Education in Transition: Trends in Central and Eastern Europe

Authored by: Kurtis S. Meredith , Jeannie L. Steele

Handbook of Reading Research

Print publication date:  April  2000
Online publication date:  April  2014

Print ISBN: 9780805823981
eBook ISBN: 9781410605023
Adobe ISBN: 9781135688967

10.4324/9781410605023.ch3

 

Abstract

The close of the 20th century witnessed an explosion of new democracies. These fledgling democracies emerged in a part of the world thought destined to totalitarian rule well into the 21st century. But the general euphoria in the West over the rise in democratic expression has subsided recently with the realization that these democracies are tenuous at best, with many of the newly founded democratic republics slipping toward autocratic or totalitarian governments and, in some instances, near chaos. Thought has now centered on considering by what means democracies can be established, and what role schooling plays in supporting civil society. Coincidentally, many Western societies have begun to examine these same issues (Oldenquist, 1996; Smith, 1995; Soder, 1996) as concern develops regarding Western adherence to democratic principles and practices.

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Education in Transition: Trends in Central and Eastern Europe

The close of the 20th century witnessed an explosion of new democracies. These fledgling democracies emerged in a part of the world thought destined to totalitarian rule well into the 21st century. But the general euphoria in the West over the rise in democratic expression has subsided recently with the realization that these democracies are tenuous at best, with many of the newly founded democratic republics slipping toward autocratic or totalitarian governments and, in some instances, near chaos. Thought has now centered on considering by what means democracies can be established, and what role schooling plays in supporting civil society. Coincidentally, many Western societies have begun to examine these same issues (Oldenquist, 1996; Smith, 1995; Soder, 1996) as concern develops regarding Western adherence to democratic principles and practices.

It has long been understood, especially by totalitarian regimes, that control of schools, and the minds of young people, is essential to controlling the population. During 45 years of Soviet domination, Central and Eastern European (CEE) schools were subjected to systematic manipulation (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1996; Harangi & Toth, 1996) and a Soviet-style education system was imposed. Soviet control over schools reached to the heart of education, affecting daily classroom practices and relations between teachers and students. Through intimidation, teachers became conduits and students passive receptors of information and ideology (Karsten & Majoor, 1994; Stech, 1994; Rust, Knost, & Wichman, 1994).

Meredith and Steele (1995), based on their work in CEE, stated in their presentation to the European Conference of the International Reading Association in Budapest, “These formally subordinated nations are now struggling to establish democratic institutions. Amid the turmoil of transition it is becoming increasingly apparent that the hope for democracy rests with the schools and in the minds and hearts of young people.” Schools in the region are engaged in a titanic struggle for identity and heart amidst the collapse of former regimes and their imposed curricular manifestos (Döbert & Manning, 1994). Schools are caught in the crossfire of (a) recovering from the sudden collapse of socialism and (b) leading the way into the future without a road map (Stech, 1994). Thus, the evolving CEE societies are contending simultaneously with assembling civil societies and with restructuring schools so they will sustain and nurture a new social order. Any consideration of trends in education during this transitory period must be linked to considerations of this aqueous cultural, social, economic, and political milieu. Moreover, although similarities exist among nations of the region, so do substantial differences, which prevent broad characterizations.

In this chapter we first describe the history and continuing tensions of education in Central and Eastern Europe. Our portrayal of the region describes the Soviet legacy, the beginnings of school reform, and Central and Eastern European schools today. Second, we elaborate in some detail on the links between literacy, democracy, and school reform. Reform has dominated CEE educational communities since 1989. Reforms have encountered some resistance or have been inadequately conceptualized and/or implemented, leaving behind few successes. The authors, living in CEE and working with schools and universities for over 5 years, are actively engaged in two successful education reform efforts. These school reform initiatives are briefly described as examples of reform efforts effecting change. Third, we explore university reform and the present status of academic research. Research has suffered a particularly egregious fate during the second half of the 20th century. We will explicate the plight of academic research, describe current research practices, and consider future research needs. Finally, some conclusions are drawn about public schooling, university teacher preparation programs, and research trends.

