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Мы тряхнули стариной в Чикаго

Мы тряхнули стариной в Чикаго

UPDATE: Gorbachev remembers Soviet fall.

Live and in Person, History Comes to Chicago’s Classrooms

By Steven Yaccino
The New York Times

CHICAGO — It was an unusual day in social studies class at Frederick Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center, a public high school on the North Side of this city. Monday's class was taught by a substitute teacher: Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Gorbachev, 81, appeared before a roomful of teenage students and recalled his negotiations with President Ronald Reagan in the late 1980s — years before any of them were born — to reduce the world's nuclear stockpiles.

“The world could have exploded at any moment,” he said through an interpreter. “It would have taken a few hours to destroy civilization.”

Mr. Gorbachev was among a who's who of historic figures fanning out at Chicago's public high schools, here for a gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners. It was the first time the annual event was being held in the United States, and in anticipation, high school students around Chicago had been studying the laureates' accomplishments as part of a “special human rights curriculum,” developed by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Chicago public school teachers.

“We're not starting with some large opening ceremony at some large hall,” said Terry Mazany, who was the interim head of Chicago Public Schools when the planning began last year for the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, which opened here on Monday. “We're starting at the public schools with serious dialogue between the peace laureates and students. We're bringing a student voice to the conversation.”

At schools nearby, F. W. de Klerk, the former president of South Africa who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela in 1993 for their work to end apartheid, and Muhammad Yunus, a microfinance pioneer from Bangladesh who won the honor in 2006, were among others visiting 17 classrooms throughout the city.

The Dalai Lama and former President Jimmy Carter did not go to any schools on Monday, but the two, both of them laureates, were scheduled to speak during the three-day conference.

Organizers of the World Summit said that unlike past gatherings, this year's event was focused on panel discussions devised to engage a younger audience, which is to include more than 3,000 students from Chicago area schools and universities.

“We wanted to take this opportunity with the summit being in North America for the first time to really educate American students,” said Maureen Meehan, a spokeswoman for the summit meeting.

Shortly after the third-period bell rang at Von Steuben, more than 50 of those students, many dressed in their Sunday best, crowded into a small classroom. They gave Mr. Gorbachev a standing ovation as he entered, but were quickly told they were blocking the news cameras at the back of the room.

Also there were the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and the actor Sean Penn.

Photographers clogged the classroom aisles, and some students pulled out their own cameras and cellphones, snapping pictures as Mr. Gorbachev spoke.

Some had prepared questions for Mr. Gorbachev. But his lengthy responses, and the extra time it took the interpreter to translate them, allowed students to ask only a few questions, primarily about how he continued to push for reforms decades ago in the face of criticism from other Soviet leaders. Aside from expressing his support for President Obama, whose 2008 election he praised as bringing “a new spirit to America,” current events were generally absent from Mr. Gorbachev's remarks.

There was no mention of American plans for a missile defense system based in Europe, which has been criticized in Russia. Nor was anything said about accusations of election fraud in Russia, or about the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, whom Russia has supported despite his violent crackdown on opposition activists.

Mr. Gorbachev described his childhood in rural Russia and his education at Moscow State University. In broader terms, he discussed the need for better partnerships between nations, a theme that he said is central to the summit meeting, which ends on Wednesday.

“Today we often see a failure of responsibility — moral responsibility, political responsibly,” Mr. Gorbachev said, adding that he and the other laureates planned to conclude the meeting with a formal appeal for more cooperation.

“We need to learn to live in this global world, to manage the events of the global world,” he said. “So far, we have not yet learned how to do it well.”

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