What did the status of “first student” mean in pre-revolutionary Russia

Hierarchy of students

Ask anyone – the phrase “first student” will not cause any special associations: well, the first on the list, the first in height when building in physical education, the first to come to school or class …

Meanwhile, in the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth century, the expressions “first student” and “first student” were words that affect issues of status, prestige, representing an object of desire, causing feelings of envy, and even nervous breakdowns, even becoming a cause of enmity …

Alexander real school. Drawing lesson. 1914

In a number of educational institutions, the decision to establish the current hierarchy of students was made several times in the academic year by the head of the educational institution, with the first and second students honored with a special place in the class and other signs of “boss’ reverence”.

In the story about the gymnasium of the 1870s, where the student Alexei Veresov and the inspector (head of the gymnasium) Ivan Pavlovich Zverev operate, we read:

“Here, brothers,” Zverev spoke. “Whoever deserves what, then get it! .. Veresov Alexei is declared the first student.

For a few seconds I sat in a kind of stupor, not moving from my seat…

– Collect books and go to the first place, – the formidable inspector confirmed, turning to me. – Young fellow! .. And forward, brother, wipe your nose to all this oak …

I, the smallest, now proudly sat in the first place on the first bench …

Title page of P. Yakovlev’s book “The First Student”. 1934

During the big break, the solemn cry of the gymnasium watchman rang out:

– Gentlemen, the first and second students, please go down to the apartment of Mr. Inspector!

In the dining room of Ivan Pavlovich, we found the best students of other classes. The long table was full of vases of biscuits and other biscuits. The footman set a huge pot of deliciously steaming chocolate on the table. Ivan Pavlovich arranged such a feast from year to year after each transplant …

Zverev, who appeared two months later to announce a new transplant, unexpectedly proclaimed: “The first student is Olesov! .. The second is Smirnov …, the eighth is Ruzheinikov … The ninth is Veresov!”1

The title of the first student could save (protect) the student from the chicanery and extortion of the guards. More often, apparently, the practice was to award the title of the first (less often – also the second, even less often – the third, etc.) once a year, following the results of the academic year. The first student (student) was given a commendation sheet and a book, the second – only a commendable sheet.

Commendation sheet for a first grade student of the Tomsk Alekseevsky Real School Mikhail Menshikov. 1912

Right to free education

In some cases, the title of the first student gave its holder the right to apply for free education in another educational institution of higher status.

In one of the stories we read: “The gymnasium seemed to me something inaccessible. How can I, a student of the city school Alexei Vlasyev, who studied with the poorest children in the city, enter the entrance of a three-story stone house on the best street in the city … And that’s all Still, in the depths of my soul, I lived with the hope of entering the gymnasium, and this hope made me year after year become the first student in the class.

Shortly after Pascha I had to take an exam for the city, and in the fall – to the gymnasium, if they release me from paying for the right to study … I have to finish as the first student. Then maybe I’ll get into the gymnasium,” I repeated to myself.

… At a big break, the inspector called me to his place and said that there was one free vacancy in the gymnasium …

“I have no doubt that you will finish our school as the first student,” the inspector added, letting me go …

And further:

“A certificate of graduation with honors from the primary city school is being handed to Alexei Vlasyev!” the inspector said solemnly. “The first award was also awarded to him!

Porfiryev got up and handed me a large thick book bound with a gold pattern.

I realized that Porfiryev agreed to accept me in the gymnasium … “2.

matter of honor

Probably more often the right to be called “the first student” was a matter of prestige, and the struggle for it was perceived as a “matter of honor.”

The ethnographer Vera Kharuzina recalled the second half of the 1870s: “When I entered, the first student was Manya Sheina, she did not manage to stay in first place. It was a great grief for her. she turned out to be the second student – how she cried: the whole table in front of her turned out to be covered in tears.3.

In some educational institutions, only the first student was noted, somewhere more. So, in the Simbirsk gymnasium, the first and second students were celebrated. The first student received a commendation sheet and an award book, and the second student received only a commendable sheet. In the description, which he gave in the 1880s. director of the Simbirsk gymnasium F.M. Kerensky (father of the famous minister – chairman of the Provisional Government) to Volodya Ulyanov (future V.I. Lenin) for admission to the university, it was said: “Constantly diligent and accurate, Ulyanov was the first student in all classes …”

High school student in the late 19th century

In the book of a classmate S.Ya. Marshak, Polien Yakovlev, “The First Student” showed a dramatic struggle for the title of the first student of the male gymnasium in the early 1910s. Among the applicants are the son of the prosecutor Nikolai Amosov and the son of a railway engineer Vladimir Tokarev (Amanita). Amosov is patronized by teachers, and the gymnasium students, including Samokhin (Samokha), are sure that Tokarev should receive the title of the first student. Let’s read the episode when the Greek language teacher (Mop) announces the names of the “first” and subsequent students.

“The bell rang. Everyone immediately ran into the classroom. Mop appeared in the corridor. He carried a pack of annual statements. He entered … Everyone sighed heavily.

“Children,” said Mop, “now you will receive your rewards and punishments …

He took a stack of snow-white papers from the pulpit and looked at the class:

“Well, let’s get started,” he said. – So, the first student who graduated brilliantly from the fourth grade and is subject to transfer without an exam to the fifth with a reward – the Gospel in an embossed gold binding, sir, is recognized on the basis of a resolution of the pedagogical council … Amosov Nikolay.

