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“Reader” and “Theoretician” in a Dialogue About the Fairy Tale

Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol. 47, no. 2,

March–April 2009, pp. 59–80.

© 2009 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved.

ISSN 1061–0405/2009 $9.50 + 0.00.

DOI 10.2753/RPO1061-0405470203

English translation © 2009 M.E. Sharpe, Inc., from the Russian text: V.Z. Osetinsky, “‘Chitatel’’ i ‘Teoretik’ v dialoge o volshebnoi skazke (Literatura v Shkole dialoga kul’tur),” in Arkhe: Trudy kul’turo-logicheskogo seminara, ed. I.E. Berlyand (Moscow, 2005), vol. 4, pp. 368–462. Published with the author’s permission.

Vladimir Osetinsky is a teacher of world literature in middle school and high school at the Ochag Gymnasium in Kharkov, Ukraine. He is an organizer (along with E. Donskaia and I. Solomadin) of the Humanities Dialogic Education Laboratory. He designed a course of dialogic literature education. Its concept and the pedagogical practice based on it are described in the articles “The Adolescent and The Iliad” (in collaboration with Sergey Kurganov, 2001), “Literature in the School of the Dialogue of Cultures” (in collaboration with E. Donskaia and S. Kurganov, 2003), among others. Address correspondence to: Geroev truda st., 20-A, 135, Kharkiv, Ukraine; e-mail: osetinsky@yandex.ru.

Translated by Nora Seligman Favorov.


“Reader” and “Theoretician” in a Dialogue About the Fairy Tale

(Literature in the School of the Dialogue of Cultures)

The fairy tale is just fiction, stuff and nonsense you say, but no—first read into it like children and then like scholars and you’ll understand what’s going on.

— Rita Ivashenko, Class 6-B

In this article we discuss several thoughts concerning how teaching literature is possible in the School of the Dialogue of Cultures (SDC).1 Our primary focus will be the importance of conjugating two ways of understanding a literary work associated with two logical positions — “reader” and “theoretician” — and how this integration takes place in the minds of the pupils. To demonstrate how these logical positions can be acquired and integrated by schoolchildren, we will describe how pupils at Kharkov’s Ochag Gymnasium, where an experiment in designing humanities dialogic education has been in progress since 1992, worked with fairy tales in the first grade, and then again in the sixth.

To clarify the main principles underlying our approach to teaching literature, we contrast them with the basic assumptions of the literature course designed by G. Kudina and Z. Novlianskaia used in Davydov’s Developmental Instruction (DI) approach—one of the most thoughtful and interesting systems of literary education being practiced in Russia today. Works by these authors identify and analyze the positions of the reader and the theoretician as they apply to the teaching of literature.

We have a somewhat different view, however, on both of these logical positions and how they are integrated in instruction. Constructive debate with Kudina and Novlianskaia’s approach is intrinsically important for us, just as argument with the

DI concept is vital to the SDC conception overall.2


1 The main ideas of the SDC concept are described in V.S. Bibler, “Dialog kul’tur i shkola XXI veka,” in Shkola dialoga kul’tur. Idei. Opyt. Problemy (Kemerovo, Alef, 1993), and Shkola dialoga kul’tur. Osnovy programmy (Kemerovo: 1992); I.E. Berliand [Berlyand], “Uchebnaia deiatel’nost’ v shkole razvivaiushchego obucheniia i v shkole dialoga kul’tur,” Diskurs, 1997, nos. 3–4; S.Yu. Kurganov, Rebenok i vzroslyi v uchebnom dialoge (Moscow: Prosveshchenie, 1989), and “Postroenie podrostkovoi shkoly,” Narodnoe obrazovanie, 2002, nos. 1, 2, 4, among others.

2 See, for example, Berlyand, “Uchebnaia deiatel’nost’ v shkole razvivaiushchego obucheniia.” See also S.Yu. Kurganov, “Kapriznaia individual’nost’ poniatiia,” in Arkhe. Trudy kul’turo-logicheskogo seminara, ed. I.E. Berliand (Moscow, 2005), vol. 4, pp. 253–316.