The Pushkin Project: Russia’s Favorite Writer, Modern Evolutionary Thought, and Teaching Inner-City Youth

Academic Studies Pr. (Evolution, Cognition, and the Arts). Sept. 2023. 350p. ISBN 9798887192024. pap. $24.95. ED
Pushkin Summer Institute founder/director Bethea’s (emeritus, Russian studies; Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison; The Superstitious Muse) book conveys the story of an amazingly ambitious attempt to preserve the humanities while also saving the future of disadvantaged high school students in Chicago. The book accomplishes this through the lens of evolutionary biology, a scientific perspective that construes survival of the fittest to mean survival of the most adaptable. Bethea asserts that the humanities can adapt to changing times by harnessing the power of art; he believes this will help students learn life lessons heading into college. In this case, the art comes from several early 19th-century short stories by the Russian writer Alexander Pushkin, specifically selected for these intermediate Russian-language learners. Bethea tracks the origin of the project’s idea, its implementation, and student response against a deep scientific background. Biological and cultural evolution frame engaging discussions of gendered identity, morality, creativity, and risks vs. rewards in life as modeled in literature. The need to employ both individual agency and group dynamics to arrive at an improved state expertly informs the project’s learning dimensions.
VERDICT This distinctive, thought-provoking book is highly recommended for all humanities, education, and biology collections.
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