Throughout the summer, we approach a question or a historical moment with the same immersive experiences that we use across all our simulations, historical or otherwise.
We try to pick at least two different eras from Russian history: Kievan Rus, Mongol Yoke, Muscovy, Imperial, Soviet, Post-Soviet. Then, we use our setting, staff and realia to suspend reality and transport villagers to that moment in time.
Villagers may get to help advise the Tsar on how best to defend Moscow from Napoleon. Perhaps drop in on a “secret showing” of dissident Soviet art or pass along government-prohibited literature through samizdat. Or strategize with Genghis Khan on how best to keep the Russian princes divided.
When dealing with issues of such undeniable import and no small controversy, we proceed from concrete pedagogical goals, and each encounter with history is intended to give each child a balanced understanding of that moment in time. For example, we may explore the challenges of the Soviet era and the tragedies that marked the 20th century in Russia. But we also aim to lead each participant to the important understanding that those who lived in the Soviet Union lived real daily lives and did normal things; that they had dreams and aspirations, and that indeed many people were attracted to this highly problematic system.
We always close our historical simulations with a debrief lead by our Asst. Dean Natasha, who holds an MA in Russian history and teaches AP World History during the school year. We do this to solidify some of the learning objectives of the day and provide students a chance to ask questions. Whenever possible, we try to give villagers access to first-hand accounts.
We are very fortunate to have some elder staff members who are kind enough to share their experiences with the Cold War and the fall of Communism. These oral histories are priceless and create a rich understanding of history that our villagers carry with them into our global community. If as global citizens we seek to improve our world, it is imperative that we take lessons from the past that are both positive and negative.
As a program and as a staff we are deeply aware of both the troubled and horrific times and the moments of incredible bravery and accomplishment that made up the many periods of Russian history, and we don’t take our responsibilities in discussing them lightly.