Secular schools

Secular schools (світські школи; svitski shkoly). Schools which operate outside of the influence of the church. They are under the jurisdiction of secular (often government) authorities, as opposed to parochial schools, which are operated by the church.

In Ukraine before the Revolution of 1917, the distinction between secular and parochial schools was not entirely clear, since most schools combined religious and secular education, and many were jointly administered by a closely linked government and church.

This state of affairs held particularly in the Princely era. Both Volodymyr the Great and Yaroslav the Wise implemented a number of education programs focusing on literacy. Secular subjects, such as philosophy, rhetoric, grammar, and foreign languages, were taught (Vsevolod Yaroslavych, the son of Yaroslav the Wise, for example, knew five languages). Eventually arithmetic and calendar calculation also became important at the schools.

After their reasonably independent inception, however, these schools gradually came under ecclesiastic authority, especially after the Mongol invasions, when the church was a somewhat sheltered haven. The schools remained under the church’s domination until well into the 16th century, when the diffusion of Renaissance values and secular humanism to Eastern Europe resulted in many students’ leaving traditional Orthodox schools. Although the alternatives were other religious schools—Catholic, particularly Jesuit schools, and Protestant schools, the most prominent of which were Calvinist—these tended to be more modern than their Eastern Orthodox counterparts, and hence to have predominantly secular curricula and emphasis. In reaction to the increasing Western (primarily Polish) presence in Ukraine, the Orthodox schools also became more secular. This change in their nature enabled their graduates to compete with those of the Catholic and Protestant schools and thereby ensured the Orthodox schools’ ability to survive. The most renowned and successful examples were the brotherhood schools, the first of which was founded in Lviv in 1586 (see Lviv Dormition Brotherhood School). Throughout the 17th century the brotherhood schools provided a quasi-secular education, as did other schools established during the Hetman state to educate the people. Religion was still a subject at these schools, but their focus was on basic education for laymen. The Kyivan Mohyla Academy, for example, had more laymen than clergy in attendance, according to 1727 data.

Under tsarist rule secularization progressed in Russian-ruled Ukraine, although the education system as a whole declined. Peter I closed monastery schools and then tried to substitute government-supported secular schools as the basic form of public education. These schools were usually poorly administered and underfunded, however; the result was that many of them closed, and that the literacy level in Ukraine dropped during Peter’s reign. Catherine II tried to remedy the situation by also establishing some secular schools in Kyiv, but they could not replace the widespread system of parochial schools at the village and elementary levels.

In Right-Bank Ukraine under Poland in 1789, an education commission declared all ‘Ruthenian’ church schools closed, and established a new Polish secular school system in their place. Many of these schools were closed with the partition of Poland, however, and the remainder were closed after the Polish Insurrection of 1830–1 was crushed.

In the 19th century the tsarist government tried to weaken the potential for Ukrainian resistance by closing all but the most elementary-level Ukrainian schools. All new schools (two-year county schools, four-year gymnasiums, and universities) were Russian and secular. These schools had a foreign language and curriculum and were disliked by the Ukrainian population. Many people refused to attend them and were instead educated informally by the church. In the mid-1800s there were probably more Ukrainians receiving this sort of ad hoc religious education than attending the official secular schools. This state of affairs persisted, despite a decree in 1869 that officially separated the schools from the church.

The Revolution of 1917 was a turning point in the secularization of schools. A resolution of the Second All-Ukrainian Teachers' Congress, held in Kyiv on 10–12 August 1917, demanded that schools be secularized, and that religious instruction be allowed only with the consent of parents. In early 1918 a Ukrainian National Republic school decree based on the congress resolutions made education secular and placed it under the jurisdiction of the local organs of self-government. Only under Soviet rule was attendance at government schools enforced, and informal church instruction strictly and actively prohibited. From 19 January 1919 the church and state of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was officially separate, and all education was secular.

In Western Ukraine Austrian- and Polish-ruled schools were separate from the church from 1863, but private religious schools were allowed. Under Soviet rule all private institutions were abolished.

(For a bibliography, see Education.)

Natalka Freeland, Bohdan Krawchenko

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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