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Portrait of Ivan Ivanovich Betskoi  by Alexander Roslin (1777)Saint Petersburg, Hermitage Museum
Portrait of Ivan Ivanovich Betskoi by Alexander Roslin (1777)
Saint Petersburg, Hermitage Museum

Ivan Ivanovich Betskoi or Betskoy (Russian: Ива́н Ива́нович Бе́цкой; 14 February [O.S. 3 February] 1704 – 11 September [O.S. 31 August] 1795) was a Russian school reformer who served as Catherine II's advisor on education and President of the Imperial Academy of Arts for thirty years (1764–94). Perhaps the crowning achievement of his long career was the establishment of Russia's first unified system of public education.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Why Do We Have to Go to School?


I'm Mr. Beat I went to school for 22 years. And, at some point, you probably went to school, too, probably not for that long, but still. As matter of fact, you may be watching this in SCHOOL RIGHT NOW That’s trippy, dude. Anyway, why do we have to go to school? I mean, you may not like it, right? So why, in nearly every country, are children forced to go to school? In this video, I will explain why we have to go to school and look at how long this “school” thing has been going on. In the beginning (clears throat) In the beginning, for hundreds of thousands of years, we didn’t go to school. During the hunter gatherer days, when humans just gathered wild plants or chased wild animals, that’s pretty much the main thing we did, and we learned it at a very young age. At that time, children learned to be good members of their tribe, or clan. Wait, you said “learned.” How can people “learn” outside of school? Silly Rabbit, most learning takes place outside of school. I am not a rabbit. Anyway, back then, children learned through play and exploration. They didn’t need to read and write. They talked and listened to learn. Around 3500 BCE, civilizations around the world began to develop writing systems, making it easier to teach others stuff so they would, what’s the word, uh...forget? Yeah, forget. (I should write that down) Formal schools, usually revolving around some kind of written language, popped up in places like ancient Greece, ancient India, ancient China, and ancient Rome. Ancient...yeah, they're all ancient. But usually only certain people had access to these schools, and those were the Three Rs: The Rich, The Religious Leaders, and The Royalty. Other than that, you pretty much just starting working when you were three, and worked your butt off until you died a few years later. There were exceptions, of course. In the city-states of ancient Greece, anyone could open a school, and even the poor could sometimes afford to send their sons to school. Notice how I said “sons.” Yeah, girls rarely went to school. And the schools were not mandated by the government. It was voluntary, although a dude named (sing) Plato, kind of a big deal, first popularized the idea of making education mandatory in his book the Republic. The first universities popped up during the early Middle Ages. Students there studied and specialized in one thing. Usually the arts, law, medicine, and of course, theology. It was during this time that the University of Baloney Wait, it’s not baloney? Well it should be. Okay, the University of Bologna was established. That university, in modern day Italy, was founded in 1088 and still exists, still kicking butt today. But that ain’t got nothing on The University of al-Qarawiyyin, which opened in 859 It’s the oldest existing educational institution in the world and it’s also still kicking butt today. In Europe, most universities, and schools, for that matter, were Christian. In 1179, the Catholic Church gave free education for the poor. Well I mean, poor boys, not girls. Universities would spread throughout the entire world during the Middle Ages. Still, it was Plato's idea of mandatory education that slowly started to gain momentum. The most important leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, called for mandatory education. Across the ocean, in modern day Mexico, the Aztecs already had mandatory education for every child. While the poor there did not go to the same schools as the rich, they still had the opportunity. And girls could go to school, too. The first country to kind of do this in Europe was Scotland. Its government passed the School Establishment Act 1616, in 1616, which forced all kids there to go to public, church-supervised, schools. During a period known as the Enlightenment, schools all of sudden were cool. One person I should probably mention from this time was (sing) John Amos Comenius. Comenius, who came to prominence in the 1600s in central Europe, promoted the ideas that everyone deserved an education, regardless of how much money they had. This included women. He also looked for ways to make instruction more universal and practical. The New England colonies in North America were ahead of the curve regarding public education. Sure, public schools, schools for everyone in a society and also paid for by everyone in that society, had existed here and there before, but in New England in the 1600s they were all over the place. The first taxpayer supported public school, the Mather School, opened in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1639. In 1647, Massachusetts passed a law basically forcing most kids to go to school in