20 years old, well-designed, and has excellent, guaranteed results. We especially liked Classical Conversations because the main thing in this program is not the content, but the tools of learning. That is, Classical Conversations is essentially a technology that can be filled with any content. However, the leaders of the program do not allow anyone who does not identify with the Christian faith to use their developments; they do not want such an excellent educational tool to be used outside of Christian culture.

We met with the leaders of Classical Conversations. Fortunately they turned out to be very sympathetic to Russia and were very receptive to the idea of sharing their work with us. We agreed with them to fill the program with materials that reflect Russian culture and the Orthodox tradition. This year the historical focus of the program is on national history, we are also memorizing the locations of Russia's administrative-territorial units, the most important rivers and mountains.

Most of the family groups that use our program study in Sunday school buildings. These groups begin classes with "Heavenly King," we sing the Russian national anthem at weekly classes, and we finish with "It is Truly Meet".

Yuri Pushaev: Do you have a paid or free program?

Alexey Komov: It's paid, but very affordable, costs only 20,000 rubles per year for 24 lessons (that is less than 830 rubles per lesson) in the regions and 28,000 rubles per year in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is a small amount, comparable to the same extortions in our supposedly free schools, or with a month of training at a middle-class private school. And of this amount we take ourselves only 5,000 rubles for the first and 3,500 rubles for the second student in the family. All the other money remains with the local parents - the instructors who teach children in groups. We specially teach them to moderate classes and lead them. Part of the money goes to the director, who coordinates the work of the local community. We have a decentralized structure that is formed from a network of directors. Groups are initiated by people locally and come to us for a license to use our academic support. We have directors in Moscow, in the Moscow region (Mytishchi, Balashikha, Krasnogorsk), in other Russian regions, and even in other countries (besides Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, we also have groups planned in Spain and Moldova).

Once a week, families meet in groups of no more than 8 people (8 children and 8 parents, always in attendance). As a rule, the place of the meetings is chosen not far from home. Friendships and good relationships are established between the children. Such family groups become very friendly, they regularly go together on various excursions, to museums, etc. For example, many of our Moscow and Moscow region children already know by heart the Pushkin and Historical Museums, the Tretyakov Gallery, etc. We also go to Russia: My History Park almost every month, almost as if we were already at home.

"The efficiency of family education is much higher".

Yuri Pushaev: I would like to ask you some problematic questions. I will try to voice some doubts about home schooling, which arise among ordinary people.

These are, first of all, the problem of parenting time. First, it is likely that at least one parent must be out of work in order to supervise and control their children's homeschooling.

Alexey Komov: I see your point, but I have to say that the rhythm of life with family education actually gives a lot more freedom. The children only go to our meetings once a week, where they learn new material together and have a chance to demonstrate their knowledge. The weekly classes for children under the age of 9 are from 9:30 to 12:00, which means that they last only 2.5 hours, and for children from 9 to 11 years - until 3:00 p.m.

Yuri Pushaev: And how much time do the children spend homeschooling, and who checks their lessons?

"With home schooling you can not cheat, as in school: ignorance of the subject revealed immediately."

Alexey Komov: Our program is not an educational program for children; it is a support program for parents who choose to teach their children themselves. For us, parents are the primary teachers of their children. At our weekly meetings, children have the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned. No one assigns marks - this is the prerogative of the parents, but the environment itself in the group motivates the child to learn well, because otherwise it is difficult for them to participate in interesting activities designed to repeat what they've learned. Parents are always present at these classes, because once a week - it does not take much time, and they see for themselves, their children learned the task or not. It is not possible to cheat or slyly, like at school; in the lessons in our small groups, ignorance becomes obvious. By the way, very often parents who take their children out of school are very surprised at how little their child seems to know. He seemed to get straight A's in school, but he knows almost nothing about geography, history, or other subjects - just some scraps of information. And when parents come together with their child to classes, they see his reactions, his interaction with peers and can immediately correct his behavior and generally feel better about him than when they take him to school and then get unexpected "surprises.

Yuri Pushaev: How is your educational process structured in general? Do children have to sit through some kind of lessons at home, albeit independently?

