Social Education 57(3), 1993, pp. 103
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

Global Lessons from Siberia

Jan L. Tucker
KRASNOYARSK, SIBERIA-May 5, 1992-Four time zones east of Moscow, Krasnoyarsk lies only a few kilometers north of the geographic center of the Eurasian continent. With its fearsome nuclear and missile capacities in mind, a resident described Krasnoyarsk as "the intended Russian capital of World War III." Fortunately, this possibility is now remote. (See map on page 102.)
The city sits astride the strategic intersection of the powerful Yenisei River and the fabled trans-Siberian railroad. An ancient trading station, its modern character can be traced to World War II and the cold war. Stalin moved much of Soviet industry here during World War II to escape the German invasion, and thousands of new workers and their families swelled the population to its current one million. Krasnoyarsk became a leading city in the Siberian military-industrial complex that provided the sledgehammer of postwar Soviet power.

Krasnoyarsk was so important to national security that it was closed to foreign visitors until less than two years ago. As recently as 1989, it was absent from maps in the geography textbooks studied by Russian schoolchildren. Today, Krasnoyarsk scientists who headed the military-industrial complex of world-class technology are leaving the city-many for the United States and Western Europe where they can sell their expertise to the highest bidder in the rapidly expanding global market of high technology.

Toni F. Kirkwood and I were the first educators from the United States to spend time in Krasnoyarsk's schools and teacher training institute, and we were among the first to visit the university. The local education authorities issued us an invitation as part of a larger program for the development of global education curricula and teacher training approved recently by the Russian Ministry of Education in cooperation with an international consortium of other institutions including Florida International University, the Dade County Public Schools, Indiana University, and the American Forum for Global Education located in New York. We spent five days in Krasnoyarsk training teachers, school administrators, and university students and professors about global education. Such a brief visit hardly qualifies us as experts, and rapid changes in Russia demand caution. It was, however, our fourth visit to Russia as professional educators and it proved to be an exceptionally intense and provocative experience. What did we find in Krasnoyarsk and what may it mean to us in the United States and the rest of the world?

Krasnoyarsk is struggling to survive just like many other cities in Russia. Skyrocketing inflation has followed the free-market economic reforms; wages have lagged far behind. A typical worker makes three thousand rubles per month, the equivalent of thirty dollars.1 Food and clothing are available in the shops and markets, but often at prohibitive prices. Citizens are trading in their family heirlooms to make ends meet. Krasnoyarsk and other Siberian cities of similar origins, however, face special problems and new opportunities.

The major problem for the people of Krasnoyarsk and Siberia is to grasp a new vision of their future. For many years they have been isolated and protected physically and psychologically by the giant Eurasian land mass and the awesome intercontinental reach of the former Soviet Union. Wrenched from this security by the abrupt end of the cold war and Soviet power, Siberia's people are ill-prepared to meet the global challenges of a world without borders. Their thinking has been provincial and subservient to the wishes of Moscow. Today, Moscow teems with foreigners of all ilk, looking mainly to strike it rich or to convert the nonbelievers. Moscow has a cosmopolitan swagger that is both exciting and unnerving. Visitors are scarcely noticed. Foreigners in remote Krasnoyarsk, on the other hand, are rare and as such are objects of intense interest.

Decentralization and Globalization
Krasnoyarsk appears to be moving inwardly and outwardly at the same time-in two different but mutually supporting directions. It cannot remain in the status quo role dictated by the cold war. On the one hand, political power is flowing from Moscow to the provinces and autonomous regions of the Russian Federation providing cities and territories like Krasnoyarsk with a newfound confidence and sense of control over their own destiny. One leading Krasnoyarsk educator chose to stay in the city rather than accept an opportunity to move to Moscow because it was Krasnoyarsk, not Moscow, that offered a future; for him Moscow was becoming a "city of the past." The same forces of decentralization that brought an end to the Soviet Union are bearing down on Russia itself.

With its coffers empty, the national government is finding it increasingly difficult to dictate policies to the Russia beyond Moscow. President Yeltsin's April struggle with the Congress of Peoples Deputies may be viewed as much resistance from the newfound power of the provincial governments and representatives as a battle between the forces of the status quo and the forces of change-the theme emphasized in most Western media. Many pro-Yeltsin democrats in the provinces wish he and his cabinet would make their local needs a higher priority. To stay in power, President Yeltsin will need to pay much more attention to regions and localities than he has during his initial months in office.

