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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pechersk School International Probed in Scandal Over Hitler Infantilization

Pechersk School International, an elite English-speaking institution attended by President Yushchenko’s two younger daughters, has become the epicenter of a scandal.

What attracted public attention is the controversial role-playing assignment given in a history class. The object of the assignment was to generate the tyrannic profile of Hitler and to grasp the mechanics behind the Nazi election campaign. For several days, students experimented with Nazi propaganda by drawing paintings of Hitler and replicating the slogans of the Third Reich.

Initially, the PTA defended the assignment as one that in no way makes Nazism itself part of the official school policy, which, on the contrary, includes school trips to Holocaust museums.

However, at least one family protested the assignment and withdrew their child from the school attended by the offspring of Kyiv’s diplomatic corps and expat community.

In the face of the looming ethical quagmire, a spokesperson for First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko issued the following statement:

Kateryna Yushchenko is convinced that placing demands on adolescents to recreate fascist symbols is absolutely unacceptable, regardless of all educational designs. It is particularly unacceptable in a country that suffered most from the horror of fascism and communism.

Even though the children of the Yushchenko family, who study at lower grades, did not attend this class, Kateryna Yushchenko is categorically against their viewing of posters depicting any totalitarian symbols.

The First Lady makes good sense. In a country that lost 7 million lives to the Third Reich — unlike any Western country — Hitler must not be approached with a detached attitude. The fathers of both Viktor and Kateryna Yushchenko went through Nazi concentration camps. Role-playing games can be an effective vehicle for learning, unless they equip the mindset of a young person with a carefree picture of crimes against humanity.

The state of the world makes the study of history crucial to the survival of humankind. The study of history, in turn, requires a high degree of sensitivity. A school assignment that brings together kids of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds should have sensitivity factored into it. What Student/Parent A finds acceptable, Student/Parent B may not.

Indeed, one’s freedom stops where someone else’s begins. And it appears that the ethical concerns in this assignment do outweigh, if not rule out, the pedagogical value of the assignment.

Kateryna Yushchenko’s statement can be viewed as an attempt to seize the initiative and thus cushion some of the media flak the Yushchenko family drew in an earlier episode involving Pechersk School International

In the Slisarenko scandal of three months ago, The Kyiv Post published an editorial chiding President Yushchenko for shipping his children off to an elite school rather than taking on the severely underfinanced public school system.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Education has launched a probe into the present incident. According to Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukr), based on the results of the inquiry, Minister Stanislav Nikolaenko may urge Kyiv authorities to revoke the license of PSI. Here’s what he said:

Students were tasked with finding out how in Germany, in a democratic state, a tyrant could come to power. The Director believes that the teacher’s goal was to denounce fascism. The commission’s probe is pending.

In case the fact of fascist propaganda in a history class at Pechersk School International is confirmed, I will contact the Security Service of Ukraine and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a request that the history teacher be deported from the country.

In all likelihood, to accuse the teacher of propaganda is to turn the issue on its head. What happened was an unfortunate ethical misstep that should supply the material for a case study.

The first report on the incident was published in Segodnya (Today), allegedly controlled by Rinat Akhmetov, a member of the Party of Regions opposed to the Orange Coalition.

Photos courtesy of Segodnya


Anonymous said...

why doesn't the first lady follow the example of the family that withdraw their children from the school - that's the only move that has any real meaning. In any case why is Yushchenko, who is promoting the Ukraine language in his talk sending his own children to an English speaking school. Its obvious a state language can't exist unless it's the language of the state education system. So why should his kids be exempt from learning in Ukrainian and just have everybody else's kids carry that can.

Pawlina said...

Oh boy. The last paragraph certainly throws the light of suspicion on the whole matter.

Puts me in mind of Godwin's law...

Surely Yushchenko's detractors have heard of it. Especially those alarmed by his (amazingly successful) promotion of the Ukrainian language, knowledge of the Holodomor, etc.

Taras said...

I'm sure that the President's kids do speak Ukrainian and do not shun the language.

Other than that, I agree with you 100 percent. A president who sends his kids to an elite school — at a time when the ravaged public school system so badly needs reform — sends a mixed message about his policies.

the one who knows! said...

Why do people who know nothing about this school keep commenting the situation? Every student that attends any of the IB World Schools in any country has to do this assignment. I see no reason for anyone to blame anything on the school. Since obviously no one knows the first thing about the program why do everyone keep commenting on it? This assignment was proved to help students understand how Hilter managed to convince so many people to follow him. As I see the situation, the student who started all this ridiculous drama simply wanted attention. There were cases like this before, students refused to do the task and were left alone. So why?

Taras said...


Let’s just say that there is no problem with the Ukrainian language in the Yushchenko family. I don’t have the slightest doubt about that, and we both know that language is not an issue here.

The one who knows,

I did not attend PSI. But as a Ukrainian whose relatives, both on my mother’s and father’s side, died from the hands of the Nazis, I find such assignments to be unethical on Ukrainian territory, soaked with their blood.

