Samantha Smith, dead in a New England plane crash, lives on here in Soviet Georgia. There is a drawing of her, yellow hair and bright smile, on the wall of the room where English is taught in the first school, the city's oldest. Samantha holds an American flag and says, ''We want peace and friendship.'' She is answered by the Russian girl who went to America, Katerina Lycheva. She wants peace and friendship too.
But down the block from the school, there are different drawings. They show a wooden and mean-looking Uncle Sam holding blacks in chains. Other Uncle Sams are kicking people, Third World people, for whom the Russians have a much declared and superficial sympathy. From the looks Africans and Asians get on the street, it's clear many Soviets would much prefer the liberated peoples to stay precisely where they have been liberated.
In the school, though, the message is only of peace. In the English class, the teacher begins by saying, ''Now children, the most important problem of the world is peace.'' With that, a young man, dressed like all the others in a blue uniform, pops to his feet. He has memorized a poem. It begins, ''I want to live and not to die.''
On a table are albums sent from the United States. From my chair in the classroom, I can see the color photos of American children who smile from Georgia. It is a bit corny, this affinity of one Georgia for the other, but it seems to work. The school is the Galloway in Atlanta, and the album is called ''Favorite Topics of the Galloway School.'' The teacher hands it to me. ''It shows well that we want to be friendly with America,'' she says.
On a wall is a dove of peace. There are others in the hallway. The word peace in English can be seen time and again, although it is two languages removed for these kids. Their native tongue is Georgian, in which they are largely taught, but they have to know their Russian too. One by one they rise to show their stuff.
I am serenaded with Americana. The first song is ''Row, Row, Row Your Boat,'' originally taught, I am told, by yet another visiting American journalist. Then comes ''John Brown's Body'' and then ''This Land Is Your Land.'' The room pulses with the lyrical words of Woody Guthrie (no surprise to Guthrie's political enemies, I'm sure), and the words carry just a slight accent. Still, here in the exotic Caucasus, we are in California and the New York island, the redwood forest and the gulf stream waters . . . ''this land was made for you and me.''
What is to be made of this? Probably not much. Other rooms of the school are mini-museums -- to the war, to earlier history, to the revolution. It is not possible for even a Georgian not to know that the Soviet Union, Russia especially, has time and time again been attacked by enemies. The display down the street shows that the United States could be one of those enemies. Vigilance is required.
Still, kids are kids, and they are learning something -- more about my country than I ever knew of theirs at the age of 14. It is impossible to know what the consequences are, though. When a boy recites a short description of how Britain is governed, does he understand the real role of the political parties he just mentioned? Does he know that Parliament really governs and, if so, what does he think of his own country?
In the kindergarten, they cut out and color paper butterflies, all the time singing along to phonograph records the teacher plays. One is a Georgian folk tune. The kids stop and do a folk dance. Then the teacher puts on another record. It is 1970s-style rock. A dozen Soviet tots do the monkey. Later, one of the butterflies is chosen as the best. I disagree, and with a lot of giggles, I am presented with all of them.
Back in the English room, the teacher has turned to poetry. A boy walks to the front of the room. From memory he recites Longfellow's ''Hiawatha,'' with words like ''prairie'' uttered without accent, but also without intonation. We turn next to English literature. Another boy stands to tell of Byron and Shakespeare, Marlowe and Dickens. Like the others, he recites from memory, and I have the uneasy feeling that I have been the cause of much awful homework. All by myself, I may have given the kids a good reason to hate America.
Samantha Smith, dead in a New England plane crash, lives on here. Doubtless, some will say she is being used in death as she was in life -- yet another prop of Soviet propaganda. Certainly that is the case. But she is no mean-looking Uncle Sam, and that is something. Any girl in the first school can look at her and see just another girl. That, Samantha might say, was the whole idea.