Igniting a Fire for Learning:

Lessons from Orthodox Students in Ukraine

By Judith Jolma

Originally published in ByziKids Magazine, June 2022


When the children in Julia Chernova’s class begin to boast about being the smartest, she takes them to an icon and asks, “What did Jesus say about who is the smartest among you?”


Miss Julia is the director of a Classical Conversations homeschool community that meets once a week in Kyiv, Ukraine. These programs are popular in the United States where much of the school day champions Western Civilization. But in Ukraine, the idea of classical education is intimately linked with the Orthodox faith and their own Eastern history.


In the United States, children are often taught about Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, or the gifted artist Michelangelo, who painted the Sistine Chapel in Rome, two very

influential characters in Western Civilization. But in Ukraine, they study other great people such as St. Alexander Nevsky, a divinely victorious soldier and leader during some of the most difficult periods of the Kievan Rus history, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who wrote the famous Christmas ballet "The Nutcracker.” Russia and Ukraine have shared many events and historical heroes for hundreds of years. “Since Czar Peter was influential in Ukraine, we do not conflict from taking these stories to teach the children,” Miss Julia says.


Ukrainian history is intimately linked to Byzantine history and their deeply loved Orthodox faith.


Miss Julia’s Classical Conversations community, which serves about nine families, meets in an Orthodox church. Instead of having the day off on feast days, the community meets earlier or stays later in order to participate in the Divine Liturgy on those days. The pious environment serves their education well, Miss Julia says. If the children have a conflict or argument, they use this opportunity to have a conversation to point to Christ. ``We are in a room where they have icons, so let’s go look at the icons,’” she will suggest.


When it comes to older students, they have deeper conversations like how to be a good Christian and have a relationship with the government. Classical education places importance upon the need for dialogue, a skill especially necessary in a region that has witnessed many violent uprisings and invasions in recent history.


Miss Julia knows that if there is any hope for peace and justice in Ukraine, the children must know how to have difficult conversations without giving in to the passions of anger so common in a war zone. So they set aside a dedicated time to have these conversations every day.


One time a student said to her, “Teacher Julia, you have no idea about modern trends like hipsters.” So Miss Julia entered the dialogue with questions: What are their attitudes and messages? Can you identify the right response?


Recently, they have begun discussing the mysteries of the human soul — what is it? Middle school students are encouraged to read Orthodox saints before their discussions. Older students who have read the saints are asked to ponder deeper questions such as what is the interaction between two souls? And then they talk about the interactions of souls in social groups. Every group has its own idea that it follows. Soon they want to jump higher to ask how their group should interact with other social groups like government institutions. They ask, “How do you live your life like an Orthodox saint in your work environment or with the government?”


Miss Julia understands the enormous need for young people to have this conversation. Each question, she says, is “little sparks.” She is trying to systemize her response to these questions from an Orthodox perspective to help them have a deeper foundation for their social questions.


Recently, she took great satisfaction when she witnessed a conversation among other students including her own son. The students were discussing the proper Christian attitude toward COVID vaccine requirements. “I was not even an active part of that conversation,” she said, but she saw an open space for the children to have this conversation. Julia’s son expressed his fear and said it is difficult to have an opinion that is different from the masses. “So I would rather be quiet and not say out loud what is my true conviction,” he said. That was when the other children encouraged him to be bold in his beliefs. “If you do not speak your opinion then the society that believes differently from you will be the louder ones and will crush your opinion if you do not stand firm in your opinion,” they told him.


Miss Julia gave glory to God and was amazed to see this formation of thought in these young men and women.


The parents of these students are learning similar lessons along with their children in this little community because it is difficult to homeschool in Ukraine. Soviet ideas have formed most parents' opinions of education. To be a homeschooling family in Ukraine presents a double burden because of the governmental requirements. Soviet education has rigorous standards that children must be learning specific things at certain times. Because of these arduous demands, sometimes children come to their community having no interest in education. But after just a little while a spark, a fire for learning, and joy start to motivate them. Julia has to show the parents that after a little time the children have reignited their love for learning and so she says to their parents, “See, let's keep going.”


It is important to learn from our Orthodox families in other parts of the world - to let them inspire us and to pray for them.


 

As a contributing editor for ByziKids, it is my pleasure to share these articles with the Sophia Homeschool community as well. Although Sophia Homeschool serves all homeschooling families regardless of faith or affiliation, I think you will enjoy this delightful publication. I hope to share these articles with you each month as a regular feature here. Enjoy!


ByziKids Magazine is a pan-Eastern Christian, grassroots, monthly publication dedicated to the celebration of Byzantine Orthodoxy through the eyes of our children. We are not affiliated with any particular Church or jurisdiction, but welcome and strive to encompass the teachings and traditions common to all of Byzantine Orthodox-Catholic Christianity.

 



By Judith Jolma, Founder of Sophia Homeschool.

Sophia Homeschool teaches parents how to homeschool. Learn more about our training at Sophiahomeschool.com


Learn how to create a homeschool method and environment based on your family's needs so you can thrive. My Foundations of Homeschooling Masterclass teaches parents to work with their budget, schedule, learning style, teaching style, and resources so each member of the family has his or her needs met— including yours! Learn to create a peaceful and joyful learning environment that lasts a lifetime. Identify learning differences and adapt your educational plan accordingly. Unlock the mysteries of teaching multiple grades at once. By knowing what your needs are, you will save thousands of dollars, time, and energy on methods that do not work. We will end homework battles and restore your relationship with your child.

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