"So what would you like me to ask them?" Alexandria School Superintendent Robert Peebles asked a T.C. Williams Russian class last week after announcing he was visiting the Soviet Union Oct. 10.
"I'd like to know what they think of American students," said senior Mark Delp, who studies Russian, "since things seem so concealed over there. By knowing the language I can at least know a little more."
"I'd like to know if they eat junk food . . . if they eat Hershey bars or pizza," 16-year-old Elizabeth Rollings told Peebles.
The whole class wanted to know if he could find a class in Moscow that they could correspond with regularly.
Peebles, the only local educator to join 29 persons on the two-week Soviet-American Seminar on Comparative Education, says that, like the Russian-language students, he has a special interest in the Soviet Union. Before he became superintendent, he taught modern Russian history at the University of Connecticut.
"I think it's important to know as much as possible about our competition," Peebles says. The group plans to compare school curriculum, student morale and instruction methods.
Peebles said he is particularly interested in how much homework Russian students do, how much teacher involvement there is, and how much emphasis is placed on physical education.
Boston School Superintendent Robert Spillane, who heads the seminar, says the idea of the trip is "to get the full picture. We keep hearing that Soviet and Japanese students totally outstrip us in math and science. We can get a firsthand look at why."
Carl Rodman, who works for Professional Seminar Consultants and arranged the trip with the help of the Soviet Teacher's Union, says that most of the nine education groups he has taken to Russia were "struck by the similarities. They have the same problems we have. This year they had to raise teachers' salaries 30 percent to bring more people into the field."
The Alexandria School Board has agreed to pay $1,400 for the trip, which will take Peebles to Moscow, Tbilisi, Erevan and Kiev.
Senior Michael Fitzgerald had a special request for Peebles: "We see a lot of pictures of Russian buildings; will you take some pictures of people?" Fitzgerald said he, too, plans to visit Moscow soon, possibly during spring break. "I think Russia is one place you have to see for yourself."