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How to Do What You Love in a Communist Country – Part II

This is a continuation of How To Do What You Love In a Communist Country Part I – a story of our father, a man who didn’t finish high school until he was 29 years old, and ended up building an education empire in one of the most oppressive areas of the world, only to have to start his career all over again in the United States in his early 50s.

We walk you through his rise in Soviet Belarus, from the workaholic nature that compelled him to take on triple the work load of any other educator, to the opportunities he was given as a notorious community organizer. By the time he was 42 years old, he had established deep ties in the Department of Education, and was presented with a rare opportunity (especially for a jew) – build a new school in one of the worst areas of the city.

He quickly developed a massive vision – he wasn’t simply going to build a school. He was going to create an organization that brought resources, aide and opportunities for the whole community. We discuss how he negotiated additional funding to completely change the way an academic institution operated, attracting families from from the entire city, and what lead him to become a prominent innovator in education across the entire Soviet Union.

Music by: www.purple-planet.com

Show Notes

  • 0:00 We were probably one of the first households to have a caller ID
  • 1:12 By this time our dad was being invited by education leaders in Moscow to share his innovative ideas
  • 1:26 How our father went back to High School at 29 years old
  • 1:45 Our father realized that he couldn't progress his career without a formal education
  • 3:00 How our father went back to school, and continued to learn on the job - experimenting in his own classes
  • 4:23 His daily routine was arduous - work, school, homework, and bed
  • 4:52 Getting the opportunity to teach more than just vocational schools, and going to a Pedagogical Institute
  • 5:25 Taking on triple the workload of most teachers
  • 8:01 Our dad worked with one of the only Jewish principals in Bobruisk, who decided to promote him to Vice Principal
  • 8:20 How the Soviet Union had quotes for the number of Jews that could take certain official posts
  • 9:09 Taking initiative without others telling you to do so, translates to passion
  • 10:15 How our father continued to lead pioneer camps in Belarus
  • 11:11 Negotiating with a local Tire Plant to sponsor his camp
  • 12:30 Using the sponsorship to build a new type of camp, with state of the art fascilities
  • 13:51 How work didn't feel like work to our father
  • 14:20 People started to notice that he could make something out of nothing
  • 14:36 When in Bobruisk there was an opportunity to become a principal of a new school, being built in one of the worse neighborhoods in our town, he jumped on it
  • 16:00 Getting involved with building the school and adjusting the building plans, unlike other school leaders
  • 17:57 Pitching the Department of Education on a different model, where teachers only focused on education and not administrative tasks
  • 18:30 Securing additional funding for his new school
  • 19:21 By the time we were 6 and going to this school, his students were winning every math and science competition in the country
  • 19:40 Allowing students to focus on what they were good at, and attracting the best educators by giving teachers complete autonomy
  • 20:40 He would also constantly get feedback from teachers. An open forum that did not exist in any school in soviet union
  • 24:00 How media took notice of his school, followed by national news and later international news
  • 24:30 Getting visitors from international delegation, including education leaders from the United States
  • 25:18 Turning one of the worst neighborhoods in Bobruisk into one of the best
  • 25:38 Creating resources to improve the whole community, not just the school
  • 25:35 Hiring social workers to help local families,
  • 27:15 How the national TV station shot a documentary of our father's school
  • 27:27 Getting bribe requests from government officials that wanted to send their kids to our dad's school
  • 29:00 At the time the documentary was shown in Minsk, he had people on national television challenging him and trying to make him look bad
  • 29:41 How our mom Valentina Revzin, a successful educator and education leader herself, defended our father
  • 30:28 Our mom was intimately familiar with his reform ideas because she edited his entire dissertation.
  • 32:10 The opposition started to come out full force, which lead to death threats
  • 36:00 How we realized who was making these threatening phone calls
  • 36:20 Why our mom set an ultimatum that we had to leave the country
  • 36:50 Getting political asylum within 6 months
  • 37:30 In the next episode we’ll talk about how our parents started over
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