School and the value of knowledge: Transformations in Belarusian jokes about education

Anastasiya Fiadotava


Over the past century Belarus has experienced a dramatic increase in educational level. Obtaining secondary education is now considered normal, getting a university degree is prestigious. However, such an attitude is relatively new to Belarusian society. Joke texts that date back to the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century indicate that formal education was widely considered useless, as it did not equip children with skills they needed in real life. Formal education was often contrasted with learning necessary skills at home, invariably in favour of the latter. In the Soviet era, formal education was made compulsory and suddenly became an integral part of people’s lives, but it still lacked a link with children’s future careers. Parents could not always appreciate the benefits of education, but had to send their children to school anyway.  The clash between the “old” attitude and the “new” reality produced jokes. Jokes that have emerged in the post-Soviet era reflect the omnipresence of education in contemporary Belarusian society. Some school jokes point to a greater understanding of the value of knowledge in modern children―yet it is often not the formal knowledge they are expected to get in school. Overall, school in jokes has become a setting where issues prominent in society at large come to the fore, even if this goes against the will of the educators.


joke, education, school, Belarus, folklore

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