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Christian Homeschooling Becoming Popular in Russia…Finally

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This article originally appeared on a new site about the Christian renaissance in Russia, called Russian Faith. Their introductory video is at end of this article.


Since Russia has so swiftly become the world’s official bulwark of conservative values, it is quite surprising that it has systematically lagged behind in one obvious realm: Homeschooling.

For most Russians, homeschooling has always been enveloped in a fantastical aura, something associated mainly with special needs and/or with Amish-like Protestant groups in America.

But lately, as more Russian Christian families gain a voice, energized by growing state supports and society’s intensifying religiosity, the demand for alternatives to the official public school system, corrupted by materialism and Darwinism during the Soviet Regime and, now, by liberal values, has grown more popular and apparent.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfJyarwJrjk

A new film by Alexey Komov about the disastrous consequences of Soros-funded educational reform in 1990s Russia based on the American model, the problems in American school systems, and how home-schooling presents a solution to the crisis. A Russian version of the film can be found here, with full transcript (in Russian).


More and more Russian parents are frightened and reluctant to hand over their child’s education into the hands of strangers, realizing, that in doing so, they are also relinquishing the moral upbringing of their own child, and allowing them to become inculcated with morals and values that may be completely foreign.

This is where Alexey Komov and Irina Shamolina, the pioneers of homeschooling in Russia, come in. The Russian couple, passionate about education, homeschools their three sons. Irina leads a popular blog about education and Alexey is the representative the World Congress of Families in Russia. Both have been fascinated by, and intensely studying, homeschooling since 2012.  With time, they came to the conviction that homeschooling options were urgently needed in Russia.

They traveled regularly to the US, which has the most developed homeschooling systems in the world, trying to learn about and experience the lively Christian homeschooling scene of the country.

They finally settled upon the Classical Conversations, a Christian homeschooling organization, started in the 1990s by Leigh Bortins in North Carolina. The model creates communities of homeschooling Christian families that meet weekly and aims to teach children in a classical manner. It is based on educational theories gleaned from Ancient Greece and the Trivium concept of the Middle Ages.

Thus, the child is homeschooled for most of the week, and the parents nurture and teach their own child within their intimate family circle. However, this system also addresses the need of the child…and the often ignored need of the parents…for socialization and community with like-minded people with weekly meetings. These also always begin with prayer and provide children with skills that parents may not be able to develop in children on their own. 

Aleksey Komov and Irina Shamolina adopted the existing Christian homeschool curriculum and translated the resources. They also worked to adapt the program to a Russian Orthodox perspective, making it relevant to Russian culture and reality.

They found American supporters, and along with other Russian enthusiasts, helped them create an utterly beautiful website.  

The program launched this fall, is 27 cities and 370 kids strong – in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It has met with unexpected, lively interest and seems to be turning into a movement among Russian Christians.

Importantly, Classical Conversations in Russia also immediately received wildly enthusiastic support from one of the most famous priests in Russia, Fr. Dmitry Smirnov.  Fr. Dmitry is incredibly popular and has a huge audience, perhaps bigger than that of any other religious figure in Russia. He is also the head the of the Russian Church’s Department for Family.

Irina Shamolina as guest speaker on fr. Dmitry’s talk show 

Public education happens to be Fr. Dmitry’s pet peeves and he advocates homeschooling in many of his sermons. He is convinced that school corrupts the child’s mind, and is a highly artificial, unnatural, and destructive environment for growing children. He insists that the ideal environment for the child is the home, full of siblings and lots of love and faith.

Fr. Dmitry devoted one of his interviews on his highly popular blog to Classical Conversations, interviewing the American founders, as well as the Russian founders. Naturally, as a result, many members of his fan base decided to try out homeschooling.

The movement is gathering more power with every month.

According to the founders of Classical Conversations: ‘Firstly and foremost we are a community of families.’ In other words, the idea is that the family units, working together, provide emotional and spiritual support for each other in their lives and service to God.

This stance echoes with modern Russia’s preoccupation with strengthening and rebuilding family units; both to counter a population slump and to lead lives most fitting to the morals of a Christian society. 

