The creation of the New Soviet Man has been the goal of Kremlin leaders since 1917, and it still is.

What exactly this new anthropological species is supposed to look like is not entirely clear. But its theoretical prototype is known from Soviet propaganda and it is radically different from the greedy and individualistic old model.

New Soviet Man is to be marked by nobility of character, selflessness, boundless devotion to communist ideals and the Soviet state -- in short, the type of citizen who will regard the general public good as the highest virtue.

So it must have come as a shock to the Soviet authorities when they recently confronted some evidence showing new generations not only failing to pay heed to their experiment in human engineering but clinging tenaciously to traditional middle-class, or bourgeois, values.

This evidence came to light when the principal of a Moscow school assigned 300 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders to write what seemed a perfectly innocent classroom essay on the theme, "How I Want to Live When I Grow Up."

The assignment produced a storm of controversy, a public discussion raising the issue of home upbringing and eventually the establishment of a "psychological service" in the unnamed school to help sort out ideological aberrations.

The school principal "couldn't believe his eyes" when he read the essays. Instead of the communist ideals trumpeted daily by the media, the pupils seemed preoccupied with ordinary aspirations -- lucrative jobs, two-bedroom apartments, cars, country homes and foreign travel.

One fifth-grader summed up the predominant theme that underlay most of the essays when she wrote, "I want to live better than the others."

Such attitudes have been obvious for years. But in this instance they were written down by young people, analyzed by their teachers and responsible party officials and eventually published in the press to be considered by a wider audience.

Here is how one girl saw her future: "I will get married," "find a good profession. I will be traveling on business. Flowers. Paris, beauty. I plan to spend summer holidays in the Crimea. I will wear clothes made abroad.

"I will have children, a car, a two-bedroom apartment and a diplomat husband who will be a consul. Will travel to Poland, East Germany, Finland, Yugoslavia and India. I will not work but our dining table will feature royal dishes."

One critical article published here emphasized that what was significant about this incident is that the essays reflected, to a large extent, the values of the children's parents.

One boy, who said he planned to get involved in foreign trade, wrote the following: "From my first income I will buy a two-bedroom apartment."

After that came the Zhiguli sedan "and also furniture and books. I will build a garage for the car, than I will buy a dacha country home -- I will be commuting in my car between the apartment and the dacha."

Another boy was not sure whether he would become an airline pilot or follow his father's steps and become director of a large industrial enterprise. His objectives were the same -- a two-bedroom apartment, car and dacha.

But the prospect of becoming a pilot held some additional lures. "If I become a pilot," he wrote, "I will bring from abroad things for my relatives."

Another fifth-grader, while restating the same objectives, added a new twist to her essay:

"I want to live very well and never depend on other people. I want to draw a salary without doing work. It is so nice to stay home with your family and relax.

"I would like to have my own home without having to pay for all the comforts. I also want to have my own garden (in the country) with a forest, a stream and a dacha. In general I want to live better than the others."

The son of a journalist wanted to do the same as his father:

"I will be a journalist and I will be traveling throughout the world. It is warmer there abroad and I will feel good.

"For example, how pleasant it must be to interview a fighter of the Salvadoran Farabundo Marti National Liberation Movement in the shade of a palm tree. I would like to turn my professional life into an endless journey."

In another essay, a girl wrote that she intended to finish college and marry a scientist. In her apartment she intended to have a piano, two parrots and a Scottish sheep dog. She intended to go to France "to study nature" and "after that to Italy."

Yet another essay included the following comment:

"A strong man must be physically developed. But I believe that the strength of a man also rests on his friends. Besides friends, he must have connections. One cannot do anything without friends and connections." A similar theme was struck by another pupil, who said that a rich man is the one who has everything -- "car, apartment, dacha, etc." -- but "a strong man is a man who has useful friends."

The commission formed to study the essays and figure out possible patterns of thought and aspirations managed to figure out only one thing -- that the overwhelming majority of children came from "well-to-do families." What do the parents talk about in the family circle, asked one commentator. Where do these ideas come from?