Thursday, March 31, 2011

April Fool's Day

In the Soviet Union, all schools were alike. There was the so-called “educational standard”, an identical curriculum for every student. All schools shared the same textbooks, which evolved slowly, and circumvented any scientific achievements. All students wore uniforms, and the only choice was for color, between blue, brown or black. I know that many people feel nostalgic for those days and despise today's diversity, what they consider as lack of taste in students' clothing, but I recall well that I hated school uniforms and rebelled when I was twelve. There was a sort of insurmountable barrier between students and teachers in Soviet schools,giving impression of teachers as superior beings, and students as subhuman.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, educational system started changing. It was in the early 1990s when many experimental gymnasiums started appearing in post-Soviet Russia. I entered the first experimental gymnasium in my hometown, because the new school differed greatly from other schools. There was set curriculum, instead students were offered to choose what they wanted to study — mathematics, humanities or natural science. It didn't mean that linguists did not need to learn mathematics. This just meant that mathematicians had more math classes than humanitarians, and linguists had more literature and language classes. However, both math and linguist majors had fewer classes in chemistry than those who planned to enter medical school after graduation. The gymnasium abolished uniforms. We were free to wear whatever we desired. Many teachers in our gymnasium developed their own unique courses, so we didn't have to rely on outdated Soviet textbooks. The revolutionary idea of the gymnasium was that students were equal to teachers. We were taught to respect equality among all human beings, and the best part was April Fools' Day.

There was a great tradition of celebrating April Fool's Day in our gymnasium. April First was very special, a day when everyone went bananas. The teachers covered all the walls with paper, so that everyone could draw or write something there. In the evening, the were awards given for the best drawings and jokes. There were balloons and funny decorations everywhere. Both students and teachers, including our principal, arrived in carnival gown. Once, my favourite teacher put on astronaut suit and flippers. My best costume was a ghost-like cloak and heavy make-up (my friend and I found a box of a stage makeup, so my face was death-white, and I had violet lips with blood all around my mouth).

Like any other day, we had classes on April First, but they were all zany. Our teachers made parodies, joked and made us the butt of their jokes. April Fool's Day normally ended with the KVN, a Russian abbreviation for Club of the Funny and Inventive, when a team of teachers competed with a team of students by giving funny answers to questions and showing prepared sketches. It was a fair competition, and teachers were not afraid to lose to students.

Like any carnival, April Fools' Day in our gymnasium was an expression of spiritual and intellectual freedom. By breaking down conventions, we learned to enjoy independence and responsibility. It was perhaps the most important lesson we've studied in our school.