The idea of community, too, is especially appealing to the Russian traditionalist, since Russian culture and religion greatly values ‘community,’ often even over the sacred Western value of ‘individualism.’

The families meet for group classes every week. Each meeting begins with prayer and parents are required to come, simply because Classical Conversations model creates a really wonderful support system not simply for children, but for parents as well.

Parents involved in Classical Conversations are also given opportunities to attend free, three-day workshops, that aim to help them become better teachers of their own children, building them up on the more difficult subjects and giving them practical strategies.

The philosophy of Classical Conversations stresses family education as a system where God is at the center of the family and the community.

The Classical Education model breaks down schooling into 3 major phases.

  • The first one, called ‘Grammar’ refers to teaching students skills for learning and retain information (knowledge).
  • The second stage, Dialectics, refers to analyzing information and transferring skills between subjects (understanding)
  • the third, most sophisticated one, refers to using, presenting and sharing knowledge with others as well as serving Truth over oneself (wisdom).

Much emphasis is put on presentation skills throughout the entire curriculum, as sharing knowledge and learning to present information well is considered to be key in one’s education. 

All in all, homeschooling has found itself a new home. And it has all the potential to thrive in contemporary Russia, which may offer the most fertile ground in the world today for a system that supports Christianity, community, and family.


A video introducing Russian Faith

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Music history: Little Axel: The sad story of the boy who grew up with Leonard Cohen | Culture

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For the past few years, Axel Joachim Jensen has lived in a small, wooden house with a porch, where he likes to go out for a smoke, and a window with a view of meadows and pine forests. The house is part of a psychiatric facility near Oslo (Norway), in a tranquil location where bird songs and chirps are the only sounds to be heard. Jensen lives there voluntarily.

The 63-year-old Jensen has been in and out of various mental health facilities since he turned 19. His mother was Marianne Ihlen, who was one of singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen’s great loves and muses. Jensen tells the story of growing up with Cohen in the documentary film, Little Axel, directed by Fabien Greenberg and Bård Kjøge Rønning. “It can be a bit difficult to remember the things you just want to forget… but now I live in a nice place,” he says in the film.

The documentary was filmed shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic and could only be released in Norway and the US, but plans are now underway for a broader, international distribution. One autumn morning, around the time of the film’s pre-pandemic premiere, Jensen agreed to take a car trip with me and his legal guardian to Larkollen, the coastal village in southeastern Norway where his mother was born.

Jensen was serious for most of the trip and said little, perhaps because of his medication. Little escapes his stony, piercing gaze, but his face occasionally lights up with a tender and childlike delight. A heavy-set man, he shaves his head and wears a scraggly, gray beard. He walks briskly around the town once we arrive, but once we are sitting at a bar, he seems indifferent to our conversation, his mind in some other place. “Cohen had a dark side,” he blurts out suddenly. “But I miss being with him.” He says little else. Behind his rough demeanor, I catch glimpses of a stunted sensibility, scattered thoughts, and a lifetime of inner pain.

His father was Axel Jensen, sometimes called the Jack Kerouac of Scandinavian literature. His other father – Leonard Cohen. Two prominent figures of the counterculture who set out to light the world on fire through literature and poetry. Nonconformists, tormented, narcissistic, mystical, thirsty for adventure and lust – the creative process was the only thing that gave meaning to their lives.

Little Axel, as he was nicknamed, arrived on the Greek island of Hydra with his parents when he was only four months old. A few days later, his father left Marianne for another woman. Marianne soon met Cohen, another artist living in the island’s bohemian, expatriate community, and so began one of the most romanticized relationships of recent times. Leonard and Marianne, doomed to failure from the beginning but immortalized in song – So Long, Marianne. It was a turbulent relationship, full of ups and downs, that lasted eight years. Cohen assumed the role of Axel’s stepfather, providing financial and emotional support to the child. Long after his breakup with Marianne, Cohen continued to help Jensen, sometimes taking him into his home.

Marianne Ihlen and Leonard Cohen, in another frame of the documentary.
Marianne Ihlen and Leonard Cohen, in another frame of the documentary.

