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Interesting Find in the Collection: NEA Travels to Russia

In 1959, National Education Association Regional Vice-President Allan M. West visited the Soviet Union to evaluate its educational system. He was only one of 7000 US citizens to visit the communist country that year. He made the trip so he could evaluate first-hand the Soviet educational system. The NEA Collection, housed in Gelman Library's Special Collections, contains records and photographs from that trip. Here we see some schoolchildren posing for the camera.

Russian Schoolchildren

Unfortunately, the pictures have no context, so we do not know which city these were taken in. The files do include a daily itinerary of West's travels, which included Poland before travelling to the Ukraine and then on to Russia proper. Along the way he was able to interview education officials and individual teachers, to get a sense of what the life was like for a teacher in the USSR. On October 9, he arrived in Moscow and photographed Red Square. You can see more photos here.

Red SquareHe had a chance to visit with officials of the Soviet Union's Trade Union of Education, Higher Education and Scientific Establishments. From this meeting, reports on statistics and anecdotes of daily life for teachers in the USSR were produced. From this report, we learn that teachers were paid 10 rubles a day, and received a 10% raise every five years. The entire enrollment is Russia in 1959 was 31,500,000 students. Most striking was that teachers in the country taught classes in 66 different languages, 40 of which were not written languages.

This was neither the first nor the last time the Association would interact with educators from Russia. In 1908, a Russian teacher wrote NEA Secretary Irwin Shephard asking if he could send over some NEA publications, as he considered the USA "the most forward" in the new methods of educating children. In 1978, Soviet officials met with NEA executive staff and, in 1995, it was Russian, rather than Soviet officials.

If you'd like to learn more about the National Education Association's interactions with Russian and Soviet educators, contact the NEA Archivist Vakil Smallen at smallen@gwu.edu or 202-994-1371.

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