History of Education in Central and Eastern Europe

The Soviet Legacy

Ample evidence exists that the historical, sociological, linguistic, political, economic, and moral characteristics of any society are inseparable from its collective cultural context. This reality is no more apparent than in Central and Eastern Europe, where history, politics, culture, and economics lie at the vortex of all issues, including education and educational research in general, and literacy and learning in particular (Mitter, 1996). It is impossible to understand present or future research trends without first becoming aware of the historically significant realities that impinge on current educational practices and constructs (Karsten & Majoor, 1994).

It may be helpful to begin by defining the geographic boundaries of CEE. Although there is debate as to just who may lay claim to a European context, the most inclusive definition of Europe, beyond the boundaries of “Western” Europe, was proposed by Mitter (1996) and incorporates the former Soviet satellite nations cut off from “Western Europe” after World War II plus the newly independent states (NIS) of the former Soviet Union that lie between the Central European corridor and Russia. To these is then added Russia. This vast array of cultures and peoples has often been seen as a largely homogeneous group. Under Soviet domination, this view was superficially true (Rust et al., 1994). However, as nationalist tendencies of the post-1989 collapse of Soviet domination have revealed, the region is a mosaic of peoples as various in culture, habit, and language as anywhere on earth. Perhaps the two most distinctive features these nations now share are (a) a recent past during which the imposition of Soviet rule and Marxist ideology nearly crushed their respective economic, cultural, and social infrastructures (Revel, 1993), and (b) an attempt since 1989 to transition to a different, mostly democratic social order, revitalizing or recreating their cultural, social, economic, and political foundations (Rust et al., 1994).

During the period of Soviet domination, a universal Soviet system of education was imposed. The hallmark of this system was centralized control (Döbert & Manning, 1994; OECD, 1996; Szebenyi, 1992). The school system model typically included extensive kindergartens (preschool programs for children ages 2–6), 8- year basic schools, and vocationally focused secondary programs based on internal employment needs. Consequently, some students were directed toward gymnasia for eventual university training, whereas others attended technical schools for subsequent work in industries or attendance at technical universities. Service schools such as restaurant and hotel schools and, in some countries such as Romania, elementary teacher training high schools, and other vocational schools were established according to centrally determined employment needs. Curriculum was centrally controlled, commingling general content with Marxist ideology. Educational research was removed from universities and housed in research academies. Research was formulated by state authorities and was generally intended to show support for the imposed political system. University faculty were not allowed to pursue independent research agendas.

Karsten and Majoor (1994) described the impact of the Soviet model more starkly, suggesting that under Communism, substantial damage was done to educational systems in four fundamental ways: damage to knowledge through neglect, oppression, controlled access and pervasive censorship; damage to thinking through limitations in experimentation with new ideas; damage to the teaching profession through loss of prestige, lack of respect for roles and by requiring schools to transfer ideology; and damage to values by imposing a pseudo-value structure. Stech (1994), decrying the Czech experience with the Soviet model, wrote, “The past school system model brought us not only pain, but became anchored deeply in our consciousness and can be linked to some [prescribed] values accepted by people in everyday life” (p. 71).

Beginnings of School Reform

The primary task for students throughout the system was to memorize vast amounts of information and prepare for exhaustive examinations administered with alarming frequency. The curriculum was extremely dense, and students were under enormous pressure to perform. Initial reforms were inspired by the belief that schools needed to become more humane. Cracks, however, began to appear in this uniform educational model in the early 1980s as Hungary moved toward decentralization (Harangi & Toth, 1996; Németh & Pukánsky, 1994; Szebenyi, 1992). Although accomplishing more on paper than in practice, it was a benchmark in education reform.