I also believe that any role-playing games related to the tragic events of 9/11 or the Holocaust would spark indignation among the victims’ families. Which is why I totally agree with First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko that such assignments are unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

of course Yush's kids know Ukranian that's not the point at all but just suppose schooling in the Ukraine is all in some other language, English or Russian, - ok its obvious that in that case Ukraine would be giving up on Ukranian - nobody would bet on the language surviving long if it was only transmitted at home. therefore by sending his own kids to a non ukrainian speaking school he's relying on everybody else's kids to keep the language going.

The one who knows! said...

Well, Taras, I DID attend PSI, and I know first hand about this assignment. There is no support whatsoever of Hiltel's actions from teachers and the purpose is solely to help students understand how he managed to keep people believing him and supporting him for so long.
And my great grandmother's family was shot during the Holocaust years, so I know how it feels.
I don't see this assignment as unacceptable, but rather as a very helpful insight into the situation. To me it helped to stop blaming every single person that had some relation to Hiltler's actions, but rather understand how easy it is to play with people's minds.

the one who knows! said...

As to the anonymous' last comment, I've been studying in international schools since I was 11 years old, but I still speak perfect Ukrainian, only because our family speaks Ukrainian at home.

Taras said...

I strongly believe that Yushchenko's kids speak perfect Ukrainian, and will continue speaking it after they graduate from PSI. Naturally, most non-Ukrainian-born PSI graduates will go on living their lives outside Ukraine, which makes the Ukrainian language a non-issue in their case.

So, aside from the school assignment issue, the question lies in the realm of power distance and social stratification/responsibility.

Should a president secure a world-class education for his kids while his own country's school system remains in a mess? Given the social incubator role of the public school system, what country does he expect his kids to grow up in — the one that’s a mess or the one that’s world-class?

Anonymous said...

ok what would people say then if the President sent his kids to a Russian speaking school????? lets say just a few eyebrows would be raised. So why then is English ok?

Taras said...

Anonymous, we’ve already examined the language issue, haven’t we? Language — be it Ukrainian, Russian, or English — is beside the point in this story.

The one who knows, it’s great to have a PSI student in my audience, and a Ukrainian speaker, too! Your family deserves praise!

Of course, I have no reason whatsoever to suspect PSI of Hitler propaganda. It’s the design of the assignment that creates controversy. I agree that it may have its educational value. But it also trivializes the tragic events of Ukraine’s past in a way that some people, myself included, find unacceptable.

Even if I felt differently about it, I would still have to take into account the feelings of others.

the one who knows! said...

Thank you.
I do understand the concern of parents, but what I hate about this situation is that it is in no way school's fault. International Baccalaureate is an international program, and PSI only follows a given syllabus. Every IB school in the world does the same. So instead of blaming it on teachers IBO should be blamed and/or criticized.
As to presidents daughter studying in this school, I see no reason why they shouldn't. This program teaches students to learn, as opposed to giving them information for memorization. It forces students to think, much more than Ukrainian programs do. It does seem controversial to his ideas about Ukrainian language, but I think that it is perfectly understandable why a father wants to provide his children with a more secure future.

elmer said...

The questions put forth in the assignment sheet are legitimate, and important.

Is it necessary to recreate Nazi posters? Probably not. There's plenty of it around, and one can study propaganda films or history books showing the propaganda.

So let's turn this around.

Let's say that the teachers substituted Stalin.

How did Stalin come to power? What kind of propaganda did he use? Etc.?

How does any despot come to power, what methodologies does he or she use, what is the effectiveness, etc.?

Should any parents pull their kids out of the school for that?

I find that these questions are particularly important in Ukraine, given that their was a certain slant to the history taught during the sovok era, which leaves people in Ukraine sadly lacking in knowledge of even their own true, factual untainted history.

Taras said...

The one who knows,

I believe the assignment should have been evaluated and discussed with the parents. In my opinion, such assignments require localization — an ethical clearance procedure that would have identified and defused any potential for conflict.

What happened has absolutely nothing to do with propaganda. What happened was a case of improper handling of a highly sensitive issue that centralized/standardized curricula had not taken into consideration.

If Yushchenko were an ordinary father, I wouldn’t be raising the school subject. But Yushchenko is not just a father. He is the President of Ukraine.

And I’m not the only who suffers from cognitive dissonance, wondering whether the Head of State who uses his status to bypass the public school system — and thereby sets a certain ethical standard — is the President I stood for at Maidan. After all, The Kyiv Post made this point a lot better than I did.

The first PSI-related queries to my blog came two days before I even read the first Ukrayinska Pravda report. So, once I learned of the First Lady’s statement, with which I completely agree, I decided to write a post describing the situation based on the best public information available.


If it doesn’t offend or trivialize, it’s OK.

And when I say that, I mean that exposure to the history of Soviet genocide cannot possibly “offend” the children or grand-children of the top-ranking communist nomenklatura, or “trivialize” their family history. No veto power should be granted in this case.

