Volume:9, Issue: 2

Sep. 30, 2017

Great Russian Humanistic Educator and Futurologist – Prince Vladimir F. Odoevsky
Boguslavsky, Mikhail V. [about]

Russian educators are well aware of different books written by Odoevsky, such as e.g., “A Town in the Snuffbox”, a model of an encyclopedia for children, or “Moroz Ivanovich”, a wonderful example of a cognitive and developing fairytale, written in a poetic language. The latter is considered a classic sample of Russian children’s literature.

However, other sides of Odoevsky’s activities and writings are less known to educators and wide public today. A famous educational enlightener Vladimir Fedorovich Odoevsky (1804-1869) was richly talented, and the sphere of his interests is quite impressive. He was a public figure, a statesman, a philosopher and a futurologist, a publisher and a censor, a bibliographer, a fairytales’ creator, an author of science fiction and mysteries, a talented musician, a music critic, a chemist, an electrician, and even, a chef.

The last descendant of the ancient family of the Ruriks, Vladimir graduated from the school which was part of the Moscow State University, and where many other famous writers and Decembrists studied. At a very young age he already created a "Society of Wisdom", a philosophical circle, which united many talented and noble people who were not indifferent to the fate of their homeland and the search for truth. After moving from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1826, he started organizing music-literature parties in his house and invited most famous writers of his time – Pushkin, Vyazemsky, Gogol, Lermontov, to name just a few.

In the 1830-1840s Odoevsky wrote most of his romantic science fiction novels and mysteries. His literature style is a refined combination of complexity of his philosophy and a deep understanding of life, human characters, and events.

Odoevsky started writing children’s books because of two reasons – his inclination towards enlightenment and his natural talent. He managed to create a new genre within the bulk of children’s literature, that is a science fiction fairytale with clearly expressed signs of a its genre. One more important feature of his fiction should be mentioned – he managed to describe any event from a fairytale moving it from a social into a moral sphere [4]. 

The first period of his creative activities (the 1830s), is marked by the creation of such children’s books as “Children’s Books for Sundays” and “Colorful Fairytales with Sharp Words” (1833). The main character, Iriney Modestovich Gomozeika (that was Odoevsky’s pseudonym), would tell his readers not only stories but also key moral principles in an allegoric form. At the same time Odoevsky finished writing his “Town in the Snuffbox” (1834). This is in a way a teaching book where the basics of mechanics, optics, and other scientific fields are described in a very entertaining and clear form. The form and the fascination of the new knowledge made this book extremely attractive for many young readers who wrote complimentary reviews about it.

During the second stage of his literary activities in the 1840s Odoevsky wrote books specifically for reading in children’s orphanages. They were composed into two volumes – “Children’s Fairytales of the Grandfather Iriney” (1840), “Children’s Songs of the Grandfather Iriney” (1847), and his famous fairytale «Moroz Ivanovich» (1847).  Grandfather Iriney became a character that would exemplify a mentor, strict but kind and understanding children.

Odoevsky never considered children as “sub-adults”. He was the first in the Russian education who actually postulated the existence of a special subculture of childhood. The first period of a child’s life – from zero to the beginning of the teenager’s age is a special type of a world where all children’s fantasies and folklore wisdom contain a specific poetic wisdom and some hidden knowledge which children are acquiring subconsciously. 

Odoevsky believed that education and teaching should be organized in an entertaining manner which is most close to the children’s psychology. Along these lines he composed his methodological and teaching literature: “The ABC to Use in Children’s Orphanages” (1839), “A Path to Science. A Book by Grandfather Iriney” (1844).

His works in the field of cultural and literature studies are also very enlightening. Among those I would like to emphasize such as “Russian Nights”, “The Last quartet of Beethoven", "Sebastian Bach", "Improvisator", "Elladiy", "Princess Zizi", and "Princess Mimi". His philosophic-futurological works were put together in one volume called "The Notes for my Great-grandson", and it was done long after the author passed away [3].

Odoevsky was extremely productive working in the field of education. In the first part of the 1830s he created (together with some of his colleagues) “The Society of Visiting the Poor”, an NGO which was actively involved in building orphanages, schools, and hospitals. This Society gave him first impulses for his future interest in pedagogy and children’s literature [6].

From 1838 to 1845 years, V.F. Odoyevsky was an elected head of the Main Guardianship Committee for the establishment of orphanages. The purpose of these institutions was to provide care and shelter to the children whose parents were away working during the daytime, and also to promote children’s physical, moral, and mental development. Created by V.F. Odoyevsky all over Russia, the network of such shelters provided significant assistance to families with children. It is important to mention that despite his aristocratic background, Vladimir never discriminated children from different social backgrounds, for which his contemporaries called him "Prince-Democrat."

In the 1840s, Odoevsky also became famous as a consultant on educational issues and a member of the Academic Council under the Ministry of State Property. With Odoevsky’s active support during his fifteen years of work there, this progressive institution opened more than 2,600 schools for children of state peasants [7, p. 6].

In 1846, after becoming Deputy Director of the Imperial Public Library and Head of the Rumyantsev museum, Odoevsky established communication with many scientists, as well as with a multitude of people from the most diverse social and cultural strata of Russian society. At the same time Odoevsky collaborated in the journal “Otechestvennye Zapiski” (Homeland Notes). In the last years of his life (since 1862), moving back to Moscow, as a senator, he participated in the creation of the Moscow Conservatory and the Russian Musical Society.

However, Odoevsky’s contribution to the theory of education is much more significant and multifaceted than his social activities and his pedagogical work. He considered his pedagogical activity being part of his general work to enlighten Russian people.