Little Axel is the story of a life told through harsh, personal testimonies backed by melancholic guitar chords and punctuated with old photos, mostly taken in Hydra. Jensen grew up in a small colony of expatriates that disdained conventional mores and pursued an Arcadian dream of idyllic innocence tarnished by human flaws. Axel tells how he grew up in complete freedom, smoking and getting drunk at the age of seven. When he was nine, he traveled over 160 miles (260 km) across the seas to the southern Greek island of Crete accompanied only by his 12-year-old friend, Jeffery Brown. “They [our mothers] loved us, but they also loved their own freedom. We had to be adults at an early age,” said Brown. At 15, Jensen was smoking hashish and had tried LSD. The next year, he traveled alone to India, returning from the trip depressed and aggressive. Jensen moved to California to be with Cohen two years later when he was 18. It was the last time they would see each other – his 19th birthday was spent in a mental institution.

When he was seven, Jensen was dispatched to Summerhill, a British boarding school and bastion of anti-authoritarian education, and later to a strict, Swiss boarding school. His tender and desperate letters home to his mother and Cohen are heart-wrenching. Little Axel seems to lay most of the blame at Marianne Ihlen’s feet in this sad tale of neglect, lost souls, and festering wounds. Curiously, the film does not allude to a genetic predisposition as a potential cause of Jensen’s mental illness, even though his paternal grandmother had been committed to a mental institution, according to Torgrim Eggen, who authored a biography of Jensen’s father. In Axel, Eggen writes about frequent, aggressive outbursts by Jensen’s father who was once treated by David Cooper, the father of anti-psychiatry, and administered LSD in their first session. “You could say he was borderline [mentally ill],” writes Eggen.

“Hydra certainly took its toll on many of the foreign children who lived there, because of their unstructured, unfettered lives,” notes Helle V. Goldman, editor of When We Were Almost Young

(Tipota Press), an anthology of short memoirs about the island, where she also grew up. The children were witnesses to the lives led by the adults – to their infidelities, their parties, and their alcohol and drug use. Some say that Ihlen was too focused on her own life adventure, but Goldman believes that it’s all too easy to blame the young and lonely mother.

Leonard, Marianne, and Me (Backbeat Books), Judy Scott’s insightful and honest memoir about her days in Hydra during the sexual revolution of the drug-fueled 1970s, tells an anecdote about taking mescaline with young Axel who starts hallucinating that he can see Cohen’s ghost. Scott remembers Ihlen as a careless but devoted mother who ultimately blamed herself for her son’s suffering.

In August 1970, shortly before Cohen famously succeeded in calming a rowdy audience at a music festival on the Isle of Wight (UK), he received a letter from a patient at Henderson Hospital, a psychiatric facility near London, inviting him to give a concert there. “I hope you like So Long, Marianne,” said Cohen as soon as he walked in. For the next two hours, Cohen played for about 50 young patients at the facility, and told them about his fading relationship with his muse, about how he took 300 acid trips to write the song You Know Who I Am, how he wrote One of Us Cannot Be Wrong in a shabby hotel room while he tried to kick an amphetamine habit, and about the crushing loneliness he sometime felt.

That was the first of a series of concerts play by Cohen in various mental health facilities to wildly appreciative audiences. “When you are committed to a mental institution, voluntarily or not, you are admitting to a tremendous defeat. You’ve made a choice,” he would later say. “And I felt that my songs had elements of that choice, of that defeat, that these audiences would empathize with.”

Axel Jensen has started playing chess again, as he used to do with Leonard Cohen during those carefree days on Hydra – and still listens to his songs.

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History: El Argar, the great society that mysteriously vanished | Culture

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3D recreation of La Bastida, near present-day Totana (Murcia), one of the main settlements of the Argaric culture.
3D recreation of La Bastida, near present-day Totana (Murcia), one of the main settlements of the Argaric culture.Dani Méndez-REVIVES

El Argar, an early Bronze Age culture that was based within modern Spain, is one of the great enigmas of Spanish and world archaeology. After emerging in 2200 BC, it disappeared 650 years later. Experts debate that it collapsed in 1550 BC either because of the depletion of the natural resource that sustained it – which resulted in the population fleeing or dying of starvation — or because of a massive popular revolt against the ruling class.