their colony. In the 1760s, Catherine the Great, the leader of Russia, appointed a dude named Ivan Betskoy as educational advisor. Betskoy’s idea was to educate all young Russians, regardless of gender, in state schools, arguing that a general education, instead of just a specialized one, would make the nation stronger. In 1763, a country that doesn’t exist anymore but where many of my ancestors came from, Prussia, forced all its kids to go to school. Its leaders mainly did this to make the country more powerful and united, and their system ended up being incredibly influential. In 1773, Poland created a Commission of National Education, made education more accessible to a wider group of people, and it also put much less emphasis on religion and more on Enlightenment ideals. In 1775, Maria Theresa, the leader of Austria, required all boys and girls, ages 6 to 12 to go to school. Entering the 1800s, however, it’s really important to note that school was still extremely rare. I just mentioned the places around the world that pushed for it, but they were the exception to the rule. In the early 1800s, most kids everywhere just went to work, not to school. And that was just 200 years ago, kids. While mandatory education gained momentum in Europe during this time, the United States was where the most dramatic reforms took place. Before these reforms, many schools that existed there were in one-room schoolhouses, with kids of all ages gathered there. Most people were not attracted to teaching kids at this time, so those who did teach were often unqualified. ocal school boards hired teachers, and basically just cared about saving money which is why they usually hired women, because they knew they could get away with paying women less. Soon, though, normal schools began to become more common. Steven: Oh! Normal! Like normal, average schools. No Steven. Normal schools are what they used to call teacher training colleges. Now we call them teachers’ colleges. Today we just call them teachers' colleges. Teachers’ colleges made the job a profession, and they also helped schools become more alike no matter where you went. Kids, of all the people to blame for why you go to school, blame (sing) Horace Mann the most. Horace Mann was a major fan of public education. He probably did more than any other person to convince people that education was a right, and it should be free. He argued it would make society stronger by turning everyone into smarter, more productive, and disciplined citizens. Take a guess where Mann was from. Woah, good guess. You must have went to school! Yes, he was from Massachusetts In 1852, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to pass a law forcing all kids to go to school. Thanks to people like Mann, the state modeled its school system after the Prussian school system. The last state in the United States to pass a law forcing all kids to go to school was Mississippi, in 1917. Even after that, though, it wasn’t enforced too strictly until decades later. By 1940, half of all young Americans had a high school diploma. In the second half of the 1800s, mandatory school caught on around the world, first in Europe, North America, and Australia, then spreading to Asia and South America. Why? Well, nationalism for starters. Countries wanted to unite their citizens culturally. But progressive idealists also helped schools spread. They wanted to get children out of the horrible working conditions in factories and into more advanced careers where they could make more money. As industry rose and the need for farm labor decreased, it just made more sense for kids to go to school to have an upper hand. The influential ideas of people like (sing) John Dewey helped further popularize schools. Oh, and the idea that you didn’t have to go to a state school-you could go to a private school or homeschool-also helped the idea catch on. The continent of Africa was the last to the school party, and today still is trying to catch up. Even today, 13% of African children do not attend school. Still, more kids are in school today around the world than ever before. While some may not enforce it, nearly every country currently has some form of mandatory and mostly free education. Ok, well everyone has to pay taxes to pay for those schools, but you know what I mean... How long students have to go to school varies from country to country. For example, in Uruguay, kids have to go to school between the ages of 6 and 14. In Argentina, Uruguay’s neighbor to the south, they have to go to school between the ages of 6 and 18. We can probably credit schools for the fact that 86 percent of the world can now read and write and in the next thirty it will likely be close to 100 percent. So that is why you have to go to school, kids. You can blame Plato, or the Catholic Church, Massachusetts, or Prussia, but ultimately you have to go to school because large institutions knew they would be more powerful if their members were well educated. And also, countries knew they would be more united by forcing their young citizens to go to a place where they could indoctrinate them. Today, staying in school usually means less stress and more money for you down the road. so stay in school, kids. Thank you for watching. Thank you to my brother Steven for helping me make this. And don't worry, I will be back next week with a new episode of Supreme Court Briefs.