Even with the rigid delivery of an almost exclusively information-driven curriculum, the education system was a source of great pride in most nations. Numerous achievements were credited to the system. In many countries of the region, schooling was not universally available until after World War II. The Soviet model was egalitarian, and compulsory education was established. Literacy rates throughout the region continue to be among the highest in the world. Schools were well-disciplined, calm, and secure places where students came with respect for learning. Academic performance, as measured by standardized test, often placed CEE students near the top in global comparisons.

Despite these apparent successes, education was targeted for reform shortly after 1989 by nearly every nation in the region. The initial reform movement focused on six basic goals:

  1. Rewriting the curriculum, removing Marxist ideology and rewriting historical accounts, broadening the literature base, and increasing textbook choices.
  2. Restructuring schools to better serve newly established democratic institutions, initially targeting changes in civic education curriculum.
  3. Humanizing schools so students would have more opportunity for active learning.
  4. Preparing schools for Western evaluations, bringing schools up to “Western European” standards for eventual membership in the European Union.
  5. Decentralizing school management, giving local authorities greater decisionmaking authority.
  6. Reestablishing a university-based research agenda.

Agreement to remove Marxist ideology from textbooks was reached with relatively ease. Rust et al. (1994) stated, “The educational adjustments taking place throughout the region are significant and there is striking uniformity of educational changes taking place, all related in one way or another to a rejection of the communist ideology that has dominated education for the past four decades” (p. 283). Restructuring schools so they would better support civil societies and humanizing schools by introducing alternative instructional practices proved more difficult. Most CEE nations have adopted independent reform agendas, often supported by Western organizations such as the World Bank, Open Society Institutes, the European Union, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United States Information Agency (USIA). New civic education curricula have been developed with varying degrees of implementation success. As the push for entry into the European Union intensifies, the need, especially for universities, to have in place systems and standards consistent with Western European standards has prompted the call for more rapid change. However, adoption of a comprehensive pedagogical research agenda has been slower to materialize due to shortages of funding, separation of schools from universities, and a shortage of skilled researchers.

School decentralization has experienced only limited success. Many countries have struggled with issues of local control, with resistance coming from many quarters. Many opponents of decentralization believe in the necessity of a national curriculum to maintain standards. Those opposed to decentralization suggest there is little expertise in rural communities to run schools. Schools also continue to be seen as political mechanisms. Allowing local control means letting go of a potentially productive political asset.

What is clear is that schools and universities are presently engaged in fundamental change and that school reform is inexorably linked to economic, political, and social reform. The massive reforms underway are, however, meeting resistance within the schools. Under the previous regime (Kaufman, 1997), school reform usually meant greater bureaucracy without real change. Yet most educators recognize that real reform is essential. As one Hungarian teacher told Kaufman, “Traditional reform is not the answer. The only reform that stands a chance is one that will aid in overcoming crisis. Any new education policy must help reform the economy. Students may need both more education and a different education” (Kaufman, 1997, p. 91). In fact, reform is not simply important, it is paramount. The rejection of the Soviet model has left a void. After 45 years of a single model, few instructional alternatives are readily available. What is needed (Meredith, Steele, & Shannon, 1994) is long-term systemic school restructuring intended to provide a coherent education system open to all stakeholders and responsive to the compelling academic, social, and economic imperatives of the region.

Central and Eastern European Schools Today

Bennett (1996), describing present day Russian schools, could have been describing the entire former sphere of Soviet influence. She wrote, “Today the old monolith, in which every Soviet pupil turned the same page of the same textbook on the same day in every school across eleven time zones, has been pulled apart” (Bennett, 1996, p. A22). Svecova (1994) noted that there is a universal understanding that the remains of the Soviet education system cannot adequately support students in the new, market-driven, civil societies now emerging.

