Russian students are returning to school, where they face new lessons to boost their patriotism

Sep 1, 2023, 9:36 AM

First graders take part in a ceremony marking the start of classes at a school as part of the tradi...

First graders take part in a ceremony marking the start of classes at a school as part of the traditional opening of the school year known as "Day of Knowledge" in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Sept. 1, 2023. Many schools across the country reopen on Sept. 1. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

(AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Clad in white shirts and carrying bouquets, children across Russia flocked back to school Friday, where the Kremlin’s narratives about the war in Ukraine and its confrontation with the West were taking an even more prominent spot than before.

Students are expected each week to listen to Russia’s national anthem and watch the country’s tricolor flag being raised. There’s a weekly subject loosely translated as “Conversations about Important Things,” which was introduced last year with the goal of boosting patriotism.

A new high school history textbook has a chapter on the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the “special military operation” — the Kremlin’s euphemism for the war, and some basic military training is included in a course on self-defense and first aid.

President Vladimir Putin even got involved, personally meeting Friday with 30 school students from different regions and describing Russians as “an invincible nation.” The Kremlin called it “an open lesson” as part of the “Conversations About Important Things” program of studies.

“School … is a powerful mechanism for raising a person subordinate to the state,” said Nikolay Petrov, visiting researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “For a while the school was outside the active attention of the state. Today, it’s all coming back.”

The Kremlin became preoccupied with what was on the minds of young people several years ago, when teenagers and students flocked to unauthorized protests organized by now-imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

“The Kremlin suddenly began to pay a lot of attention to children and the youth,” Petrov noted.

Putin started meeting with young people regularly, and authorities started investing in pushing its political narrative. The effort appeared to be driven by the realization that a whole generation of people who grew up with Putin as president “can think differently than the Kremlin wants them to,” the analyst said.

There have been frequent media reports in recent years about teachers dressing down, shouting or calling police on students who express support for the opposition or anti-government views.

The crackdown intensified after Moscow sent troops to Ukraine, and teachers were fired or forced to quit after refusing to hold sessions of the “Conversations About Important Things.” Parents faced pressure from school administrators and authorities if their children skipped those lessons.

Earlier this year, authorities the town of Yefremov, south of Moscow, convicted and imprisoned a single father whose daughter drew an antiwar sketch at school.

The Education Ministry has unveiled an 11th grade history textbook, with a chapter covering Russia from 2014 to the present. It justifies the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine, and paints the West as hostile toward Moscow. Questions about the fighting were featured in a sample of the final history exam that authorities recently released.

The practical course on self-defense and first aid now includes some basic military training, with students being taught about various weapons and lectures on information warfare and the dangers of extremist groups.

Some parents say they are rattled by these mandatory lessons.

“I’ve discovered that, to my horror, ideological lessons have become mandatory for my daughters and there is no chance of avoiding that,” said Sergei, a Muscovite whose two daughters have just started high school. He and other parents spoke to The Associated Press on the condition that their last names not be revealed out of concerns for their safety.

“I now have to explain and ask the girls to be more careful with what they say in school in order to not to inflict harm on themselves,” he said.

Sergei said his daughters, whose hobby is ballroom dancing, are “all of a sudden asking questions about the flight range of missiles and drones.”

“The mind of school students becomes militarized, history textbooks are being re-written, mandatory ideology is being imposed, he said. “Russian schools rapidly turn back to the worst Soviet examples, when two histories and two truths existed.”

A parent now has fewer opportunities to protect kids “from brainwashing,” he added.

Other Muscovites told AP they were lucky to have their children attend schools where teachers weren’t following the directives to the letter, trying to stay away from politics.

“We got teachers who understand everything. They won’t say out loud that they’re against ‘Conversations About Important Things,’” said Vladimir, whose daughter is in a Moscow school.

“We got a teacher who came up with her own content for the lesson and talked about, for example, theater, history of Moscow, other depoliticized topics without ideology,” he said.

Anna, whose son attends middle school in Moscow, also said she is grateful to the school and its administrators for not taking “an aggressive stance” and not resorting to propaganda. She said the school has the weekly anthem ceremony and featured a lesson about Crimea last year, but little else, “so I’m not worried about it.”

Vladimir believes that teachers who are well-educated, critical thinkers will be able to circumvent the requirements. If they are “crafty and flexible,” he said, they will probably “formally implement what they’re being told, but in reality quietly sabotage it.”


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at


Associated Press

US Treasury sanctions Sierra Leone man for allegedly smuggling migrants into the United States

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions Thursday on a man from Sierra Leone for allegedly smuggling thousands of migrants from Asia and Africa into the United States. The ring allegedly run by Abdul Karim Conteh provided false documents and drove migrants to the border and offered advice on how to cross, […]

8 hours ago

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts as he walks from the 18th green following his opening round...

Associated Press

McIlroy, DeChambeau stumble badly out of the gates at British Open

TROON, Scotland (AP) — So much for the British Open being one last stand for Rory McIlroy in the majors this year. His best hope now is getting beyond one more day. And he has company from U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau. The protagonists from Pinehurst No. 2 were no match for a wind that […]

8 hours ago

FILE - A brigade from the Electric Power Authority repairs distribution lines damaged by Hurricane ...

Associated Press

US announces $325 million in funding to boost Puerto Rico solar projects as power outages persist

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. government announced Thursday that $325 million in federal funds will be available for solar and battery storage installations across Puerto Rico as the U.S. territory struggles with chronic power outages. The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, will target community centers and healthcare facilities, as […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Stock market today: Asian shares mostly fall as dive for Big Tech stocks hits Wall St rally

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mostly lower Thursday, with Tokyo’s benchmark dipping more than 2%, after Wall Street’s record-breaking rally slammed into a wall of worries over potentially worsening trade tensions with China. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index finished down 2.4% at 40,126.35. The markets’ spotlight was squarely on chip companies after a report from […]

18 hours ago

Residents walk through the Petare neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. (AP P...

Associated Press

The uncertainty that plagues life in crisis-ridden Venezuela is also wreaking havoc on relationships

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Victoria Estevez finally met someone who saw past her shyness. They spent two months learning about their likes and dislikes, texting about their families and friends, and walking around their hometowns on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. On a trip to the capital in December, they held each other for the first time. […]

19 hours ago

Yoko Sakato, left, and Valerie Matsunaga, right, relatives of soldiers who fought in the 442nd Infa...

Associated Press

US Army honors Nisei combat unit that helped liberate Tuscany from Nazi-Fascist forces in WWII

ROME (AP) — The U.S. military is celebrating a little-known part of World War II history, honoring the Japanese-American U.S. Army unit that was key to liberating parts of Italy and France even while the troops’ relatives were interned at home as enemies of the state following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Descendants of the […]

20 hours ago

Russian students are returning to school, where they face new lessons to boost their patriotism