The Argaric culture was “the first society divided into classes in the Iberian Peninsula” – as defined by the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) – and the creator of the world’s first Parliament. Following its demise, the civilization vanished from memory… until an archaeologist named Rogelio de Inchaurrandieta came across Argaric artefacts in 1869 and began to ask questions.

Inchaurrandieta exhibited his discovery at the International Archeology Congress in Copenhagen (1866-1912). He spoke of an unknown civilization from the Bronze Age that he had found on a steep hill in the municipality of Totana, in Spain’s Region of Murcia. He displayed gold and silver objects and spoke of a large, fortified city that lacked any type of connection with known historical societies. Nobody believed him.

But in 1877, the Belgian brothers Luis and Enrique Siret arrived in Murcia in search of mining prospects. They ended up confirming the existence of the unknown society, including what had been its large urban center, which extended 35,000 square kilometres through the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula. This site was methodically excavated: agricultural tools, precious metals and even the remains of princesses were preserved.

The study El Argar: The Formation of a Class Society, by archaeologists Vicente Lull, Rafael Micó, Roberto Risch and Cristina Rihuete Herrada from UAB, points out that El Argar “is one of the emblematic cultures of the early Bronze Age in Europe. The large settlements on its hills, the abundance of well-preserved [tombs] in the subsoil of the towns, as well as the quantity, variety and uniqueness of the artefacts, have since attracted the attention of numerous researchers.”

Vicente Lull, professor of Prehistory at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and one of the world’s most recognized experts on this society, admits that the Argaric “is in fashion.” “Specialists come from all over the world to take an interest in this unique civilization… it is unparalleled, with first-rate technological development, which left nothing in its wake, but advanced everything. It’s like searching for the lost civilization.”

Experts agree that the discovery of El Argar marked a break with respect to the preceding Copper Age, regarding technological development, economic relations, urban and territorial organization patterns and funerary rites.

The Sirets, at the end of the 19th century, excavated ten Argaric sites and opened more than a thousand tombs, resulting in the destruction of the human remains. However, they carefully drew everything they found.

“The culture of El Argar is the first [class-based] society in the Iberian Peninsula. The central settlements accumulated an important part of the production surpluses and the work force. The effects of said control are manifested in the normalization of ceramic and metallurgical products and in the restricted circulation and use, above all, of metallic products,” assert the experts from UAB.

But not all the inhabitants of these cities accumulated wealth to the same extent, as evidenced by the exhumed goods of the ruling class. In 1984, Vicente Lull and Jordi Estévez distinguished three social groups. The most powerful class – made up of 10 percent of the population – enjoyed “all the privileges and the richest trappings, including weapons such as halberds and swords.” 50 percent of individuals, meanwhile, were of modest means and had recognized social-political rights, while 40 percent of residents were condemned to servitude or slavery.

“One of the characteristics of this society is that it was closed in on itself. Its defenses not only served as protection, but also created a cloistered society dominated by an oppressive ruling class,” Lull notes. Such aristocratic oppression likely could have triggered the end of the civilization.

The end of El Argar gave way to the late-Bronze Age. The causes of the collapse of Argaric society seem to have been various socio-economic and ecological factors. Possibly, the overexploitation of the environment led to ecological degradation that made economic and social reproduction unfeasible. The end of El Argar is characterized by the depletion of natural resources, work tools and the workforce, the latter in the form of high infant mortality and more diseases. Perhaps this situation led to an unprecedented social explosion and complete disappearance of this civilization, as evidenced by the fact that many of the unearthed buildings show signs of having been burned on all four sides.

Following the destruction, there was complete silence, only broken by the permanence in Alicante and Granada of some small Argaric groups – populated by the fleeing ruling classes – that survived another century.

Of the hundreds of Argaric tombs studied, one stands out that archaeologists call the Princess of La Almoloya, a young woman who died in the year 1635 BC. She was buried at the head of a unique building with her linens, ceramics and thirty valuable objects made of gold, silver, amber and copper. Beneath her grave, the body of a man who had died years before was found.

About 100 kilometres from Pliego, in Antas – the economic and political center of El Argar – a building was found that included a large room, with benches and a podium. It could accommodate 50 people. The researchers assume that it was a kind of parliament, perhaps the first in the world.