At a 1997 conference on school reform held at Lake Balaton, Hungary (Temple, Meredith, Steele, & Walter, 1997), educators from 11 CEE and Central Asian nations presented their views on the status of education in their respective countries. The overwhelming majority identified the same factors influencing the quality of education. Those factors included overcrowded classrooms (up to 50 students per class), poor quality textbooks, rigid instructional practices, teacher-dominated classrooms, emphasis on rote memorization of factual information, absence of practical application of knowledge, absence of critical thinking, overburdened curriculum, limited resources, poor school/parent relations, shortened school day, low teacher salaries, centralized control, and unresponsive university pedagogical programs.

Tremendous variation exists in the conditions of schools and universities throughout the region. The Balkans have suffered the most since 1989 (Open Society Institute, 1997). The conflicts in the former Yugoslav Federation have left schools in Bosnia in need of rebuilding literally from the ground up. Civil unrest in 1992 and 1994 and again in 1997 in Albania left over 1,000 schools destroyed. Those that remained were heavily vandalized and their meager supplies looted (Meredith, 1997; Meredith & Steele, 1998). Other nations of CEE have fared better. Although routinely underfunded, schools and universities in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Russia, Poland, and Hungary have maintained standards and pushed ahead with school reform (Open Society Institute, 1997). The Baltic states have also pursued innovative education initiatives, perhaps more successfully than others in the region (Temple et al., 1997).

What is evident is that throughout the region tremendous energy is being expended on education reforms. Although continuing to labor under remnants of Soviet structure, drastic changes are being implemented. Despite the devastation of schools in Albania, educators are engaged in an array of initiatives (Meredith, 1996; Meredith & Steele, 1998; Musai, 1997). Four model kindergarten programs have been implemented. A major school construction program financed by the Soros Foundation (Musai, 1997; Open Society Institute, 1997) and a textbook revision program to replace outdated texts across all grades are underway. In Bucharest, Romania, elementary schools often operate three shifts a day, each shift operating for 3 hours. Yet Romania has embarked upon an ambitious restructuring effort in cooperation with the World Bank, including teacher and administrator in-service, curriculum development, textbook production, and university/school cooperation. Slovakia has moved forward with teacher and administrator recertification legislation (Steele, Meredith, & Miklušiáková, 1996), linking continuing education with salary increases. The Slovak Ministry of Education has also recognized nontraditional, innovative, in-service programs for teachers and administrators as qualified recertification programs.

Literacy, Democracy, and School Reform

For school reform to be effective, it must be conceptualized within the prevailing context of post 1989 Central and Eastern Europe where schools and society are reformulating out of a legacy of Communist totalitarianism, a social reengineering never before attempted in history. It is a context of uncertainty. The Hungarian film director Ibolya Fekete (1997) best described the context in which her East European peers survive when she declared, “You [East Europeans] have lost everything you used to be, and now you have to find a new place. It is a basic human struggle” (p. 56). Jozef Miklušiák, a former member of the Slovak parliament, succinctly stated this idea in relation to school reform in 1993. He said, “Our children are having difficulty finding their sense of life. We need help guiding our schools so children can find their place in life in a democracy and to see for themselves a future within a democratic society” (J.Miklušiák, personal communication, May 1993).

The discussion about schooling has inevitably led to discussions about creating and sustaining democratic impulses. Perhaps one of the more significant educational legacies of the collapse of the Soviet empire will be the sudden imperative to juxtapose education and democracy within, as Fekete has said, this “basic life struggle,” thereby demanding that the discussion become immediately manifest in instructional practice. The links between literacy and life-long learning on one hand and literacy and democracy through empowerment and constructive meaning making on the other have placed the language and literature of literacy at the center of the discourse on democracy and schooling. This linkage has become more transparent through the writings of theorists such as Giroux (1993), Rényi (1993), and Soder (1996). Within CEE, a growing number of scholars are examining this relationship in the context of ongoing school reform (Mieszalski, 1994; Parizek, 1992; Sandi, 1992).

