The Russian Ministry of Education presented schoolteachers with “information for a social studies session” this week. The two-page paper, which instructors are presumably supposed to read aloud in their students before showing a video of President Vladimir Putin, should have been titled “disinformation.” In the event of inquisitive children, assistance is offered.
The approved line for Russian teachers to tell their students is that Russia invaded Ukraine because “our policy is freedom, freedom of choice for everyone to independently determine their own future and the future of their children.”
Teachers should tell youngsters that Russia is not at war; it is conducting a “special peacekeeping operation” in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas to halt a “nightmare of genocide” against “millions” of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. The Russian leadership “does not like to wage wars, cause conflicts, or succumb to provocations,” and has “done everything possible to resolve the situation by peaceful, political means,” adding that it “not going to impose anything on anyone by force.”
The lesson’s propaganda makes a mockery of the reality, with over 1.2 million Ukrainians fleeing their nation as refugees, hundreds of people slain, including scores of children, and accumulating evidence of possible war crimes. But so it does of children’s right to education and information. Under United Nations conventions, education should help teach children to “identify misinformation and other forms of biased or false content.” It should prepare “the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace … and friendship among all peoples.” States are obliged to ensure children’s “access to information and materials from a diversity of national and international sources.”
In addition to the incorrect and deceptive script given to educators, the Russian government has shut down independent media outlets that covered the Ukraine invasion, including as TV Rain and the Echo of Moscow radio station, and detained over 6,000 anti-war protestors.
Teachers who speak out against the war risk being fired, if not sacked altogether. On March 4, Russia’s parliament overwhelmingly adopted a draft bill punishing “discrediting” Russia’s military services and spreading “false information” regarding the Ukraine war with up to 15 years in jail, according to legislators.
The Education Ministry’s “social studies” lesson does contain one accurate statement about Ukraine, but like a broken clock, it is accurate by accident:
“It is impossible to look at what is happening there without compassion.”