Anonymous said...

I am a former teacher of PSI and also have children who graduated from the IB program. I feel that this teacher just let things get out of hand and also there is the political motivation behind the story. It is really a sad situation that the school finds themselves in now.

elmer said...


In Washington DC, there was a lot of hoopla about how members of Congress who were ranting and raving about the public school systems actually sent their kids to private, elite schools in the DC area.

Double-standard? Of course.

Is Yushchenko right in sending his kids to PSI? Is Yanuk right in going to Spain and elsewhere for medical treatment? (Sushko - the same, except he went to Austria, I believe).

On the other hand - I saw a video recently on YouTube of a classroom session, high school, in Ukraine.

If you trust the video - it is shocking. There was absolutely no way the kids could learn anything.

Some of them kept picking up chairs and making runs at the teacher, as if they were going to attack him. Some made runs at the teacher without chairs, as if they were going to attack him. There was lots of wandering around, and yelling, and screaming, and laughing. It looked like an insane asylum.

If those conditions indeed exist, they need to be addressed - and now.

In the meantime, if such conditions do exist in the public schools in Ukraine - I'm sending my kids to PSI.

Taras said...

Thank you for commenting. It’s a sad situation indeed, and there's no mistaking the political motivation behind Segodnya, to which the story was leaked.

I’m sure the propaganda charge will be lifted shortly. And in the future, PSI will handle such sensitive issues more carefully.

Taras said...

Elmer, I'm glad you’re familiar with that video. It does not represent every school in the system, but, as far as I remember, it was shot at a Kyiv high school.

Since neither you nor I is the President of Ukraine, we are free to send our kids wherever we can afford. But the President is a totally different case. The President is a public figure. The President is the public figure. And it’s his job to do his best for the public.

I never voted for Yanukovych, and I never will. I voted for Yushchenko. But will I do that again? The only way for our President to represent the public interest is to steer clear of the easy road.

Anonymous said...

ok one last go on the language issue - how can anyone say it's not totally hypocritical behaviour. If Yushchenko was asked what language he would like to see the children of the Ukraine educated in what would be his answer? English? Russian? Don't care? surely he'd say Ukrainian. So what about your children. oh that's different?
the one who knows - I guess Swiss German say has been transmitted for years through the family but it's only an oral language. As for a written language that you hope will also be used for everything in country and produce literatue as well I don't see how you can do it only in the family because you never learn a language, grammar and the range of vocabulary that you do at school. For that reason also, if, unlike the diplomats kids who aren't going to stay in Ukraine the Pres's kids are then I'm not sure she (I'm sure its her decision) is doing them any favours by not having them learn in the country's language and I'm an english speaker in a country with some parochial language but I'd never send my kids to a school not in the local language.

Anonymous said...

In the news again

Хто живе на “президентській дачі” у Карпатах?
title of article is -
Who lives in the 'President's dacha' in the Carpathian mtns?


Taras said...


The language issue in and of itself is of secondary relevance to this story.

I assume that Yushchenko's younger kids are multilingual. Their mother is a native speaker of English and Ukrainian. Their father is a native speaker of Ukrainian who speaks Russian equally well.

I do agree that multilingualism does not work everwhere and for everyone. Not all are capable of learning several languages from different families. And not all families can afford such education for their kids. But the earlier in life a person starts learning a language, the better they will learn it. That said, I believe that Ukrainian should remain the only official language in Ukraine.

Yushchenko’s kids do speak Ukrainian and will speak Ukrainian. And so will I. Speaking English does not mean strangling Ukrainian.

One last thing, we don't say the Ukraine. We Ukrainians consider the imperial usage and thus an insult. So, ever since Ukraine became independent, we say Ukraine.


That’s a very nice dacha and a very old story. We all know that the President has many friends and, as the saying goes, “True friends stab you in the front.”

Anonymous said...

but as far as multi-linguilism goes she seems to have enough spare change to give her kids tuition in English, Russian, French, Ballet and anything else she chooses out of school but in public, for deceny's sake she should demonstrate her belief in the Ukranian language and not show it as suitable for educating the native peasantry only. Differentiation between elites and the rest through language harks back to the use of Latin in England or French in tsarist Russia.

billy idol said...

i agree with The One Who Knows. He is, obviously enough, the only one of u who understands the situation. The rest of the issue isnt the problem of PSI- but with you not being able to accept modern ways of education.

Taras said...

Modern ways of education should be ethical.

KT said...

The One Who Knows - sup fellow PSIer?

I agree with the whole "language is besides the point" issue here. Yushenko has the right to act as both president and father, so we shouldn't be judging his political beliefs based on his parental actions - he can send his kids to wherever he wishes.

Half the things all of you read are completely made up. The news becomes more and more bizarre each time they falsely copy the story. The assignment is completely harmless and even necessary - and its been used for years already.

The newspapers have a thing for making an elephant out of a mouse.