Alexey Komov: The number of lessons at home is determined by parents. We have a recommended minimum program - the things which children have to know by heart and remember. For example, in history they have to know the chronology of the main events from the Creation, through antiquity and the Middle Ages to the present. We select for them and create a "skeleton" on which deeper knowledge is then strung.

Yuri Pushaev: What about lessons in Russian and math? That's a kind of training. A child needs to be trained regularly so that he can write and count correctly.

Alexey Komov: Of course, children have to practice math and Russian every day. Their parents supervise that. Weekly family meetings help a lot in this case: parents share their experiences with each other, it's like a mini-conference. I want to mention that for children of 9-11 years we have a very strong program "Keys" on Russian grammar, and also analytical and creative writing - every week children write essays, they have tasks.

Yuri Pushaev: How much time on average does the learning process take your children each day?

Alexey Komov: It depends on individual ability and age. For elementary school children up to age 9, 2-3 hours a day is more than enough; for children age 9 and older, we recommend 4 hours of instruction per day. And the child in home schooling knows the material much better than in school, because it has a higher efficiency. At school, what is the challenge? To go through the material with the least amount of loss, answer to get behind you, get a mark and forget. The goal is not to learn something for real or to somehow go deeper into a subject. "Are we stupid or something? Yay, we're not learning tomorrow!".

Here, on the other hand, the child learns in interaction with the parent, he walks the path of learning with someone he loves and respects very much; there is no bad influence of peers on him; parents create a developmental environment, he is covered with interesting books that parents give him, etc. I know this from my children: my wife and I have three children at home (ages 4.5, 6.5, and 10.5), and they love books because Irina and I love to read and our house is full of books. The kids are growing into it and think it's normal. My older son "swallows" books easily and without compulsion, no video games in his life at all, no TV either.

Homeschooled children know, as a rule, an order of magnitude more than regular schoolchildren, they are interested in everything, they have not killed this vivid vein of knowledge. And when they meet their peers, they want to share what they read and where they went, what they learned. And that's how you get positive socialization, not negative.

"A cult is something that separates itself from the world."

Yuri Pushaev: The next question I wanted to ask was about socialization. I will not hide from you, and you probably know yourself, that many parents do not want to transfer their children to family education, because they are afraid of a small social circle. They think that it smacks of sectarianism and that children will have big problems with socialization after a family education. And why do we need to take children out of our schools? After all, we do not yet have, thank God, pressure, as in the West, with the lessons of "sex education".

Alexey Komov: By all parameters the socialization of children in family education is much better than the socialization of children in school. School socialization has a very specific one-sided character: for 11 years a child is isolated from the real society and placed in a separate building without the right to leave the territory, where he answers on command, gets up and sits down at the bell. At the same time, he interacts with a limited number of the same children his age all these years, being in the same social position in relation to the school staff. Is this, is this normal socialization? Is that real life? I'm not saying about the fact that in children's groups without the active participation of adults (which is impossible with 30 children per adult), as a rule, relationships are formed by the principle of the wolf pack: the arrogant slaughter the modest, the mean takes over the honest, and swearing is everywhere, and even obscene videos in gadgets. But normal socialization is when a person, first of all, communicates in a real society, not in an isolated group based on age, and secondly, he can define his own circle of communication. After all, we adults do just that.

Children being educated in a family are constantly in contact with people of different ages, different social levels, different professions - they see society in all its diversity. Just in the course of our family education we as a family, for example, go to some conference where children see their parents in a natural life activity. We meet interesting people, representatives of different professions, have discussions where people of different ages are present. And with such positive socialization, the child is much better adjusted to life than a school child who sits in isolation, real life and work is shown to him in pictures, taught to be quiet until the teacher calls and to stand up/ sit down on command.

Children who have gone through family education are more responsible citizens, they go to elections more often, are more satisfied with their jobs, are independent of social benefits, and are more inclined to think critically and creatively. In countries where the tradition of family education has long been restored, data show that children who have gone through it achieve greater success in adulthood. The school system very often deforms a child's normal development as a result of an unnatural social and educational environment. Actually the very notion of "transition age" arose as a result of the introduction of universal schooling, 150 years ago children grew up much earlier and they had no "breakdown". Today's children in family education, as a rule, also bypass "adolescence.

