Drawing on the case of Russia’s post-Soviet education reform, the paper explores the interaction between borrowed reformatory solutions and culture codes in the process of neoliberal educational modernisation. Through the examination of the concept of ‘commercial service’ the article shows how bottom-up societal resistance is maintained and normalised in the real-life language of the reform debate among policy-makers, teachers, parents and the general public. Building on policy-as-discourse studies, the analysis unpacks specific conceptual frames behind societal interpretation of educational commercialisation. The article finds that the public debate is stalled by an extreme polarisation and a seeming intractability of such conceptual categories as ‘money’, ‘commerce’, ‘moral upbringing’, and ‘the soul.’ It further argues that instead of mediating borrowed and domestic social meanings, the official reform narrative serves to strengthen the polarisation of opinions, while leaving under-conceptualised a number of important links between market values of competitive individualism, material profit and entrepreneurship and domestic values of egalitarianism, collegiality, moral education and non-materialist values. The article concludes with a discussion of the role of the state in transmitting borrowed policy ideas to the public and the interplay between grassroots resistance and national education policies.