MOSCOW -- School No. 182 in Moscow was like many others reopening here last week. The halls were freshly painted, carpenters were still sawing away at the last repairs and the principal was trying to placate parents worrying about a teacher.
And the teachers were wondering what in the world they were going to teach.
The students' answers to the universal back-to-school question went straight to the problem.
Galina Krasilnikova warmly welcomed her two dozen 8-year-old pupils and asked them what happened during their summer vacation. Had they learned any new words?
"Coup," "coup," "coup," they answered.
L "Three people died," they said. Child after child joined in.
"Three people died."
"These people who died were very young."
A boy named Sasha stood up next to his desk. "Moscow was invaded by tanks," he said.
A chorus of voices called out, "We saw tanks."
"We were frightened."
Mrs. Krasilnikova asked what they knew of these troubling events.
"I understand some people overthrew the czar and these people were trying to do the same thing again," said one boy.
"I understand in our country there were some bad people, and they brought in tanks and wanted to get the power," said a little girl.
The 560 pupils, ages 6 to 17, at School No. 182 had ended their summer as witnesses to one of the century's greatest political upheavals. So had their 45 teachers.
As Sasha said to Mrs. Krasilnikova: "The whole world has turned upside down."
Nikolai L. Sedov, the principal, was adapting quickly. Even before classes started, he disbanded the Communist Party cell that had operated in the school. He was carrying out the "departization" decree issued before the coup by Russia's president, Boris N. Yeltsin.
Mr. Sedov also made a major personal decision. He quit the Communist Party.
When he arrived at the school two years ago, he said, the party cell had 17 or 18 members, but it was already degenerating from a powerful organization that dictated policy and behavior to one that merely collected dues.
"People began quitting in the last year," he said. "I didn't quit at first. I told the teachers [that] as the captain of the ship, I felt I should stay aboard until the end."
When the coup began and the end came, he decided it was time to abandon ship. "My conscience didn't allow me to remain," he said.
His own reckonings with the past accomplished, the slim, fTC bearded man was puzzling over the questions of the future: What should he tell the children under his care of the last days and years?
Mr. Sedov, who also teaches a history course to the graduating class, was already regarded as a liberal man by his students. He had relaxed the military-like regimen of the school and was preparing to teach a more generally accepted version of history.
The instrument for this lay on his bookshelf: 900 photocopied pages of a history book written in Russian and published in London, bound in a brown cover and protectively wrapped in plastic. The book covers Soviet history from 1917 to 1985. Its account of the period is fairly straightforward.
Mr. Sedov grew up learning that history was divided into the glories of socialism and the exploitations of capitalism. He joined the Communist Party 13 years ago, when he was 24.
"I was a young person. I can't say I joined it by conviction," he
said. "Lots of people had blinders on then. On the other hand, promotions and your career depended on it. Many doors were closed if you were not a member."
Last year, as perestroika took firm hold, he went to numerous lectures. He read the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and other dissident authors. He felt lucky to have the copy of the book published in London ready for this year.
But the book and the pace of his own political metamorphosis were overtaken by events last summer.
Now he finds before him youngsters who visited the barricades, teachers who brought food to the protesters.
For the moment, television and first-hand accounts have become a more potent source of history than any book.
"Of course we will have to cover these subjects," Mr. Sedov said. "Young people have changed a lot, and these events reflected it."
Upstairs, Rosa Kiselova, a history teacher, explained to her 15- and 16-year-olds that there would be some changes in the curriculum.
Instead of studying all socialist countries in great detail, she said, "we will give more time to the experience of civilized countries and major problems such as ecology and war and peace."
Instead of studying history through "formations" -- capitalism and communism -- the class will give more attention to civilizations, cultures and religions, all of which were not included before.
There won't be any more dialectical materialism and historical materialism.
"Before, everything was from one Marxist approach," Mrs. Kiselova said. "Now we know other approaches exist."
Then she asked her students how they assessed "these three days in August."
"If the coup organizers had won," said a boy, "the country would have returned to a totalitarian regime."
Another boy named Leonid Shapiro stood up.
"They were afraid to lose their jobs and privileges such as dachas," he said.
"And our president [Mikhail S. Gorbachev] was not certain for a year which side to join. It's the final agony of the Communist Party. We should have something similar to the Nuremberg trials for the Communist Party. The 73 years of their rule should have the same end. The Communists put out slogans like 'Land to the peasants.' On the contrary, they took the land."
"I'm unsure of my own future in this country," said a girl. "There may be more coups because of the economic instability."
But if the events of the last few weeks had caused profound changes in these young Russians, it did not disturb the outward grace with which they returned last week to another year of learning.
Following tradition, they gathered in front of the school at 8 a.m. on thefirst day.
The younger children wore the uniform, the girls in dark brownish-black dresses with lace collars and cuffs. The dresses were covered by freshly starched white pinafores. They wore puffy white ribbons on their heads, some of them great gauzy affairs that seemed to float gently above.
The boys wore dark blue suits with epaulets and shoulder patches showing an open book and the sun.
For the older students, the traditional uniform had not withstood the assault of fashion. One clique of girls wore heels and smart skirts and blouses; another wore slightly matronly blue suits. Many of the older boys wore jeans and sweaters.
All lined up obediently while Mr. Sedov welcomed them. Parents lucky enough to have cameras furiously snapped pictures. The older students marched over to the newest ones and presented each with a book.
A young girl was led around the courtyard, ringing a bell tied with a red ribbon.
The children carried red and pink gladioluses, roses and giant aster-like blossoms that they presented to their teachers in a ritual repeated all over the city.
Then the older students each took a small child by the hand and led them into the building, teachers joining the parade carrying armloads of flowers.
Later, Mr. Sedov might have been a principal anywhere, seated behind a desk piled with the paraphernalia of his office -- an enormous tangle of keys, forms to be filled out for headquarters, reports on the placement of last year's graduates.
A carpenter walked in and asked for instructions.
The telephone was ringing.
Mr. Sedov wondered what he would do about teacher shortages. He needed two more English teachers, and the one he has doesn't have the proper certification. The pay is meager -- 190 rubles a month for a beginning teacher in a country where the average pay is 300 rubles a month.
In a free moment, the young principal pondered the future of the children beginning school for the first time last week.
"I hope it will be a different generation," he said. "I hope they will have better lives."