Best of Lev: What if the U.S. electorate had been educated to think?

Lev NavrozovLev Navrozov

Lev Navrozov emigrated from the Soviet Union with his family in 1972. He so cherished the Freedom of Press he found here that he dedicated his remaining years to alerting otherwise-oblivious Americans to the global context of news. He is no longer able to write and his lovely and gracious wife Muza passed away last year. The following column was published Oct. 17, 2012.

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I am going to say something I know may not be popular with the readers. I spent half of my life in Stalin’s Russia. I was born there, got married there, and I never knew what the television set looks like. My mother would say, “Why do you need to watch television — we have plenty of books you can read!”

My father (a Russian playright, who was killed as the Germans began their invasion of Russia in WWII) meticulously collected rare Russian books, manuscripts, translations of English, French, American, and other world-famous authors as well as reproductions of world-famous painters. Mother was right — there were plenty of books at home to read, and I read them all.

Then I got married, and my wife shared the family tradition of not having a TV. Shortly after that we had a son, who was exposed to all those books since he was a baby. First, his nanny was supposed to read them to him; then, when he could read on his own, he would rummage through the books and pick the things he liked, so that reading for him became a necessity, something he could not live without.

On our son’s sixth birthday, we bought a house not far from Moscow, and, naturally, moved all the books there. The house was huge, and our library was a comfortable place to spend time.

Our son did not go to a Soviet school. So plenty of time and energy schoolchildren spent on studying Soviet propaganda literature, obligatory martial arts, meetings, and so on was not wasted.

We never told our son what to do, which books to read, which friends to choose. Our business was to make sure he had at home everything we thought might be of interest to him. Of course we bought for him all the textbooks on all subjects they take at school. The rest was up to him.

Since we worked at home, the rule was that our son does everything on his own without disturbing us. And only if there was something he could not understand, if some explanation was needed, could he come and ask for help. And that was how it worked.

Without any exaggeration, I can say that by age twelve he had read all of Russian classical literature. And before that, unbeknown to us, he sidetracked into chemistry. Our friends, whose house was next to ours, were relatives of the then well-known chemical biologist Olga Lepeshinskaya, whom Stalin had made famous for her alleged “discovery” of reversing the aging process by the use of baking soda baths. She had died of old age shortly after we moved into our house, and her relatives bequeathed to our son the entire contents of her laboratory, which he moved into a shed specially built on our property.

By that time we became so worried that he spent so much time on chemistry, of which both of us knew very little, that my wife decided to take him to a professor of chemistry at the Moscow State University just to see if all his “play” justified the risks of not going to school. My wife waited for 4 hours outside the lab, waiting for the answer.

At last the professor came out and said that he was so impressed by our child’s knowledge that he wanted to know if she would be willing to start bringing him to his chemistry lectures to assist him. He also said there would be a university entrance exam, and he would like our son to take it. He passed that exam.

Shortly after that his interest in chemistry vanished as unexpectedly as it had appeared, and he turned to English language and literature.

Why am I writing about all this? Because I see how much time and effort children in New York schools spend on something that is of no interest to them, and later in college, just to get a degree which they may never use in their lives. In other words, their natural God-given talents get suppressed, first watching television, then in preschool classes, later in school, and then wasted for good in college.

This long introduction has a short ending. The other day, my wife was grocery shopping at a nearby food supermarket. At the checkout counter there was a black woman with a beautiful little girl, who looked 5 to 6 years old. The girl was crying, asking her mother why the bad, wicked people want to kill the Big Bird. My wife interjected “Sweetheart, this is not true! Nobody wants to kill the Big Bird.” The girl’s mother turned and said, “What do you know about it?” As they were leaving, my wife heard the woman say to her daughter, “Don’t worry, our president will never let them kill the Big Bird!”

Who is the Big Bird? I asked my wife. “Well,” she said “You would have known it if you watched television!”

But, I said, I do watch the Fox News channel. I even watched the first presidential debate and still cannot get over the dismal impression left by Obama’s performance. Without the teleprompter and the written instructions, he struck me as a person without any substance, absolutely unable to think. I watched his blank, unresponsive, helpless face not able to concentrate on the question, let alone respond. And more — for the first time I saw his face without a smile: a face of an unintelligent human being.

The next day I saw Obama campaigning for the second term of his presidency. Surrounded by a huge adoring crowd, his face was all asmiling. That was when he is at his best: he did not have to think.

He repeated his usual lies and platitudes about his future “Forward” promises — his way to excite the crowd to raise his “likability” ratings — his irresistible smile, lots of hugs and handshakes.
Isn’t that just what the crowd expects from him?

And then I thought, my God, even little children are being drawn into Obama’s presidential game — his struggle for power. Does he have any shame?

Lev Navrozov can be reached by e-mail at

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