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Catherine The Great

.. inst Turkey. Nevertheless, the drafts written by the electives were not wasted, as the materials were employed in a “Description of the Russian Empire and its International Administration and Legal Enactments,” published in 1783. This proclamation was the closest thing that Russia had to a law code for the next 50 years (Hosking 100). It denounced capital punishment and torture, it argued for crime prevention and, in general, “was abreast of advanced Western thought for criminology” (Riasanovsky 259). Catherine decided that, before positing common interests, which did not exist, she should put more backbone into fragmented Russia by creating institutions which would enable citizens to work together at least within their own estates and orders; Catherine adopted the task of laying the foundation for a civilized Russian society.

Catherines first contribution toward forming an enlightened nation was to create a system of hospitals. Although medical science had yet to reach a respected position, Russia lacked, as did many other countries, a method of administering the small amounts of medical knowledge it did possess. In attempts to alleviate this, Catherine funded the Town Hospital at St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg House for Lunatics, and the Foundling Hospital; as well, she popularized vaccinations. The Empress donated money to fund the Town Hospital at St. Petersburg, where poor were admitted without payment (Kochan 26).

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Upon admittance, they were shaved, bathed, and put in tidy dress. The hospital consisted of 300 well spread beds with curtains and a professor of electricity who was permanently employed to relieve diseases. Likewise, the St. Petersburg House for Lunatics was constructed, which became renowned for its gentle treatment. Unlike other mental hospitals, it did not use chains to subdue raving patients, but instead used thongs, and, it only used gentle remedies, such as a strict diet, for mental disorders (Kochan 26).

Finally, Catherine built the Foundling Hospital on the banks of the Muskva. This hospital broke new ground, for it was one of the first establishments of its kind. Through it, Catherine intended to discourage infanticide. A branch was set up in St. Petersburg in 1770, which acted as both a lie-in-hospital, admitting all pregnant women without pay, and a school, teaching girls sewing and boys the arts. The function of the Foundling Home has been described as “the transformation of private indiscretion into national benefit” (Kochan 27) since all children were accepted without chargethe mother just had to state the name of the child and whether it had been baptized.

Furthermore, it was through Catherine that vaccinations became widespread. Smallpox took the lives of many Russians, and permanently disfigured its survivors. Catherine was one of the first people in Russia to submit to an inoculation against the disease (Kochan 27). In 1768, she summoned the Quaker, Dr. Thomas Dimsdale to perform the procedure; later that year, she had a Smallpox Hospital built, which, twice a year, inoculated children without charge.

Through this, Catherine attempted to both instill scientific ideas in Russiashe decreed that Russia be equipped to produce its own medicines and surgical instrumentsand, to save the lives of many commoners (Riasanovsky 264). However, rather than seek medical aid, unenlightened peasants ran to The Virgin as a cure from the disease. The peasants were unable to appreciate the hospitals along with many of Catherines other broad visions. Catherines final social reform was in the education system. Not only did the Empress reorganize the schools of elite classessuch as the Cadet Corpsand introduce the first female schoolssuch as the Smolny Institute for Noble Girlsshe also created a successful nationwide education system of elementary and secondary schooling. Russian education was a failure up to the 1760s for several reasons: it lacked textbooks, it had no set curriculum, it used a wide application of over-rigorous discipline, it stressed education for state-service purposes, and it was limited by Russian superstitions.

It was Russian tradition that reading secular books was a temptation from the devil (Miliukov 5), and so, grammar was taught with Church Slavonic print and church books until the 1760s. This practice was harmful because, by the 1700s, Church Slavonic was no longer the vernacular (Dukes 30). Catherine alleviated this by drafting an index of secular books to be used in schools, including The Primer, Rules for Pupils, On the Duties of Man and Citizen, History of the World, Introduction to European Geography, and Russian Grammar. Prior to Catherine, the curriculum was as useless as the textbooks since it laid emphasis on only a few practical subjects, and was, for the most part, without “rhyme or reason” (Dukes 31). The Russians of the first half of the eighteenth century tended to view education as “general, separate pieces of information, and that to learn these and become an educated man was simple” (Dukes 31).

Catherine observed this restraint, and formed a system of successive learning, where specific subjects were studied in four grade levels, each level increasing in difficulty. Through this, Catherine gave her people understanding, not just superficial knowledge. Russians also believed that severe discipline aided knowledge, a belief which stemmed partly from the nature of military Russian education and partly from teachers wanting dumb obedience (Dukes 31). It was also the consequence of the seventeenth century religious theory, that children were naturally wicked and that they had to be purged before they could learn, that led to the physical abuse of children (Dukes 31). This abuse handicapped Russian education by creating mindless followers instead of outspoken thinkers. Catherine condemned this practice by banning physical punishment in schools, and therefore, taking the first step in creating a non-militaristic, rational education system. Another concept that impeded Russian schooling was Peter the Greats notion that the purpose of education was the preparation of the young for services of the state (Dukes 32).

Consequently, people did not learn for curiositys sake, and they did not experiment. The installation of provincial schools was Catherines solution. In 1786, the Statute of Popular Schools was produced and published. Although F.I. Iankovich, a Serbian graduate, was its chief architect, the Statute reflected, to a considerable degree, the education plans composed by Catherine (Dukes 242).

This education system was nationwide, with cost-free elementary and secondary schooling for boys and girls, including serfs with the permission of their land owners. The Education Statute stated that, in every provincial capitol, there must be one major school, consisting of four grades and, in every provincial and district town, one minor school with two grades. The classes were to study reading, writing, catechism, elementary grammar and arithmetic, drawing, church historyfrom teachers rather than clergyand, rudimentary civics, all in their native tongue, as well as in the foreign language which was most useful for everyday life, depending on where the school was situated (Obolensky and Stone 211). This system recognized that, education is for the prosperity of the individual, and not the state, and in order for Russians to become broad-minded, they must acquire the fundamentals of knowledge. The final concept that made Russian education a failure was the influence of a peculiar Russian culture, composed of ancient, Slavic superstition and folklore, and simple, but powerful Orthodox Christian faith (Dukes 34).


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