Samokhin wanted to shout something, got up and sat down. There was no strength.

– The second, – continued the Mop, looking point-blank at the Amanita. – Second… Buch Vitaly.

Fly agaric shuddered involuntarily… Klass craned his neck.

– Third, – Mop snapped his fingers, – Nifontov …

Almost the entire class rose to their feet.

“And Tokarev?” everyone thought. “Volodka Amanita… What is this?”

– Fourth, sir, – Mop flashed his eyes, – our brave and brave Tokarev Vladimir. In behavior, s and in Greek, s four-s and in Russian four-s. You are given fourth place in your class, but with a warning that you…

Samoha got up and moved to the first desk.

– With a warning, – continued Mop, his further words were interrupted by a terrible cry.

– Hey! squealed Amosov.

It was Samoha who slapped him across the face.

The high school students took off. Amosov roared.

– Scoundrel! – Mop rushed at Samokha. – How dare you?

Grabbing Samokhin by the collar, Mop dragged him out of the classroom.

Samoha escaped and, throwing open the door, ran out into the corridor.

A fly agaric went to the board and in front of the whole class tore his sheet to shreds.

“Here,” he said, “I don’t need such marks … I trample them with my feet.” Here!”4.

These are the passions that sometimes flared up in the pre-revolutionary school in the struggle for the status of the first student, determined by the decision of the pedagogical council of the educational institution.

In some cases, an individual student could acquire the unofficial title of first student in a particular subject. We read about 1914: “Valery soon became the first student in arithmetic. He willingly explained to others when they turned to him for help”5.

In Soviet times

After the revolution, the title of the first student was apparently no longer officially awarded, but the practice of building a hierarchy of success in the classroom, headed by the first student, was broadcast as a school tradition for a long time.

So, about the school of the first half of the 1920s. we read: “He never sits over textbooks for a long time, but at school he is considered the first student … He is well versed in geometry, physics, chemistry”6.

E. Starikova recalls herself at the age of 12 in 1936 in Moscow: “With the transition to a new school, I began to study well and took a strong and even honorable position in the class as one of the first students”7.

A. Davydova. Lenin is a high school student. Fragment of the cover of the magazine “Barvinok”. April 1952

And here is a story about a 14-year-old teenager in 1941: “Kolya Bessonov knew absolutely everything in the world … He read all scientific and technical journals from cover to cover. He was the first in history, literature and geography in school. singing and physical education, he was not an excellent student, but everyone knew that Kolya was the first student “8.

The concept of “first student” did not go out of circulation even during the war years. We read about life in the Ural city: “All the war I dreamed of trying American stew, but I tried it only on Victory Day with the first student Seryoga Chaskidov, whose parents were big shots at the local factory.”9

The concept of “first student” (“first student”) migrated in the 1950s. In a 1950 poem we read:

  • And I firmly decided from the same day,
  • That I will have some fives.
  • And although my last name starts with “C”
  • And she is put in the magazine at the end,
  • Yet everyone will say, looking at my diary:
  • “Tsygankov Seryozha – the first student!”10

And, finally, an excerpt from the story describing 1961 and published in 1971:

Tanya sighed, stepped over her red shoes.

– The station is sailing away from us …

Out of nowhere – Zhenya Perchikhin!

– Ha-ha! And I, a fool, thought that this ship was sailing, and the station remained in place. But since the first student explained…

Alyosha Ryazantsev from the tenth grade did not keep silent.

– You, Perchikhin, correctly said to yourself that you are a fool. So learn from Tanya.

Perchikhin folded his arms across his chest.

– I’m studying. I told you: the first student … “11

The author of the article, who was born in the 1960s, has never heard the expression “first student” in more than half a century of his conscious life.

So, in the XIX and early XX centuries. there was a practice of officially determining the “first” (that is, the best in the class) student, which was the most important element of school everyday life. In the first and second thirds of the twentieth century. this concept, having become semi-official and informal, continued to exist in the school environment. Only in the last third of the twentieth century the concept of “first student” almost completely disappeared from school life.

  • 1. Yakubovich P.F. Tales of childhood and youth. M., 1989. S. 113-115, 117-118.
  • 2. Boronina E. An amazing pledge. L., 1969. S. 42.
  • 3. Kharuzina V.N. Past. Memories of childhood and adolescence. M., 1999. S. 436, 446.
  • 4. Yakovlev P. The first student. Rostov-on-Don, 1973, pp. 152-154.
  • 5. Vodopyanov M. The story of Valery Chkalov. M., 1959. S. 21.
  • 6. Stepanov G. At the dawn of a foggy youth. Novel, stories. Krasnodar, 1980. S. 17.
  • 7. Starikova, E. In our lanes: biographical notes. M., 2003. S. 330.
  • 8. Kozlov V. Vitka from Chapaevskaya Street: A Tale. L., 1977.
  • 9. Putilov B. The crushing of Lekha Bykov // Ural Pathfinder. 1980. N 2. S. 23.
  • 10. Sakonskaya N. Star path. [Стихи, песни, поэмы]. M., 1961. S. 39.
  • 11. Loiko N. Zhenya-On the contrary. M., 1971. S. 6-7.

Source: Российская газета by rg.ru.

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