November 3, 2014

1943. Ending Coeducation in Moscow Schools

Revolution in Soviet School System Kills Coeducation for Youthful Reds
"Mother Russia's military training will be for boys only . . . but checkers after school will still be co-ed" (Sovfotos)
From Newsweek, August 16, 1943, p. 76:
Revolution in Soviet School System Kills Coeducation for Youthful Reds

Lost in the recent flood of war news was a report on changes to be made in the Soviet education system, so important as to amount to a virtual new Russian revolution. Briefly—and contrary to the trend elsewhere—the plan will do away with coeducation for most Russian children. For the significance of the move, Bill Downs, Newsweek and CBS Moscow correspondent, has wirelessed this story:

After six months of experimentation in the Moscow schools, a new plan has been devised which will be extended to all major cities in the Soviet Union when the schools reopen on Aug. 25.

The first basic change provides separate classes for boys and girls from kindergarten through high school. This means that coeducation will exist only in the Soviet Union's universities, colleges, and trade schools. The second adjustment to separate sex standards will be compulsory military training, to be introduced through all classes by Jan. 1. Third, there will be an expansion of extracurricular activities to provide for control and contact between boys and girls, and to replace the lost classroom liaison. This will be done through "pioneer clubs," a state-sponsored youth organization built along the lines of America's Boy and Girl Scouts.


An official report on the plan by the director of Moscow Public School 89, A.A. Solokhin, begins by rhetorically countering the argument that separation of the sexes means "reinstitution of inequality between men and women in the state."

Solokhin replies that the differences in adolescent studies create differences in mental processes which necessitate "different pedagogical methods, special elaboration of studies, and different assignments . . . This differentiation cannot be achieved if girls and boys are sitting in the same classroom."

He also points out "the inevitable division of labor between men and women." This represents a change in the former attitude of the Soviet educators, who expressed pride in women coal minors, railroad engineers, and common laborers. (Russian women are exceptionally strong and sturdy, and long used to heavy physical labor—today they can be seen laying rails on Moscow's tramways. Their sturdiness has been a great asset in war industries and on farms.)

But Solokhin's report strikes a most interesting note for the future of Soviet youth when it points out that "all jobs in society cannot be performed with equal success by men and women. There are many examples . . . a man must be a warrior, must be prepared to join the Red Army, and his preparation must have started in school . . .

"There are girls at the front but they are mainly employed in the quartermaster sections, hospitals, communication units, and such. As far as I know they are not permitted to participate in attacks. They don't build bridges and highways, because this is a man's hard labor . . .

"But women have duties which men have not, and they are extremely important. The girl as a future mother must know how to care for children and how to educate them. Whatever is said about the various duties of men and women in the education of children, mother is always mother and the schools must give the girl special knowledge of anatomy, psychology, and hygiene."

This statement represents a new conception of the Soviet woman and her place in family and national life. Sociologically it is a significant change from the early conceptions which simplified divorce processes, provided state contraceptive service, and put emphasis on the nursery instead of the family. In recent years the trend has been in the opposite direction; the Soviet Union is taking measures to increase the birth rate, which since the war has been declining because of the separation of families, improper feeding, and casualties. The new system is the first step in this direction.


The educator goes on to explain the importance of the new leisure-time program in these revealing words: "In wartime, extracurricular and after-school work is even more necessary as a result of the weakened influence of the family on the child. The introduction of separate studies for boys and girls makes this especially important. I remember pictures of the old pre-revolutionary schools when common games between boys and girls were considered a crime. Naturally there is nothing to this. After lessons work must be organized so that boys and girls spend their leisure hours together . . . Literature, singing, dramatic, and other clubs should be coeducational.

"Extracurricular activities must stimulate more interests for boys and girls. That doesn't mean of course that children will no longer work in shops and garages or with constructors. If they wish to work in these circles, let them. But clubs for fine embroidery, sewing, weaving, homecraft must be created for girls. Also adult clubs, houses of culture, collective farm clubs, and industrial clubs must turn over their facilities to children during certain hours of the day.

"All educational facilities must be used to instruct boys and girls in a spirit of mutual respect and equality. The system of separate studies is an extremely important measure to consolidate Soviet schools and to raise them to a new level. Undoubted results will be seen in the progress of the children in discipline and in the consolidation of the Soviet family."