Soviet student schoolwork
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Following the 1917 Revolution, the Soviet Union implemented education strategies that resulted in an enormous increase in literacy across the nation. From 1929 to 1939, the literate Russian population grew from 1 million to 40 million. In 1930, "universal primary education was introduced in the USSR," (Timofeychev) and nearly all children attended school. Education was rigidly controlled and centrally organized. In nearly all subjects, Marxist-Leninist ideology was present and propaganda was prevalent. There was a focus on collectivization, ideological education for children and women, and a campaign against religion.
The controlled and centralized aspects of the education system, according to David H. Reilly, had negative consequences, including the fact that "the system demanded and awarded conformity [and] independent decision making and action were punished, [resulting in students not learning] effective planning principles, [how] to take responsibility for independent action or [how] to exercise responsibility for decisions," (Reilly, page 242).
Regardless of successes and failures in the Soviet system of education, "the Soviets made illiteracy a huge national issue, pushing through education reforms and programs for adult learners, and achieved 75 percent literacy by 1937," (Myers).
Myers, Peter, "Can the Soviet Education System help developing countries Now?," BerkeleyMDP https://mdp.berkeley.edu/peter-myers-can-the-soviet-education-system-help-us-now/ (accessed 2019 July 31).
Reilly, David H. "Lessons from Soviet Education: The Need for an Educational System with Responsibility, Authority, and Courage," Journal of Educational Thought, Vol. 30, No. 3, 1996 December.
Timofeychev, Alexey, "Here's why education in the USSR was among the best in the world," 2018 July 9, https://www.rbth.com/history/328721-education-in-ussr-the-best (accessed 2019 July 31)
This collection consists of schoolwork created by Soviet students from 1928 to 1950. Students included children as young as five years old through the 7th grade as well as women who were part of the Soviet Union's efforts to significantly increase the literacy of its population. Across the board, student work focused on Soviet ideology. The collection is arranged in four series: I. Student copybooks with drawings; II. School drawings; III. Collectivization booklets; and IV. Propaganda posters.
Series I: Student copybooks with drawings includes workbooks of Soviet students from 1929 to 1930. Children from kindergarten to sixth grade were from the Soviet Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Czechoslovakia. The copybooks of the youngest students show basic writing skills with practice of the alphabet and very simple words, and it is important to note that many of their first words and drawings appear to be driven by Soviet ideology. Farming and community feature heavily in these copybooks. There are also workbooks created by women, who, per Soviet philosophy, were to be liberated by literacy and the ability to work. Researchers will find multiple copybooks from the same classes, seeing different students' interpretation of the same assignment. Material is in Russian, Czech, German, and Ukrainian.
Series II. School drawings were largely created by students from the 5th to 7th grades. These students produced artwork in crayon, ink, pencil, and watercolor and their subjects were, again, largely driven by Soviet ideology. Researchers will find drawings related to International Workers Day (May 1); Lenin's legacy; Soviet symbols of the hammer, sickle, and red star; agriculture; and industry. There are also several series of drawings, clearly produced by entire classes of students, of decorated circles, triangles, and circles. These drawings are richly colored and often contain themes of Soviet ideology, but also feature flowers, geometric patterns, and occasionally buildings. These drawings are arranged by grade, with an effort to keep similar drawings together.
Series III. Collectivization booklets consist of three multi-page booklets relating to agriculture and industry. These booklets contain finely drawn ink illustrations as well as text and appear to have been an assignment for a class. It is unclear the age of the students, but based upon the sophistication of the drawings and lettering, they were probably older than the creators of much of the other school work produced in this collection.
Series IV. Propaganda posters were likely produced to hang on the walls of the Soviet schools. Many of these also appear to have been an assignment, and are similar in size and style. These are very focused on Soviet ideology and contain significantly more text than the other material in the collections. Frequently, the only drawings are the decorated titles. These posters are arranged alphabetically by title.
Gift of Thomas Woody
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Laura Auketayeva
- Finding Aid Date
- 2019 July 31
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.