In the very center of his creative activities Odoevsky always placed his search for spiritual and moral education of young people in combination with shaping their citizenship. The main goal of educating children was to teach them “how to be a real human being”, to become a citizen, develop his/her soul, and “set his mind in motion” [8].

According to Odoevsky, there should be new priorities in education. He believed that most important was not just the new knowledge but the value of each individual for whom this knowledge provided a unique chance to develop, i.e., "a school for a person, not a person for a school" [8].

In accordance with this, he put forward and justified a promising school model which included the following values ​​and priorities:

  • The system of Russian education should be democratic, free of charge, mandatory, and available for all children. He demanded the creation of elementary schools for peasant children.
  • Elementary schools should be based on people’s wisdom, and on the principles of authentic Russian pedagogy which should find its way into the world of best achievements in this field. It should also meet the needs of the Russian life, that is to originate from it and start with the concepts that most Russian people are familiar with”).
  • The school should be comprehensive and aimed at implementing a "systemic" education, "classes should be mutually complementary," simultaneity in teaching subjects is important as in this way one explains the other "[2, p. 44].

Schools should be modern and scientific, and therefore, the following is necessary to obtain: ​​projecting scientific knowledge into the educational process, taking into account empirical and theoretical connections in science. Also, it is important to utilize a scientific approach to the initial learning process and to prioritize sciences and technical knowledge in education [1].

There is an important feature that sets Odoevsky aside and which was most attractive for his contemporaries, that is his remarkable ability for prognostic research. He anticipated the development of many areas of culture, and justified prospects for progress in Russian education.

In the futuristic work, V.F. Odoyevsky is particularly interesting because of his social optimism. In the utopia "The Year 4338. Petersburg Letters”, written in 1838, that is 2,500 years before the events described, Russia appears to be "the center of the Russian hemisphere and world education," and "enlightenment in it is considered a millennium" and has already spread "to the lowest levels" [3].

It is quite amusing that these letters from the future are written in St. Petersburg by a Chinese student to his friend in Beijing. In these letters the writer portrays the Russian state, the social hierarchy of which is defined by the degree of scholarship. The head of the country, its key leader is “the first poet”[3]. The future Government of Russia consists of ministers, including Minister of Philosophy and Minister of Fine Arts, and among the most respected in the state people are poets and philosophers, as well as "first and second class historians". Classes are determined not by social and property status, but by education and the sphere of professional activity. At the same time "the sovereign came to the idea to connect the scientists from one particular strata not only by their scholarship level but also by their civil communication" [3].

The first dignitaries of the state "are united in a special school called “School of the State People".  Only “best students from all other institutions could enter this one, and the development of their abilities is being monitored from an early age. After passing a rigorous examination, they are supposed to participate in the meetings of the State Council for the next several years in order to acquire all necessary experience; from this hotbed they are accepted in the highest state positions "[3].

In conclusion, an outstanding humanist and educator Odoevsky anticipated all the leading pathways in the formation of humanistic education in Russia. He predicted the necessity to connect learning and life, and apply it in educational practice. He also demanded genuine education for children based on progressive scientific knowledge. He was writing about a comprehensive and careful study of the psychology of children of different ages. Odoevsky noted the importance of developing attention, observation, interests, cognitive activity, and independence of students based on the following didactic principles: visibility of instruction, its timely character, consistency, its scientific nature, and a combination of formal and material elements in education.

The uniqueness of the personality of Vladimir Odoyevsky himself also became the basis for the approval of an encyclopedically educated, morally developed and socially active person whose pedagogical consciousness reflected the uniqueness of his time, the time when the foundations of national education and the formation of classical theory of education were formed.


  • Odoevsky, V.F. (1955). Izbrannye pedagogicheskie proizvedeniia (Selected works in education). / Ed. V. Ya. Strouminskiy. – М.: Uchpedgiz.
  • Odoevsky, V.F. (1981). Sochineniia (Creations): In 2 volumes. Vol. 1: Russkie nochi (Russian Nights). М.: Khudozhestvennaya literatura.
  • Odoevsky, V.F. (2006). Zapiski dlya moego prapravnuka. Povesti. Statyi. Pisma.  (The Notes for my Great-grandson) /Composed by V.I. Sakharov. М.:  Russkii mir.
  • Boguslavsky, M.V. (2002). Ocherki istorii otechestvennogo obrazovania 19-20 vekov (Short stories of the history of national education in the 19-20th centuries).М.: Moscow Culturological Liceum.
  • Sakharov, V.I. (1981). O zhizni i tvoreniiakh Odoevskogo (About the life and work of Odoevsky) // Odoevsky, V.F.  Sochineniia (Creations): In 2 volumes. Vol. 1. - М.: Khudozhestvennaya literature.
  • Sakharov, V.I. (2006). Seyatel myslei. O zhizni i tvoreniiakh Odoevskogo (A producer of ideas. About the life and work of Odoevsky) // Zapiski dlya moego prapravnuka. Povesti. Statyi. Pisma.  (The Notes for my Great-grandson) /Composed by V.I. Sakharov. М.:  Russkii mir.
  • Strouminsky, V.Ya. (1955). V.F. Odoevsky i ego pedagogicheskie idei (Odoevsky and his pedagogical ideas) // Odoevsky, V.F. Selected Pedagogical Works. M.: Uchpedgiz.  
  • Soulim, N.N. (2011). Odoevsky o stanovlenii dukhovno-nravstvennoi lichnosti v usloviyakh mezhdisplinarnoi integratsii (Odoevsky about the Development of a spiritual-moral personality in integration of different subjects). Conference Proceedings. Perm.

Anna (Oct. 11, 2017)

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