I’ve never liked using textbooks for school. They tend to be boring. They tend to promote a single viewpoint. They tend to be poorly written. I also have always figured that my children were spending so much time on the debate topic that it was a good idea to tie some of their schoolwork to the topic while their enthusiasm was high. The topic this year lends itself nicely to a high school curriculum which would stand out quite nicely on a transcript. Your children are already tackling the debate topic and are probably confused about Russian history, Russian culture, Russian government, even where exactly Russia is! After all, they are just starting to learn their own history, culture, and government. So, how do you tie this debate topic into a more holistic learning experience?
First off, you can set up a Russian literature course for your child. Another joy of a literature course without a textbook is that you can often find what you need at your local library! Ch-ching. Setting up the course is actually easy. I love the internet. So many smart people post so much great stuff. Search the college sites (if you aren’t sure how, ask your debater how to search .edu sites using google – if they can’t tell you, they need a research lesson. Contact Ethos if that is the case.). I did a quick search and on the first page I found the following:
This professor has set up a nice syllabus complete with study notes, assignments, etc. Start here, look through it, decide what pieces of this you might want to utilize. Look for other coursework. I usually like to “mash-up” a few syllabi and assignments until I get exactly what I think will work. It takes an afternoon sometimes, but it is quite a bit of fun.
Next step, read through everything. Often, college professors will recommend additional reading in history, culture, geography. See if you can find these books at your local library.
Finally, you have the Russian politics and government to teach. They will get a LOT of this from their debate readings so you will want to “round” out their experience. The fun part of this is that they will learn quite a bit that will help them become even better debaters. You can do a syllabus search of the .edu sites just as you did for the literature class OR you can go to Amazon.com. They have a fantastic part of their site called “Listmania!” which is searchable. There are quite a few experts on Russia who have put together reading lists on Russian politics and Russian government. This will give you some great ideas for books to have your student read.
Keep an eye out for local cultural events. I have already found Russian festivals being held this fall in Indiana and Maryland. If you have a Russian Orthodox church in a nearby city, they may likely know of any local festivals. They may also enjoy talking with your students or debate club. Check the local symphony orchestra to see what they are playing this fall/winter. You can tie some classic Russian composers into your studies. Check with your local art museum on Russian art on display or tour. You can also look for a Russian ethnic grocery and have your student plan a Russian meal (and ethnic groceries are a fun place just to visit anyway!).
And finally, tying all this to the United States. I find that dinner conversation is great for tying everything up in a nice little bow. Many of us aren’t really old enough to remember the space race, but our parents remember it. A dinner with the grandparents and a discussion centering on the space race with Russia and McCarthyism will tie what they are learning with the American experience. Read Reagan’s Westminster Speech with your students. This speech should spur some discussion and thought on what was going on in both countries during this pivotal time period.
Be creative and have fun! Please respond in the comments if you find some great resources online for teaching about Russia.