Stalin's School is a thoroughly researched and imaginative study of elite education as a microcosm of Stalinism. Boldly conceptualized, [it] moves beyond the level of general (and often overworked) truisms about the relationship of education and society to present a genuinely human portrait. Holmes has assembled a truly first rate collection of evidence and his thesis challenges readers to rethink stale preconceptions. Stereotypes about Stalinist society can no longer be maintained glibly once Holmes' evidence in taken into account.
A different kind of history, Stalin’s School brings a unique human dimension to the Soviet Union of the 1930s and a new understanding of Stalinism as a cultural and psychological phenomenon.
From 1931 to 1937, School No. 25 was the most famous and most lavishly appointed school in the Soviet Union—instructing the children of such prominent parents as Joseph Stalin, head of the Communist Party, Viacheslav Molotov, head of the Soviet State, and Paul Robeson, American actor and singer. Relying on published records, materials in eleven archives, accounts left by visiting foreigners—including the prominent American educator George Counts—and thirty six interviews with surviving pupils from the 1930s, Holmes brings the school to life. The school's administrators, teachers, pupils, friends, and foes become companions as well as objects of this study as we walk the schools halls, enter its classrooms, eavesdrop on feuding officials who debate its fate, and learn something of what the school and the period meant for its youth. Photographs of the school's teachers and students, and reproductions of the students' notebooks, drawings, and watercolors add personality to this compelling story.
Holmes uses the experience of School No. 25 as a microcosm and mirror of Stalinism, illuminating the interplay of state and society in decision making, and providing an opportunity to examine Stalinism from ideological, cultural, and psychological perspectives. While placing the school's history in the context of the coercion, corruption and repression of the 1930s, Holmes challenges the prevailing view that state and public spectacle on the one hand, and society and private life, on the other, were contrasting entities. School No. 25 molded these elements into an organic whole. In the intimate setting of Stalin's School, the degree of acceptance of Stalinism transcends historians' customary reference to the fear or privilege a Soviet citizen experienced. In a mutually reinforcing way, forced compliance and voluntary choice moved individual teachers and pupils to accept a structured environment both at school and in society as the means to a powerful, prosperous, and just Soviet Union.
... valuable ... inspired ... this compact and focused study deliberately refrains from ranging too far afield. It deserves to be widely read.
The value of this book is that it shows how the official world of Soviet decrees and regulations could be accommodated and even negotiated by individuals in this complex and rapidly changing environment.
One of the many reasons why this book is so worthwhile is that Holmes has managed to suplement his copious written sources with extensive interviews of former pupils of the school. . . .This book documents the fascinating interplay among the ideology, pedagogy, bureaucratic infighting, and personal leadership that determined the rise and fall of one flagship school. . . .This is a book that is well worth reading. Holmes has made an important contribution to our understanding of Stalinism and Soviet educational history.
The use of personal narratives intermixed with photographs of school life and artifacts of reproductions from students' notebooks are what makes this case study one of considerable importance. . . . The result is a history of one school that brings a human dimension to the 1930s. . . . Stalin's School is a powerful text that sheds new light on the Soviet education system. . . . the insightful discourse offered by this book is one that all scholars of international education should include in their own persona libraries.
Larry E. Holmes is a professor of history at the University of South Alabama where he has taught since 1968. During the 1992/3 academic year he lectured in Russian and Soviet History at Rostov State University in the Russian Federation. Holmes has been the recipient of numerous awards including grants from the Kennan Institute, National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Teachers of Russian, and the International Research and Exchanges Board. Author of The Kremlin and the Schoolhouse: Reforming Education in Soviet Russia, 1917Ð1931, and Sotsial’naia istoriia Rossii: 1917Ð1941, Holmes has also published articles in Slavic Review, Russian Review, History of Education Quarterly, and other scholarly forums. He lives in Mobile, AL.