“We will never know what was discussed there,” says Lull, “because the Argarics, despite their development, did not master writing. It’s a mystery about a mystery.”

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Olivia Newton-John, the ‘Grease’ star who became a global icon | Culture

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She always felt more comfortable as a singer than as an actress, but it was her role as Sandy in the musical Grease (1978) that made her a global icon. Olivia Newton-John died Monday at the age of 73 from breast cancer at her ranch in California. The news was confirmed by her husband.

In a statement posted on social media, her widower John Easterling said: “Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time.”

“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer. Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer.”

Olivia Newton-John was the granddaughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born, a Jew exiled to the United Kingdom from Nazi Germany. She was born in Cambridge, England, in 1948, and when she was only five years old, her family moved to Melbourne in Australia, where her father worked as a German teacher. She started out very young in the world of music, performing first with a group of schoolmates and then as a solo singer. At the age of 17, she won a talent contest on Australian television, which saw her move to the United Kingdom, where at 18 she recorded her first single.

While living in England, the singer was briefly performed with Pat Carroll. After separating (he had to return to Australia when his visa expired), she released her first album in 1971, If Not for You. The title paid tribute to a Bob Dylan song that had also been recorded by George Harrison.

Olivia Newton-John, during a concert in Hong Kong, in August 2000.
Olivia Newton-John, during a concert in Hong Kong, in August 2000.Reuters Photographer (REUTERS)

Newton-John represented the United Kingdom at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, with the song Long Live Love, chosen by popular vote among six options. She came fourth, while ABBA won the contest with the song Waterloo.

The British-Australian actress is known worldwide for starring in the 1978 musical Grease, alongside John Travolta. Her role as Sandy catapulted her to fame with songs such as You’re the One that I Want, Summer Nights and Hopelessly Devoted to You. Newton-John was initially reluctant to accept the role that would make her career. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be an actress and also felt that, at 28 years of age, she wasn’t the best fit for a high school student.

Finally, after several screen tests and at the insistence of Travolta, who was 23 at the time, but already a star thanks to the movie Saturday Night Fever, she accepted. “I couldn’t have done the film if I hadn’t met John, because I wasn’t sure about doing it. He convinced me,” confessed Newton-John in an interview conducted in early 2019. The film script was changed slightly to account for the singer’s Australian accent.

The actress maintained a lifelong friendship with Travolta, who posted a message mourning her death on social media on Monday: “My dearest Olivia, you made our lives so much better. Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!” The two appeared in public for the last time in December 2019, dressed as their characters from Grease.

Grease was the highest-grossing film of the year of its release and its soundtrack, which is also the soundtrack of an entire generation, remained at the top of the charts for weeks. The actress was nominated for a Golden Globe and appeared at the Oscars ceremony the following year singing Hopelessly Devoted to You, which was nominated for Best Song.

Before Grease shot her to worldwide fame, Newton-John released the song Let Me Be There, which won her a Grammy for best female country vocal performance.

The album cover for ‘Physical.’
The album cover for ‘Physical.’

After Grease, she starred in films such as Xanadu and topped the charts with songs such as Physical, from 1981. The same-named album was the first to have a music video for each song. As a singer, she won four Grammy Awards, although she was never very popular with critics.

From 1984 to 1995, Newton-John was married to actor Matt Lattanzi, with whom she had a daughter, Chloe Rose. Her next partner, camera operator Patrick McDermott, who disappeared at sea in 2005. In 2008, she married tycoon John Easterling, the founder of Amazon Herb Company.

In 2019, Newton-John was diagnosed again with stage four breast cancer with metastases in the back. The actress, who had battled the disease in 1992 and in 2013, told the television show 60 Minutes Australia that she did not know how long she had left to live. “For me, psychologically, it’s better not to have any idea of what they expect or what the last person that has what you have lived, so I don’t, I don’t tune in,” she said.

Newton-John called on Australia to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal and palliative use, in line with California, where she lived. Her daughter has a cannabis farm in Oregon.

Her loved ones also recognize her fundraising work for cancer research. In one of her most famous campaigns, the singer auctioned off some of her personal clothes, including outfits she wore on Grease.

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