Soviet Inequality

Another thing I like about Masha Gessen’s book is that she dispels the myth about the increase in inequality after the collapse of the USSR. There was no increase. To the contrary, all evidence demonstrates that there was a slight decrease in inequality.

I always knew this but most Soviet people were unaware because they had no opportunity to observe the lives of the Soviet rich. The separation between the rich and everybody else was complete. After the fall of the Soviet regime, the elites didn’t need to conceal their lifestyle any more, so most people decided that the inequality was something new.

When I was 11, I saw a classmate of mine, the daughter of the director of the farmers’ market light a cigarette with a hundred-rouble bill. That was my father’s monthly salary. My father had a PhD in applied linguistics. Her mother (the market director) had dropped out of high school after the eighth grade. This was in 1986.

There was always inequality. Maybe not so much in the 1920s, but after that, it got worse and worse, exploding to ridiculous heights during WWII.

Online Textbooks in Language Learning

I was asked on a survey what could be done to improve my students’ “digital experience” in the language courses. My strong belief is that the best thing would be to get rid of the online portion of these courses altogether. I sometimes show videos where native speakers talk that accompany the textbook, and those are useful. Other than that, all of these electronic homework assignments, labs, online workbooks, precanned online tests, automatic grading, etc are a royal waste of time. And students agree.

I’m forced to use the online textbook, and it comes up to 25% of the final grade. This system rewards brainless drones who don’t mind investing a crazy number of hours doing utterly meaningless online exercises and punishes everybody else. Anybody who is curious about the language and really wants to learn loses under this system.

This is one of the main reasons I detest these lower-level language courses. I know how to make language learning fun. And I know for an absolute fact that it only works if you tailor the activities and the assessment to each particular group. I always make my activities and tests from scratch for each group, and I’ve successfully resisted all attempts to drive me into the collective model of using the pre-made tests that come with the online textbook. But I can’t ditch the online textbook altogether. These are 4-credit courses, and one of those credits goes entirely to the online textbook where students are required to rack up a certain number of hours dumbly doing the exercises.

Ideally, I’d go without any textbook altogether, saving the university a bunch of money. I almost never use it anyway. I do great activities that I invent myself. Board games, crossword puzzles, drawing, acting, tons of group activities. I’m eminently qualified to do this because I’ve had a very extensive training in the pedagogy of language learning. I just want to be left alone to do it.