During the school day at school the child gets about 8 minutes (!) of individual attention from the teacher

Yuri Pushaev: And yet what labor inputs does family education require from parents? For example, our family situation: I am at work from morning till late evening, and on my wife - the household and children, their regular school, music school, different circles ...

Alexey Komov: Typically, school parents spend energy and time on the children's homework, as well as time on the road to school and back. In fact, there is not much more time spent on homeschooling if parents use family education programs. Not to mention how much parental nerves are saved! And how much time is a child wasting at school?! That's just wasteful. According to studies, during the school day a child gets about 8 minutes (!) of individual attention from the teacher. Any parent will confirm that the amount of knowledge learned does not correlate at all with the amount of time a child spends in school.

If your spouse does not work outside the home, and is engaged in household chores and children, she can successfully combine all this with the education of children already in the family. Moreover, motherhood will open up for her a whole new side. After all, by sending children to school, we largely transfer their upbringing into someone else's hands. When we bring our children home, we become full-time educators for them again, we truly get to know our children!

Yuri Pushaev: Nevertheless, in school there is supervision of learning by the teachers.

Alexey Komov: You know how easy it is to imitate learning at school. Children master this art to perfection and leave school confused about when Lenin ruled and when Stalin ruled, unable to say two words in English, even though they sometimes get A's in all subjects. According to public opinion polls, the percentage of those satisfied with school education has halved in the past few years. At home, a parent sees his or her child "as peeled off", and cheating in front of a parent is not an option. So everything is much better with control here: a parent knows exactly what the child has learned, and what he has not.

Yuri Pushaev: There is some subtlety here, it seems to me. Homeschooled kids are generally more motivated, and their parents are also more responsible for their children's education. These kids, therefore, would probably do pretty well in regular school, too.

Alexey Komov: Of course they would. And we have examples of this: children from good families who have tried out several schools, including the best Orthodox grammar schools, but the parents took their children out of there and now use our developments for family education, which they are very happy about.

Yuri Pushaev: Please explain exactly how your control process is organized. Is it possible to check in two hours what the child learned in a week?

Alexey Komov: Of course parents are in charge of the control in the first place. The philosophy of the family education is in the fact that it is the parent who is in charge of the educational process. Our classes are intended primarily to help parents, they help parents see their child "from the outside" and more objectively assess his/her progress. Our "Fundamentals" homeschooling guide makes it easy to check your child's progress.

Yuri Pushaev: In more than one subject?

Alexey Komov: All subjects. We have an outline, you can check it. That's the minimum you need to know. You either know it or you don't. At the same time, the program is cyclical: many things are passed each year, but on a deeper basis, so children end up with a holistic picture of each subject, rather than scraps of information, as is often the case after modern school.

Our program is based on a classical approach: the emphasis in it is on the tools of learning - these are the technologies that allow to learn effectively, to teach several children of different ages at home at the same time.

This educational approach is based on the "seven liberal arts" system, which was used to teach in antiquity, in Byzantium and ancient Russia under Yaroslav the Wise, and in pre-revolutionary Russia. This approach is based on the fact that we first teach children the tools of knowledge before learning a particular subject. These tools are the grammar of all subjects, dialectic, and rhetoric. We learn to memorize information (grammar), analyze it logically (dialectic), and reproduce it orally and in writing (rhetoric).

Families who use our program are united by a love of knowledge and want their children to grow up among like-minded people. Almost all of the participants in the program are Orthodox church-going families who are serious about their children and their education and are willing to put in the work. A very pleasant and safe circle of fellowship is forming. There are families of clergymen of the Russian Orthodox Church. I myself studied theology for three and a half years at the Orthodox Svyato-Tikhonovsky University for the Humanities and worked in the Department of External Church Relations of our Patriarchate. I have also worked for many years with Father Demetrius Smirnov in the Patriarchal Commission on the Family.