The connections between literacy and democracy, although now more transparent, are not necessarily intuitive (Meredith, Steele, & Athanassoula, 1996; Steele, 1996). Certainly the connections between literacy and democratic participation at what Dewey (1938) suggested as an institutional or superficial level is intuitively obvious. That is, such literacies as political literacy will contribute to voter choice. Less intuitive is the linkage recent literacy pedagogy theories and practices have established at a more fundamental and personal level. It has been suggested (Meredith, 1996) that literacy pedagogy can foster democratic communities within schools, thereby nurturing civil societies. This thinking arises from the belief that democracy embodies a set of behaviors and values that guide daily life so that citizens within a democratic society behave in ways that sustain democratic experience. Schools are thought to be well situated to establish a democratic climate and provide genuine experiences with democratic interchange.

Many would argue that one of the central tasks of literacy is meaning making (Rosenblatt, 1978)—that is, to engage students in constructing meanings so as to succor innovation. Classrooms are paradigmatic settings for democratic culture because they have the capacity to engender unlimited diversity of ideas, reflections, opinions, and meanings. Meaning making becomes the defining act for democracy because it is the basis for valuing and the platform for self-reflection, opinion formation, and decision making.

In many instances education reform has not meaningfully entered the classroom. Teachers and students continue the process of passive information transfer. Critical thinking, opinion formation, initiative, collaborative problem solving, development of respect and tolerance, consensus building, constructive conflict resolution, and participatory decision making all await systematic and consistent introduction. The very foundational behaviors of democratic life remain apart from daily instruction.

Two reform efforts about which the authors are aware attempt to address reform through a model based on literacy pedagogy and principles of systemic engagement. The Orava Project (http://www.uni.edu/coe/orava) in the Republic of Slovakia is a model program that is succeeding at the most fundamental level of education restructuring precisely because it does systematically address and model teacher behaviors and instructional practices that are fundamental to the needed changes and because it is collaborative, avoiding the imposition of ideas in favor of a sharing model consistent with Nel Noddings’s (1992) notions of caring. The project is a complex, systematic endeavor intended to effect permanent changes that are reflected in the interaction of people in their daily lives. Primary efforts include the establishment of core teacher leaders (CTLs) as teacher trainers for dissemination of democratic instructional practices, and introduction of these instructional practices into university teacher preparation programs.

The Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking Project (http://www.uni.edu/coe/rwct) introduces a comprehensive teacher in-service program focusing on critical thinking into an ongoing school reform context that was designed specifically for the participating countries by local educators from those nations. Both reform efforts bring together educators from around the world to share instructional practices that engender democratic behavior and maximize student learning.

The rapidly changing cultural climate of the region necessitates school change. There is historically a tradition of school transformation (Anweiler, 1992), which, although dormant during the communist era, is reawakening. The immediate needs of these transforming societies have put enormous pressures on schools to respond quickly. Those who consider restructuring schooling as fundamental to sustaining democracy have an even greater sense of urgency. Democracy’s hold in the region is tenuous. Many consider today’s elementary students as the pivotal population who will either embody democratic interchange and secure its place in the social order or fail to embody essential behaviors, allowing democracy to slip from the political landscape.

University Reform and Academic Research

Reform at the university level has been complicated by numerous factors. One factor is the extent to which various university faculties were exposed to Western thought. Prior to 1989, exposure to outside ideas and influences differed widely according to both discipline and access of a particular country to Western thought. Scholars in mathematics and the natural sciences, which were not considered political, were permitted much greater access to Western knowledge. Many learned English or German and read scholarly work in those languages. Social scientists and educators, in contrast, were regarded with far greater suspicion and were more restricted. While others studied abroad, these professionals remained behind the iron curtain where ideas were easier to control. Consequently, before 1989, many scholars in education were unaware of trends and theories emerging in the west.

