Rising Stars of the Steppe
Can an education model inspire citizens? Can it be a light for the future? Can it create a miracle? My answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
In this essay, I would like to write about an education system that created “flowers” in temperate grasslands named the Anatolian steppes. I will write about how it was a great system and how it was demolished.
This education model is called “village institutes”, which was adopted between 1940-1956 in Turkey. The aim was to mould kids from elementary to university level at the same school to become idealistic and transforming teachers. The schools were called “village institutes” as 21 villages, in total, hosted them. The most extraordinary thing was that instruction started by building the school itself, from inception! Imagine an empty field; after that, design a school with a garden, labs, classrooms, a store, a teachers’ room, or even a farm, and so on; whatever you imagine for the school, everything had to be built by students and teachers in challenging conditions.
Think about a poor village first, then think about ambitious, willing, idealistic teachers and students in the school. Math, science, foreigner languages, literature, sports lessons are already in standard school curriculum, but what about: theatre, classical music, farming, childcare, carpentry, shoe-making, zootechnical, arboriculture, industrial crops, ironing, beekeeping, soldering, playing the violin, saxophone, or piano, embroidery, sociology, psychology, even cooperatives…? Yes! These subjects are all part of their curriculum during their education.
In villages of Anatolia, music composed by Beethoven, Mozart, and Aleksandr Borodin was played by students. The same students cultivated grains to make bread, then learn English, French or German. Afterwards, they studied sociology and applied what they had learned on people. All students could use math, as proficiently as an engineer, and were able to write great poems and stories as well. In the end, after they graduated, they were spread all over Turkey as teachers to teach what they had learned.
Can you even begin to imagine what transpired afterwards?
Perplexingly, too many idealistic, patriotic, talented reformists had been nurtured this way. Nonetheless, they led Turkey a few steps forward.
But, as with everything, Village Institutes had an end too, unfortunately.
Hereinafter, I am going to talk about how this system was blocked, closed, and demolished by some politicians, just for their benefit and career.
Firstly, someone creates an alternative, then finds a way to slander the current system, finding supporters, and with full force, denounces it. The Village Institutes faced such condemnation.
In 1950, the government changed, and the new one was extremely conservative. They were thinking that traditional methods were better than the system of Village Institutes. Slowly they started to campaign publicly that the VIs were full of communists during the Cold War. “Schools are brainwashing innocent Muslim kids”. “Girls and boys are not permitted to be in the same classroom”. “They are learning about communism…”. These kinds of statements were kind of their motto. After defiling the VIs, they created an alternative. This method involved creating religious schools in every city of Turkey. “Kids must be educated following Islam”. And ultimately, they accumulated many supporters, and with their authority, all VIs were closed in 1954.
For 14 years, from 1940 to 1954, Turkey presented its intellectual side to the world. It proved that, if it wants to, it can create wonders in a short time.
After closing, VI students (after graduation, they became teachers, businesspeople, etc.) internalised VI ideology and upheld it. In their minds, Turkey’s interests came first and foremost, so they sustained them; personal benefits were not as important. Even in the harshest conditions, even in poverty, they inspired, impressed, and made an impact on people around them.
Even now, we are still talking about VIs. If they still existed, how would Turkey look now? How come that government closed them? Could they not recognise the results?
Now, we are looking forward to seeing a new, better education system, but our expectations are quite low.
– Oğuz Yılmazlar
- Turkey’s Village Institutes
- The Conditions That Enabled the Foundation of the Village Institutes in Turkey and a Comparison With Today
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