Cossack children in Siberia

The Siberian Times just posted an interesting article: Teaching Cossack traditions to today’s children.

It’s a rather short piece, uncredited, and I wish they’d given more details! Anyhow, the essence is that somewhere in Siberia, they’re holding Cossack games in which over a hundred children took part. They had to compete in traditional martial skills – and not-so-traditional ones as well, such as assembling an assault rifle! It’s interesting reading, and is accompanied by some excellent photographs by Konstantin Melnitsky.

One of the comments is interesting: ‘James’ from Sweden says: “Oh no. Children should be in school. Not in a bootcamp!“, and I’m sure that once upon a time I would have agreed.

And yet, the children I saw in Russia, ones who’d been through Cossack training with Andrey Karimov, were incredibly self-assured and competent. One of Andrey’s sons, and I can’t remember now how old he would have been, but not very old at all, even took me to task over some techniques I was doing wrong, and showed me how to do it properly. So, I have to say, learning these Cossack skills alongside the rest of a rounded curriculum, is something that’s got to be good for these kids, and I wish in retrospect I’d had a similar opportunity.

One of the most interesting points is that boys and girls are featured competing on equal terms. This is something that’s been evident in other articles I’ve linked to about Cossack academies in other parts of Russia; the Cossack communities clearly believe that responsibility for the defence of community and country falls on both men and women. Of course, that’s a natural outgrowth of their experience of total war against the Nazis, but it’s an important point for all of us to muse on.

This approach seems to be catching on elsewhere, and that’s what makes James’s comment quite funny in a way. I think the understanding is catching on throughout Europe that our way of educating children simply isn’t working. Rather, it’s turning out too many coddled children, who’ve been shielded from the fact that life is tough and can hurt, and who are basically put on a conveyor belt, going through a system which is focused on credentialism, ending up with university degrees that put them deep in debt but can’t get them a job.

Now, in the UK, the Daily Mail reports on an “Elves and Fairies Woodland Nursery” where, it breathlessly tells us, young children “clamber over trees, play on rope swings, chop vegetables and cook lunch over an open fire“. The result? Government inspectors have found that “the children showing unusually high levels of confidence and independence“. Sounds like a result to me!

Meanwhile, in James’s own part of the world, there’s a new Viking school, where students study “traditional Viking skills such as sword forging, jewellery making and roof thatching, as well as the essential art of axe-throwing”.

I don’t have children, but if I did? Seriously, I would want my kids to go to schools like these. I reckon those Siberian Cossacks are onto something.

On another note, this is my first post since I moved to WordPress.com servers. I can already see that most of my image links in previous posts have broken; let’s see what’s changed with new posts…


Photo credit: Cossack by user Thoth God of Knowledge on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons licence. (I would love to have used one of Konstantin Melnitsky’s photos from the article but, you know, copyright…

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