Readings — From the July 2014 issue

Political Calculus

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From an interview with Lyubov Ulyakhina, an expert hired by the Russian Academy of Education, published in April on the Russian news site Znak.com. In March, Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science declared that a set of math textbooks would be dropped from a list of recommended materials because of their non-Russian content. Translated from the Russian by Alan Yuhas.

ZNAK.COM: Why doesn’t this textbook cultivate patriotism or love for family and fatherland?
LYUBOV ULYAKHINA: Let’s open it. Mathematics is a science, so what relationship could it possibly have with love for your homeland? The author is tasked with molding a child’s character, not just teaching him to count. On the first pages we see gnomes, Snow White — representatives of a foreign culture. Here again, gnomes. It surprised me that they put so many; I started wondering whether gnomes do anything to advance mathematical understanding. Look, here’s some kind of monkey, and Little Red Riding Hood. People attacked me, saying it’s ridiculous to talk about patriotism in a math textbook, but I counted, and of the 119 characters drawn here, only nine have any relation to Russian culture.
ZNAK.COM: One of your complaints is the abundance of gnomes.
ULYAKHINA: Note how lovingly drawn are the characters of Western culture and how carelessly are our own. These matryoshka dolls, what do they have under their eyes?
ZNAK.COM: I think they’re wearing glasses. Like grannies in glasses, no?
ULYAKHINA: They look to me like bruises. Where did this disdain for our culture come from? Here are letters of the Old Slavonic alphabet, carelessly painted in blue ink. Where in our ancient books is blue ink? The letters are portrayed as scribbly doodles. On the next assignment, some Roman numerals — look how beautifully they’ve been written out. Here’s a figure of some children fighting — it’s just excellent, one of my favorites. They didn’t share the ball, and the boy, as we see, won. Long live strength. But what about this lady who comes to the little girl’s aid? She’s a fairy, but in our culture there’s no such phenomenon. Next to that, look at this ugly, fuzzy drawing of Grandfather Frost. What would you think of a grandfather with a face like this? That he’s drunk, right? It’s simply tasteless.

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