At the same time our families do not have the task of isolating themselves from the world in a sect-like manner, simply that the Orthodox know that for us it is said: "Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33). So our participating families want their children's morals to be safe.

Yuri Pushaev: When they talk about sectarianism, they mean a broad sense: a certain little circle of like-minded people, in which one cooks and communicates with no one else.

Alexey Komov: Our families are not locked into a program, because we only meet once a week. But within our groups, too, the circle of communication between families is quite wide. For example, in Mytishchi (Moscow Region) about 25 families participate in our program, that's 45 children; in Novokosino about the same number. Our groups are almost full, we have few vacancies. In some groups there is already a queue, because our program helps parents provide a different quality of education.

We give families the tools to learn and create a positive social environment that inspires parents and children. Families often work with primary sources from a vivid interest, delving deeply into some entirely new areas outside of the traditional school curriculum. To awaken that interest, to stimulate it somehow, is our task. At the elementary level of the program we give a certain skeleton of knowledge, and at the higher levels we teach families to deepen knowledge, analyze and use it.

The parent learns with the child.

Yuri Pushaev: I can understand learning geography or history at home. But here's math... In high school, there will be difficult things that parents tend not to know. For example, differential calculus.

Alexey Komov: We have excellent Soviet math textbooks, and they already have all the "cheat sheets". A parent can easily monitor progress and understanding of the topic.

Yuri Pushaev: But the parent still needs to learn along with the child?

Alexey Komov: The parent also grows with the child and learns a lot. Parents are involved in the learning process, but they don't have to go to weekly meetings with children over the age of 12 anymore. They have already largely taught the child to master knowledge by himself. And he or she knows how to work with materials and information on his or her own. At the high school level, the parent is more of a general guide. Children who come to high school through family education are already learning on their own, they know how to do it. And remember yourself in high school: in high school, couldn't you figure out a topic from a textbook by yourself? How many dead-end situations were there where you couldn't understand the topic without consulting a teacher? Probably very few. When such a situation arises at home, a parent can find an online teacher in five minutes to explain everything in case even free online video lessons were useless.

Our program for Russia is completely unique. We use the world's best practices, and our academic program is suitable for Orthodox Christians. Statistically there are only 3 million children in the world who are in family education. But by the way, in our country out of 100 thousand Russian children who are being taught at home about 70 thousand are handicapped children who simply can't go to school. There are also a large number of athletes and musicians, that is, children who have to devote almost all their time to the development of their talent. There aren't many "pure family people." We are probably the first to launch in Russia a whole program designed specifically for family education. So far we have almost no children over the age of 12, but we will definitely bring it up to the last - 11th - grade. We are also not ruling out the possibility in the future to create a special university for children who have gone through family education. It would not teach materialism and atheism, and would follow the classical model tried and tested for thousands of years, which has educated thousands of the smartest people in the history of mankind.

Yuri Pushaev: Where do you think your graduates will go to college?

Alexey Komov: I think that all universities, including the leading ones. We will arrange personal meetings with leading professors for our children. I am personally well acquainted with Professor Valentin Yuryevich Katasonov of MGIMO and other people who have achieved great success in their work.

I am also an assistant to a State Duma deputy, and we will definitely bring our children to the State Duma, where they will be taught debates and how to conduct them properly. Deputies whom we know well as Orthodox and patriotic people will tell them how the political process works and may take them on internships at the State Duma, Moscow State University and other colleges.

Алексей Комов
Alexey Komov

Yuri Pushaev: In conclusion, please tell us about yourself. How many children do you have, and where do they study - at home or at school?

Alexey Komov: I have five children, two older ones have already finished school and three younger ones are of school age. Two of the older kids went to kindergarten and went to school, and the three little ones have been in family education since birth. I have a lot to compare, and the difference to me is obvious. The three younger children are home-schooled through the Classical Conversations program: Maksim is 4.5, Dima is 6.5, and Misha is 10.5; the older one, Misha, has never been to school. And our 4-year-old Maxim already knows about 52 rulers of Russia from Rurik to V.V. Putin and wants to attend classes because we teach families in an interesting and lively way, it's a pleasure for children to learn. Come and see for yourself!

Source: (Russian)

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