Volume: 8, Issue: 1


Sergey Danilovich Polyakov: A Personality, a scholar, a teacher
Шустова И.Ю. [about] , Аверьянов П.Г. [about]

Consciousness, magnificence and dignity -
Our spiritual nobility.
Stretch your palm to it, ‘cause for the sake
Such a thing, one can raise to the stake.

Its air is both wonderful and glorious.
Dedicate to it all your life's span.
Maybe, you would ne'er become victorious,
But you'll die as dies a real man.

Bulat Okudzhava (Translated by Yevgeny Bonver)

KEYWORDS: social education, psycho-pedagogy, educational innovation theory, collective creative social education.

ABSTRACT: This is a reflection essay that represents a versatile personality of Sergey Danilovich Polyakov as an academic and a practitioner, a teacher and a mentor, a guardian of tradition, a bold researcher, and a genuine and brilliant science oracle of the future. His ideas, an attitude to work and people, his passion for science and creative activities raise a high bar for his students and followers. Sergey Polyakov is especially known for his holistic approach to social education as a psychology-dominated process when the social education activity of a professional teacher is based on understanding the psychology of children’s development and growth.


Sergey Danilovich Polyakov is an educator and a psychologist, professor, with a PhD and a postdoctoral degree in education. He was born on August 18, 1946 in the town of Stupino, Moscow province. A graduate of the Moscow State Pedagogical Institute named after Lenin (1969), Polyakov worked as a schoolteacher in Yakutia, in Ulyanovsk province, Ulyanovsk, and Moscow. He got his PhD at the General Problems of Social Education Research Institute of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences (Moscow, 1977). Polyakov belongs to the research school founded by the late Dr. Ludmilla Novikova, a member of the Russian Academy of Education. Since 1981, he has been teaching at Ulyanovsk State Pedagogical University (UlGPU), where Polyakov founded a research school and a graduate program in education. He is involved in research in psychology and social education, and in an educational innovation theory. In 1994, Polyakov defended his postdoctorate thesis entitled Foundations of social education innovation theory (Institute of Theoretical Pedagogy and International Research of the Russian Academy of Education, Moscow). He has over 200 research publications in such journals as Pedagogy, Public Education, New Educational Values, Issues of Social Education, Issues of Psychology, World of Psychology, School Principal, Homeroom Teacher, etc., as well as 15 monographs (including Social Education Technologies (Moscow, 2002), Psycho-pedagogy of Social Education and Teaching (Moscow, 2004), Realistic Social Education (Moscow, 2004), Pedagogical innovation theory: from an idea to practice (Moscow, 2007), Collective creative social education: reloading (Moscow, 2015) and others. Since 2001 Polyakov has been head of the UlGPU Dissertation Council in Education. 17 PhD dissertations have been successfully completed under his supervision.

Polyakov’s approach to school social education

Sergey Danilovich was always fond of schools where he worked in different capacities: as a teacher, vice-principal, research supervisor in city and rural schools, a visiting expert and an active participant of various school events of different levels, scale, and geography.

Many of Polyakov’s works are devoted to school social education and processes that affect the development and growth of modern children (his monographs School: Search On the Way, Realistic Social Education, School Routine, School Psycho-pedagogy). They discuss key ides, facts, concepts, and laws of social education through the prism of psychological knowledge and understanding. In his works Polyakov tries to answer many highly relevant questions: What is the special nature of the present-day social and pedagogical situation related to the problem of social education? What are the distinguishing features of modern social education? Which possibilities and tasks does social education have? What is the right approach to social education in modern schools if social education should be realistic, meet children’s needs and interests and affect their self-development? What kind of social education potential does the school offer? How does the environment (state, public, cultural, etc.) help or hinder the school’s activity?

Polyakov’s views on the content of modern school social education are highly relevant. He points out that the content expresses essential matters while values in social education are “like those beacons, which give light to the teacher-student activities and interaction; they are closely connected to the development of an individual as a member of the society and a personality” [5, p.114]. Considering the man-society dichotomy, he formulates four basic values: An individual, Family and Friends, Homeland, and Humanity.

Sergey Polyakov is always associated with original ideas and the analysis of the school, its contemporary system and understanding of school phenomena and present-day school students. His works are not just the analysis of the present but also the look into the future. “Objectively, there are three new spheres which need teaching and especially social education innovations: social education related with the Internet problems; (related to this) social education in the context of new youth subcultures; academic and social education in the socially non-homogeneous society (in relation to ethnic, religious and financial problems)” [11].

Teacher’s personality

Our world’s multidimensionality and the existence of multiple clones of the Universe is a favorite subject among fantasy writers and physicists. However, this very subject received its unexpected continuation in one of Sergey Polyakov’s recent pedagogical studies, The Modern Teacher’s Everyday Activity. Teachers’ activities are also multidimensional. Each action is performed in front of students – but they see something different from what a teacher has planned. Moreover, an educator watching the same class will also have a completely different impression. Whose impression is right? The educator is intelligent, objective, and impartial. But his/her description will be left stock-still on paper. The teacher is the author, the creator of this activity. But let us try and imagine this activity without students, and it sounds like nonsense. It is students for the sake of whom all this was designed. But they will form their personal, subjective perception… So, where is the truth of any educational activity?! This question is raised in Polyakov’s works.