Before 1989, university faculty were not permitted to conduct independent research. Instead, research institutes were created. Research in these institutes was hampered by three factors:

  1. The state typically determined the research questions.
  2. Source material was limited or nonexistent, reducing literature searches to a few relevant texts.
  3. A research tradition based on a foundation of sound empirical research models was absent.

Since 1989, there has been renewed interest in academic research. However, opportunity and financial support lag behind interest, leaving many potential researchers frustrated. Computers for data collection and data analysis have only recently become uniformly available. The lack of availability of translated software has compounded the problem. For nations with larger populations, and thus more viable markets, software is now available in the local language.

In many nations of CEE, research institutes continue to exist. They are typically detached from the education community and offer little insight into effective instructional practices, continuing to be more content to focus on theory development and so called “scientific pedagogy.” Azarov, cited in Furjaeva (1994), called for dramatic change in pedagogical research, suggesting, “The teacher needs living pedagogical knowledge” (p. 143). And Furjaeva (1994) suggested the calls for “new research approaches” were an inevitable consequence of the failures of the reform movements of the 1980s.

Despite the continuing presence of research institutes, there has been a steady increase in university-based academic research. Significant CEE-initiated research is beginning to appear in local and international publications. Further, cooperative research between CEE and Western university faculties is increasing, creating a valuable comparative research literature (Comparative Education Society in Europe, [CESE] Conference, 1996).

The 1996 CESE and the 1997 EARLI (European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction) conferences provided a representative sampling of the research topics and methods emerging in the region. These two conferences provided a forum for 53 CEE research projects addressing a wide array of research topics, including cognitive processes in learning, effective civics education curricula, cognitive skills in reading, evaluation of school reform effectiveness, reading comprehension, achievement outcomes, academic assessment practices, school violence, motivation, reasoning and thinking, learning styles and strategies, school transformation, schools and globalization, and teacher education practices.

Research methods varied considerably. Much of the comparative research conducted with Western researchers was empirically based using formal research design techniques. Other independent research was more observational or the result of surveys, interviews, and literature reviews. Much of the school reform research reported is anecdotal, reporting teacher and student reactions to reform efforts. Few systematic intermediate or long-term school reform outcomes studies are being reported. The gulf between schools and universities also continues to limit the amount of school-based research being conducted (Furjaeva, 1994; Meredith & Steele, 1995).

In conversations with education ministry leaders from Estonia to Albania the lament is the same. During the past half century only a few researchers were able to engage in informative education research. Existing research traditions were lost. Now research needs are enormous, with effectiveness research on school reform efforts one of the greatest needs. The strengths and weaknesses of existing education programs are only acknowledged anecdotally. Ministries are making systemic decisions and developing guiding school policy without adequate data for decision making. The number of researchers remains small, whereas research needs exist in every area of education and schooling.

Conclusion

Educators in Central and Eastern Europe are engaged in a critical reexamination of their role in society. Teachers, previously marginalized by manipulative political agendas, are now adjusting to a new reality (Rust et al., 1994). For those educators who understand their central role in social construction, the pressure for change is enormous. There is, among these nations, a long history of commitment to education. Students come to school eager to learn, prepared to embrace new ideas, in a hurry to develop ways of knowing that will bring them comfort within their amorphous cultural milieu.

The trend in education in CEE is to both move away from education of the recent past and toward an as yet undefined schooling that prepares young people for their future. It will remain undefined if only because one significant lesson learned from the previous system is that a fixed system cannot survive, and, indeed, should not survive, because it ultimately fails to serve either political or social ends.