Simultaneously, Krasnoyarsk is looking to the world beyond Russia-therein lies the explanation for its commitment to education for a global perspective. It wished to integrate itself into the rapidly expanding global economic, technological, and cultural systems and is counting on the next generation. English as a second language is having a boom. Students and teachers are intensely interested in foreign culture, especially U.S. culture. I was only mildly surprised to see a young man at the teacher training institute wearing a Chicago Bulls warm-up jacket. CNN is now making its first appearance in Krasnoyarsk, several years behind Moscow.

East or West?
Siberians are resurrecting and intensifying a historic debate on the question of whether their future lies in the West or in the East. The cold war offered no choice. Now they wonder aloud if they should support the future of Siberia as part of Gorbachev's "Common European Home" or seek a role as mediator between East and West. Krasnoyarsk appears to be looking increasingly toward the latter. Its previous relations with the rest of Asia have been premised mainly on political and strategic concerns. Even the trans-Siberian railway was developed largely for defense and military purposes to serve an expanding empire and provide the main security link during the tense border disputes between China and the former Soviet Union. The railroad served the interests of Moscow and the former empire more than it did Krasnoyarsk's. Krasnoyarsk, like the railroad, has been an instrument in acquiring and maintaining much of the empire.

With the global economy supplanting the territorial state, Krasnoyarsk can now look to the railroad-with an eye to the thriving economies of the Pacific Rim-as an avenue to the world. If the Pacific Rim is to be the leading global economic and cultural region of the twenty-first century, as many have claimed, the definition of Krasnoyarsk and Siberia lies in its future, not to be buried with its historic legacy of tsarist and communist oppression. Krasnoyarsk and Siberia have much to offer the world; the world and Siberia know little about each other and have much to learn.

Russia and the United States: Heading in Different Educational Directions
The United States has a special opportunity to help Russian regions and localities open up to the rest of the world. The two nations have similar national profiles. We both have a geography of continental proportions, strong human resources at the local and regional levels, a population of many cultures and nationalities, and a challenge to integrate our economies and cultures into the world community of nations in the post-cold war era.

The United States is perceived by Russian educators as a laboratory of development and change. They have received global education at the national and regional levels as an idea with much potential to meet their needs-as an approach to education that will help build a bridge between their authoritarian past and the more democratic and open society of their future-and as an approach that will help break down their isolation of the twentieth century and enable them to participate more fully in the interdependent world of the twenty-first century. In this process, we are learning much from them.

We might consider why national educational policy in Russia and the United States is taking different directions in the face of similar challenges. Russia is simultaneously seeking integration into the global community and domestically following the path of decentralization, countering decades of the "russification" of minorities. The Russian Ministry of Education has approved global education as an important part of its overall radical reform of the education system, which includes the democratization of schools as its highest priority. In the United States, our national government appears to be attempting to centralize the curriculum with arguments that call for "American" cultural literacy and reflect an aversion to the rest of the world and to multicultural education. Our national government demonstrates little interest in an education designed to integrate the United States and its localities and regions into a changing world, despite the fact that most of our recent education reform efforts are premised on the notion that we have lost our competitive edge in the global economy. Many Russian educators are greatly skeptical of the much-touted America 2000 plan to place education in the United States into world-class status. They perceive it as serving the state rather than individuals and localities where the needs are so diverse and so great, especially as we together face the global challenges of the post-cold war period.

Krasnoyarsk is a microcosm of the urgent educational needs required to cope with our common future beyond the cold war. The striking difference is that Russians in general, and the people of Krasnoyarsk in particular, seem to be ready and eager to close the gap between the real problems of the world and our limited perceptions of these realities created by long years of isolation and lack of communication. The stark needs of the present have created in Russia the ready acceptance to "think globally, while acting locally." I return to the United States wondering when-or if-we will get the message.

1Editor's note: The exchange rate has been fluctuating widely and the current rate of five thousand rubles per month is now equivalent to approximately fifteen dollars.Jan L. Tucker is Professor of Education and Director of the Global Awareness Program at Florida International University in Miami, Florida 33199.