Betskoy's parents were Prince Ivan Trubetskoy, a Russian Field Marshal, and his Swedish mistress, Baroness Wrede. His surname is the abbreviated form of his father's.

He was born in Stockholm, where Trubetskoy was held captive throughout the Great Northern War, and went to Copenhagen to get a military education before joining a Danish cavalry regiment. It was in the Danish service that he sustained a fall from a horse which forced him to retire from the service. Field Marshal Trubetskoy, having no other sons but Betskoy, recalled him to Russia in 1729. At first he served as his father's aide-de-camp but later would be sent on diplomatic missions to various capitals of Europe.

Betskoy was actively involved in a coup d'etat that brought Elizaveta Petrovna to the Russian throne. The grateful empress promoted him to General Major and asked him to attend Joanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp, whose daughter Catherine was selected as a bride for the Empress' nephew and heir, Grand Duke Peter. In truth, Betskoy had been on friendly terms with Johanna Elisabeth for two decades previous, their intimacy giving rise to rumours that Catherine was his biological daughter.

Betskoy's sister
Betskoy's sister

After Johanna Elisabeth was expelled from Russia in 1747, Betskoy found it necessary to lay down his offices and settle in Paris, where he spent the following 15 years in commerce with the Encyclopédistes especially to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. And to Denis Diderot, he was at least in correspondence with him. He was introduced to the highest echelons of the French aristocracy by his only sister Anastasia Ivanovna, Landgravine von Hesse-Homburg (her first husband was Prince Demetre Cantemir, ruler of Moldavia).

Peter III of Russia recalled Betskoy to Russia and put him in charge of imperial palaces and gardens. Upon arriving to Saint Petersburg, Betskoy renewed his acquaintance with the sovereign's wife (and his own purported daughter), helping her depose Peter in 1762. His hopes to profit from his prominent share in the conspiracy were high. In her memoirs, Ekaterina Dashkova recalls an episode when Betskoy importuned the Empress with questions like "Was I not the one who incited the Guards? Was I not the one who threw money to the people?"

Betskoy's plan for the Foundling Home in Moscow.
Betskoy's plan for the Foundling Home in Moscow.

Although Betskoy held no post of any consequence until 1764, when Catherine made him President of the Imperial Academy of Arts, he went on to become a pillar of the Russian establishment. His position at Catherine's court is not easy to classify. Some historians define his post as a "personal secretary"; others regard Betskoy as an "unofficial education minister" to the Empress. He was one of the few people who enjoyed unlimited access to the Tsarina on daily basis for most of her reign. It was at his suggestion that Étienne Maurice Falconet was commissioned to sculpt the Bronze Horseman; and it was he who engaged Georg von Veldten to design a magnificent iron fence for the Summer Garden.

Betskoy's influence continued unabated until the late 1780s when Catherine's tolerance towards the ideas of the Enlightenment began to be eroded and Betskoy was declared "reverting to childhood" on account of his advanced age. Death overtook him in his ninety-second year, when he had long been incapacitated by blindness. Betskoy never married and left his estates to a natural daughter who enjoyed Catherine's particular favour; she married Jose de Ribas, a Spanish adventurer who founded the city of Odessa.

Educational reform

Portrait of Ivan Betskoy, by Alexander Roslin (1791). For a statue of Betskoy, see here.[1]
Portrait of Ivan Betskoy, by Alexander Roslin (1791). For a statue of Betskoy, see here.[1]

In 1763, Betskoy presented to Catherine the Statute for the Education of the Youth of Both Sexes, studded with citations from Comenius, John Locke, and Rousseau. The treatise contained a proposal to educate young Russians of both sexes in state boarding schools, aimed at creating "a new race of men". Betskoy set forth a number of arguments for general education of children rather than specialized one: "in regenerating our subjects by an education founded on these principles, we will create... new citizens." Boarding schools were to be preferred to other institutions of education in accordance with Rousseau's notion that "isolating the pupils enabled their tutors to protect them from the vices of society."[2]

The Empress endorsed his proposal and established the Society for the Training of Well-Born Girls, with Betskoy as a trustee. This so-called Smolny Institute was the first female educational institution in Russia and one of the first in Europe. The Smolny was to become a training ground for Rousseau's ideas on education: the girls – viewed as the future centers of their families – were protected from every pernicious influence and their moral education was given more prominence than intellectual one. The Empress personally maintained a correspondence with some of the pupils, perhaps viewing the school for women as a vindication of her own place at the pinnacle of Russian society.[3]

For the students of this institution Betskoy and Catherine brought out an instruction entitled On the Duties of Man and Citizen. This essay not only discussed the pupil's duties in regard to God and to society but also contained practical advice on health, hygiene, and other everyday matters. An extensive collection of Betskoy's aids and manuals was published in Amsterdam in 1775. This edition was revised and expanded to two volumes printed in 1789–1791.

Born out of wedlock himself and anxious to reduce the frequency of infanticide, Betskoy found in illegitimate children and orphans an ideal material for implementing his educational theories. It was by his advice that two large foundling homes were established, first in Moscow (1764) and then in Saint Petersburg (1770). The Saint Petersburg Foundling House was a precursor of the modern Herzen University.[4] Not less potent was his encouragement of education for merchant's sons. Betskoy deplored the fact that "we have only two classes of society, either peasants or noblemen" and sought to spur the development of middle-class consciousness by establishing a commercial school in Moscow.

Further reading

  • A.S. Lappo-Danilevsky. I.I. Betskoy and His System of Education. SPb, 1904.
  • P.M. Maykov. Ivan Ivanovich Betskoy: A Biography. SPb, 1904.


  1. ^[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ David Ransel, "Ivan Betskoi and the Institutionalization of Enlightenment in Russia", in Canadian-American Slavic Studies 14, no. 3 (1980), page 327–328.
  3. ^ Loren R. Graham. Science in Russia and the Soviet Union: A Short History. Cambridge University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-521-28789-8. Page 28.
  4. ^ 210 years of Herzen University Official University site
This page was last edited on 29 August 2018, at 07:51
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