AATSEEL 2021 Open Seminar with Thomas J. Garza

The Myth of «Шире круг»: Addressing Diversity and Intersectionality in the Teaching of Russian

The venerable Soviet-era notion of the great, all-inclusive «многонациональная» country and culture of the USSR was a central part of the narrative created by a Russian hegemony for most of the 20th century. Reflected in the cultural iconography such as civic poster images and popular children’s songs that depicted a Russo-centric utopic imaginary of diverse creatures all playing in harmony, the myth of Soviet acceptance of cultures other than Russian belied the actual practices of the period, including in language pedagogy. Most Russian language textbooks reflected a monolithic Russian culture that was white, educated, relatively affluent, and heteronormative. Such a portrait of the Russian reality, which continues to be presented to learners of the language and culture in the 2000s, not only excludes crucial demographic segments of the Russian population domestically, but also fails to connect with the diverse profiles and identities of learners outside of Russia.

The shift in public awareness of pervasive institutional prejudices in the spring of 2020 has provided the impetus to review and change practices in the academy, including in language and culture instruction. From the groundbreaking work of Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) to the recent discussion of Reagan and Osborn (2021) in their search for “the promise of social justice” in world language education, critical pedagogies strive to rupture the institutionalized colonial yoke pervasive in much of world language education. From course curricula to current textbooks to online virtual learning environments, much of the content and delivery of world language classes remains steeped in the ideological and material context of colonial hegemony, creating barriers and obstacles in our courses for learners and instructors alike. This seminar will offer models and practices necessary to reimagine and “decolonize” our Russian language and culture courses. Participants will be asked to engage critically with sample materials and methods of language courses probably already familiar to them, as well as to examine models of new courses in Russian language and culture. The goal of the seminar is to equip participants to review their own modes and materials of language and culture instruction and then recast them into new iterations informed by critical pedagogies, creating curricula and courses that are more inclusive, diverse, and intersectional.

Thomas Jesús Garza
University of Texas at Austin
Slavic and Eurasian Studies and
Texas Language Center