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100 lessons on Beslan

17.02.2010    source:
From that terrible year when the entire world learned the name Beslan, Elvira Goryukhina has been reading the essays and letters of children who lived through the tragedy with students in Novosibirsk region schools. The following is from her Teacher’s Diary published in the newspaper “Novaya”.

From that terrible year when the entire world learned the name of the small Osetiyan city of Beslan, Elvira Goryukhina, “Novaya” correspondent, psychologist and Professor of the Novosibirsk Pedagogical University and school teacher, decided to teach Literature to children from Beslan. And then, using the essays and letters of children who lived through the tragedy, she would hold lessons in Novosibirsk region schools. This she has been doing ever since. The following is from her Teacher’s Diary published in the newspaper “Novaya”.


Well, and where should I be on the first of September 2005? On the first anniversary of Beslan. Of course, in Beslan, with my friends, remembering those who died.

There I received a task in return from students of Grade Six, taught by Yelena Kasumovaya. I am taking school kids in Novosibirsk not only the children’s pictures, but their wishes. And also one question which Alana Botsieva put to the children whom I will definitely meet with: “What do you think is fear? Who or what is your fear?”

I arrived in the village schools of my native Novosibirsk region, walked into School No. 10 where I had worked for 40 years and where every students, even if you didn’t teach them yourself, feels definitely yours.

… It all began with the most out of the way Siberian village of Sergino. On the first of September. Local time 12 o’clock. In North Ossetiya it’s nine. In ten minutes the School Head Lidia Alexandrovna would begin her speech. And what the world soon learned of began.

Here in Sergino, it is our first remembrance gathering. We look through the book about Beslan which our newspaper published. The first is the letter from Bela Gubiyeva addressed to Russian children – “If you become a hostage”. Bela is 12 years old. I read the letter aloud. And it’s something incredible. I was the first person who read this letter and yet now I hear it as though for the first time.

The thing is that the letter is meant to be read aloud.

The young girl wrote about overcoming the Beslan hell, least of all about the horrors.

Yet it was this letter that revealed to Sergino teachers what actually took place in the sports hall of School No. 1. It was a shock. So much has been written and spoken about Beslan, why specifically did this fairly restrained tale of getting over it have such impact?

What was new?  Was it the very fact of turning to another person who needed to be warned of danger?  She needed to pass on her own experience to save another person. And this after all was only a month and a bit after the tragedy. Where did she find the strength for a conversation with people her age who, of course, assume that horror will pass them by?  The letter shows that it can happen to anyone. And therefore the tiniest detail in the letter affects you personally.

The trusting intonation of the letter breaks down distance, differences in culture, age, nationality. All are the same because they’re all defenceless. You too, whatever village backwater you may live in. 

If we are to believe (the philosopher) Merab Mamardashvili that the personality gains its being through the  tension “man – symbol” then, without any doubt, such symbols for a child are the home and hearth, parents as symbol of protection and school as symbol of the link between the growing person and the experience of humanity.

“Mama, why did you bring me to this stupid school … You said I’d be learning things here. But look at them”, seven-year-old Fatima points to the terrorists.

“Tell them that Papa’s waiting for us on the street. Why isn’t Papa coming?”

Teacher, mother, father, school – these are what forms order in our world. They were shattered. A situation of the cruellest injustice that the child’s heart rebels against. The official symbols of the country proved a hollow rattle.

Fatima was killed.

“It turns out I deceived her. She died never having found out what school was”, Alyona Tedeyeva, Fatima’s mother tells me.

We all deceived them. And maybe my former student Misha Yudanin best encapsulated this situation: “Betrayal of the adult world”.

.. So, since the first of September 2005, from that morning of remembrance in the Sergino School, I read Bela Gubiyeva’s letter and ask the question which Alana Botsiyeva put about fear.

“Dear friend”, I read and stop.

I ask: “Who is that?”

- It’s us …

- It’s me …

More often than not they write responses at the same time to Bela and to Alana.

Last September in the village of Meret, a southern point in the Novosibirsk region, I saw that the class had not just fallen silent. They had frozen. And then I asked:

-        Can I ask you to respond to these letters?

“It’s a shame you couldn’t see it,” my former student Valentina Gorokhova who was sitting in the back desk said to me, “In one instant they all bowed their heads in assent.”

… On one occasion fifth grade Maxim grabbed me in the corridor and thrust a piece of paper at me, that said: “My fear. I afrad of war. I never don’t want war”.

Then I started thinking, should I read the young girl from Beslan’s letter?

-        And should Beslan have happened? one of the teachers responded.

-        You think the children got frightened? Not at all”  Something else happened. Something bigger, the School Head Yevgeny Davydov said.

“I think that this letter even moved me emotionally” – Denis Chertsov.

Denis put his finger on the way that the letter acts on us. It’s emotional. Spiritual. It can’t be reduced to the rules of survival. It is what a psychologist would call an exchange of human essences. This was another kind of pedagogy. The pedagogy of a person who was saved daring to save another.

“I got sad. And then I heard that the young girl was teaching children”, Kristina, 10

That “And then” is the movement from sadness to an understanding of the paradoxical state of teaching, when the young girl becomes teacher. And who else? There is no one else – that’s the point.”

“What I heard today has had a huge impact on me. In a sense my perception of the world has changed”, Alyona, 8th grade (about 13).

“Evil is cunning and deceitful. What strength of will you need so that amid the howls of a demon you can hear the quiet voice of an angel. It’s hard to define, but I think my fear is those evil forces”; Natasha, 11th grade

“I’m sorry that I can’t write anything. It’s not that I don’t feel anything. I simply can’t express the feelings that the event arouse in me. I can’t imagine myself in your place however I may want to.

I feel as though I couldn’t endure such emotional pain.

With enormous respect and sympathy”, Artem, 9th grade.


Our children are growing up in an atmosphere of uninterrupted war which seems endless. Get them, destroy them, no pussy-footing, attack, thrust their head in the john (a very rough translation of the vulgar expression used by President Putin – translator) … even if peace is mentioned, it’s for some reason forced. This aggressive makeup of the rhetoric of our regime, presented as a national virtue, can’t help but affect the psychological state of the nation – children especially.

Will many be able to come out of that battle with a soul freed from the darkness?


Novosibirsk, School No. 10

Elvira Goryukhina

3 February 2010



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