Schools and universities are engaged in a transformation process that began with the opening of the Hungarian border to Austria, through the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 1997 uprising in Albania. The nations of the region are forever linked by this common bond. Yet it would be a fateful mistake to consider this a region of homogeneous peoples moving toward shared goals along the same path with similar sentiments and intentions. Establishing a living democracy has been an all-consuming effort since the revolutions that shook this region. But democracy is not a set of describable entities, laws, or conditions. What is emerging is not a democracy but democracies (Rengger, 1994). By their very nature, democracies necessarily reflect the differences of the people who shape them. The education community is attempting to respond to this massive social restructuring. Reform efforts have challenged, frightened, disappointed, and invigorated the educational culture. Obstacles to reform are numerous and severe, yet reforms move forward, compelled by the sheer thrust of necessity and the reality that each day in each classroom a teacher stands before a group of expectant students and must engage those students in some manner.

Universities are at a crossroads. Fifty years of limited access to pedagogical information and theoretical evolution as well as severe brain drain have left them in a state of intellectual shock. Western university faculty immersed in a literacy-rich and research-intensive community of scholars, without direct observation of the devastation Soviet policy wrecked on research traditions, have difficulty fully appreciating the enormity of the resulting void in existing education research and expertise. It is understandable. Václav Havel (1992), president of the Czech Republic wrote, “Often we ourselves are unable to appreciate fully the existential dimension of this bitter experience and all its consequences” (p. 126). Thus, among the paramount needs of the education community are the development of university research traditions, improved research skills, and the capacity of writers and researchers to translate theory and research into practice. Research is urgently needed to determine school change effectiveness. There need to be systematic studies of the impact of school reform on student achievement, teacher effectiveness, and student and teacher attitudes toward teaching and learning. In some countries there exists only limited documentation of the number of school reform efforts currently underway (Meredith & Steele, 1998). Documentation of newly implemented forms of teacher education and instructional practices is needed. For now, there also exist four generations of people representing vastly differing educational experiences. The oldest generation has memory of the time before Communism and what education was like then. Time is running out on this collective memory, and little written documentation has survived World War II and the intervening Communist years. The children and grandchildren of this oldest generation were schooled under the Communist method. Now the youngest generation has experienced 10 years of a transforming school culture. Among these generations there is a wealth of insight and an abundance of extraordinarily informative tales to be told about academic life. Someone needs to listen to these stories before it is too late.

Basic research about schools and schooling is desperately needed. There is a shortage of research about school and student performance teacher training programs, school culture, developmental and child health needs, special education practices, curriculum development, school management practices, in-service training, and other issues that guide political decision makers and policy developers. Finally, teachers have been excluded from the emerging resurgence in education research. Their engagement is critical to countermand the isolation of university researchers and to build bridges between research and practice. Action research by classroom teachers is needed to inform teachers about their own practices and to offer other teachers the kind of practical, relevant pedagogical information that so-called “scientific pedagogy” research fails to provide. Without more practical research, university research will continue to be marginalized as functionally irrelevant.

One of the most eloquent guides to the psyche of the Central and Eastern European mind is the Czech playwright and president Václav Havel. His insights have illuminated the path of transition and made coherent some of the seemingly imponderable events circumscribing this great transition. In his book Summer Meditations, Havel (1992) looked into the “soul” of the transformation process and saw both despair and hope. He wrote:

The most basic sphere of concern is schooling. Everything else depends on that.… Most important is a new concept of education. At all levels, schools must cultivate a spirit of free and independent thinking in students. Schools will have to be humanized, both in the sense that their basic component must be the human personalities of the teachers, creating around themselves a “force field” of inspiration and example.… The role of the school is not to create “idiot-specialists” to fill the special needs of different sectors of the national economy, but to develop the individual capabilities of the students in a purposeful way, and to send out into life thoughtful people capable of thinking about the wider social, historical, and philosophical implications of their specialties. (p. 117)

It is in this context that teachers teach and children go to school. It is a time of enormous change and uncertainty. Clearly much of the burden for tapping that potential for goodwill, for deciding where to begin, for determining how to find meaningful outlets, for nurturing citizens toward “freely accepting responsibility for the whole of society” falls to the schools as caretakers and guides of the next generation of citizens.

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