Parents paying THOUSANDS for their children to take privately tutored Russian math classes
The newest extra step that affluent parents are taking to give their kids a leg-up when applying for Ivy League schools involves learning math in the Russian style.
The style was developed during the Cold War in an attempt to give the Soviet Union an edge over the West and that seeks to ‘prioritize reasoning, critical thinking and abstract principals over brute memorization.’
Children as young as five are being in enrolled with various different companies, including the Russian School of Mathematics, in order to learn algebra and the principals of multiplication, according to the New York Post.
The school was founded by two immigrants from the Soviet Union, Irina Khavinson and Inessa Rifkin to the United States in 1997 and now has 60,000 students nationwide, charging an average of $3,000 per year.
Irina Khavinson (left) and Inessa Rifkin, founders of the Russian School of Mathematics
The Russian School of Mathematics’ New York HQ on the affluent Upper East Side
‘If she wants to be a doctor, an engineer — math will never hurt. Her math will increase the understanding of the world. The sky is the limit,’ said one parent, Anna Latuskiewicz, whose seven-year-old daughter attends Russian math classes two hours per week.
Latuskiewicz went on to say that said that after her daughter’s successes in the program, she went on to sign up her son, whose development was so rapid, he was able to skip the third grade.
There are over 70 Russian School of Mathematics locations across the US, including four in New York City alone.
The school’s director of outreach Masha Gershman told the Post that students can enroll from the age of five.
‘Math is a stool to shape how a child thinks,’ Gershman said. She went to describe the growth of the school as ‘steady.’ In 2019, Gershman advocated for the Russian style at a TED talk in Boston.
In 2016, founder Inessa Rifkin told The Atlantic in a feature titled The Math Revolution that she was inspired to start the school after she saw how her own children were being taught math in American schools.
‘I’d say to my children, “Forget the rules! Just think!” And they’d say, “That’s not how they teach it here. That’s not what the teacher wants us to do,”‘ Rifkin said in an interview with the magazine, shortly afterwards she started her school.
According to that feature, Rifkin worked as a mechanical engineer in the Soviet Union while Khavinson was a math teacher.
Rifkin also said that many of the students who passed through her classes are now working in fields that require advanced math skills such as chemistry, meteorology and engineering.
President Joe Biden meets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday. One of the founders of the Russian School of Mathematics blamed Zelensky for the death toll amid the ongoing war
A statement on the Russian School of Mathematics’ website decries the Russian invasion of Ukraine and says that the school stands ‘unequivocally’ against Putin.
The statements stresses that the school’s name has nothing to do with the current Russian regime.
However, in March 2022, shortly after the invasion began, Inessa Rifkin wrote on one of the Russian School of Mathematics’ Facebook pages that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shared the responsibility for the growing death toll with Putin.
‘Ukraine had a choice of surrender peacefully with min human casualties and min property loss to Putin. President Zelensky made a choice to fight back. He is risking not only his own life but by now thousands of civilians already lost their lives, among them a lot of children,’ Rifkin, a native of Belarus, wrote, according to WGBH.
Rifkin later attempted to walk back her comments by saying that politics was never discussed in class rooms but at summer camps run by the school, students are asked thought provoking questions about ‘the Holocaust, Israel, and many other topics.’
The Russian School of Mathematics has around 60,000 students enrolled nationwide
Parents pay around $3,000 a year for the school’s tutoring classes
One parent told WGBH that Rifkin ‘is open about having deeply conservative views.’ The parent said that her opinions are no different to those put forward by Tucker Carlson.
The official statement on the war on RSM’s website welcomes the children of Ukrainian refugees at no cost. Since the war began, over 100 Ukrainian children have joined their program.
The New York Post reports that another major player in the Russian math tutoring game, Russian Math Tutors, was considering changing its name to BYOM, an acronym meaning Build Your Own Math.
That company’s founder, Alexander Kolchinsky, immigrated to the United States from the USSR as a child.
Kolchinsky told the Post that children in his classes begin by learning hard problems, as opposed to the more common methods of starting with easier ones.
Another prominent Russian math school, Russian Math Tutors, has toyed with changing its name to Build Your Own Math aka BYOM, the company’s founder said
His classes are not run with ‘a participation-trophy, everybody’s-a-winner philosophy but with a more competitive mind-set,’ Kolchinsky said in a separate interview with the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal reports that Russian Math Tutors has around 400 students nationwide who take classes virtually for $20 per hour.
‘We don’t hit the children with a ruler, obviously, because it’s online. But it is a serious class,’ Kolchinsky told the newspaper.
While an anonymous more conventional teacher told the Post that the Russian style can have negative consequences as students are being taught to do complex problems in their heads rather than writing them. This can lead to them making simple mistakes.
That educator also said that having some students having such superior mathematical ability can make other children feel bad about themselves.