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Two Plus Two Is Not Four

Would you send your kids to a Russian school?

Most of us wouldn’t willingly dump our kids into a school where they didn’t speak the language or know the education system. But parents living and working abroad often have to face doing just that.

Clifford Levy, a New York Times reporter who recently won a Pulitzer, had more resources than most immigrant families when he and his wife relocated to Moscow with their three children. Yet rather than put their kids in an international school where they could be taught in English alongside other expats, Levy & his wife chose to enroll their children in a local, private school with a special approach to education.

They took a chance on putting their kids into the Russian immersion program because they were sold on the thinking skills this school was teaching its kids. The kids constantly learned riddles, puzzles and stories that helped them break out of conventional thought patterns. For example, they learned that two plus two does not always equal four.

After four years in Moscow, they’ve returned home and shared their experiences with the Times readers. What started out as a struggle for their family became a gift, as the kids learned not only Russian but a wide range of critical thinking skills. They became fluent in Russian language and culture, enough to get the cheap local admission prices for museums rather than paying the steep surcharge levied against foreigners. They made friends and won academic awards and had thriving childhoods, just as they would have anywhere.

They also learned anti-authoritarian thinking under the tutelage of the school’s founder, a rogue educator from the Soviet era who founded the school with the aim of teaching children how to think for themselves and avoid being manipulated by political or corporate interests. One of my favorite lessons shared in the article:

When I asked Bogin to explain Shchedrovitsky, he asked a question. “Does 2 + 2 = 4? No! Because two cats plus two sausages is what? Two cats. Two drops of water plus two drops of water? One drop of water.”

The article offers this window into an educational system very different from what the author and his kids were familiar with in Park Slope, one that turned out to be a blessing for all of them.

Would you send your kids to a foreign school? Do you wish they learned more critical thinking skills at the schools they go to?

Photo: quinn anya

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