There is an interesting idea that teachers’ social education activity models that exist on paper and in theory are different from perceptions of social education, its situations and activity in teachers’ collective professional minds. It is possible to focus on the work with students’ individual problems not through the change of one’s professional self-identity but through the teacher’s growing interest in a child’s subjective world.

Sergey Polyakov pays much attention to the nature of teacher-student interaction, their joint activity and communication concerning this activity. It is important for the teacher, by being honest in expressing his feelings, not to spoil relationships with his/her students but to improve and develop them so that “an earnest expression of the teacher’s feelings must be highly cultural.” He states, “the greater trust there is between teachers and students, the more students are oriented towards self-development” [5, p. 22].

Let us offer one more quote that reflects Polyakov’s attitude towards a modern teacher:

“What is it in the teacher that actually produces an educational effect? Some will say, it is the teacher’s personality; others – good methods of work or efficient strategies. “Peacemakers” will name both the personality and methods. The author addressed numerous teachers with this question over and over again. The answers show that 50-60 % of teachers emphasize personality, 15-20% – methods, and 25-30% consider both personality and methods important. So what is true? … The author prefers the third position – personality and methods. However, this is not exactly true. In this formula, P+M, the most unclear part is the center, the plus sign!” [5, p. 70]

Psycho-pedagogy of social education and instruction

By preserving the interrelation of pedagogical and psychological knowledge, understanding and realization of pedagogical concepts via psychological laws, Polyakov defines psycho-pedagogy as an area of scientific research studying psychological laws that reveal themselves in the “space” of particular educational organizational forms [5, p.295]. This approach makes it possible to show the content and goals of social education in the new light and design them considering the child’s personality and psychological laws of the child’s development.

Psycho-pedagogy determines a clear social education zone where social education is a purposeful influence on the motivational and value-based part of the personality, which provides a better understanding of all education-related categories: goals, content, and methods of social education. Psycho-pedagogy helps to reveal psychological specifics of this age through pedagogically significant aspects: age-related needs, I-image, activity (joint activity), communication (the nature of interpersonal communication and interaction), expectations from the teacher (adult), and personality development potentials (in fact, the identification of the child’s zone of proximal development).

Polyakov’s original attitude to social education goals deserves a special attention.

“The goal of social education in the current circumstances is a purposeful influence on the personality’s need and ability for self-development… The need for self-development is a desire, wish, or interest to develop one’s own self. This word contains the psychological nucleus of our understanding of social education as a support in motivational and value-based development…; an ability for self-development is a facility, efficiency, and skillfulness in methods and their development…” [5, p.105-107].

Polyakov sees the concrete definition of this goal in the purposeful influence on the student’s need and ability for self-actualization, self-identification, self-realization, and self-regulation.

In other words, psycho-pedagogy is the author’s invitation to joint reflection and understanding of important issues of social education and the present-day child’s development.

If in the case with one science fiction hero the truth was always somewhere near, in Polyakov’s case it is somewhere in-between, for example, between pedagogy and psychology. Polyakov’s colleagues at his department, doctorate students and scholars all over Russia were involved in this search. Each stone in the vicinity of these two research fields was lifted up, studied, recorded, and described in papers and monographs. The crossroads of these sciences offered the space for workshops, conferences, and panel discussions. Various aspects of their interaction were covered in doctorate dissertations. This collective search finally resulted in the establishment of a new science – the psycho-pedagogy of social education.

Pedagogical innovation theory

Sergey Polyakov remarks, “Every professional has his/her own “personal” science – the concept which integrates notions and laws used in one’s professional activity…” [7, p.9].

Polyakov has developed an original approach to the pedagogical innovation theory. He managed to develop this theory in the sphere of scientific and practical vision and understanding. He has structured and defined the pedagogical innovation theory terminology, suggested an innovation classification, identified factors and laws of the innovation dissemination, innovative “nuclei”, stages of innovation exploration and development, strategies of innovative activities, and innovation processes in an educational institution. Polyakov has put forth an original model to disseminate pedagogical innovations and novelties.

Polyakov pays much attention to studying the development of one of the most prominent Russian innovations of the 1960-80s – the methodology of the collective creative social education.

The methodology of the collective creative social education

Apart from being a scholar, Sergey Polyakov is actively engaged in social education practice. Not coincidentally, many of his publications are devoted to child-centered social education strategies, especially CCA (collective creative activities) or CCSE (collective creative social education). Polyakov develops Igor Ivanov’s (the CCSE author) ideas in the constantly changing environment, gives them a new life, explains their algorithm, creates a new vision and new forms in applying the CCSE strategies in present-day schools.

Polyakov’s publications always abound with images and life examples. Since our college time, we have been using his metaphor concerning the CCSE strategies:

CCSE engines (CCSE driving force) are collective goal settings and model situations while train cars are collective creative activities consisting of the solid alloy of two substances: a collective organization (CO) of activity and collective creativity (CC). Each train car is equipped with an air conditioner – the emotional saturation (ES) of the activity. The railway tracks stand for the publicly valuable life of the collective contributing to people’s benefits. The tracks and the train rest upon the “railway embankment” that implies teacher-student friendly relations [9, p. 10-14].

Notably, the CCAs involve students into the whole structure of the activity (from goal setting to the analysis) that creates a valuable feeling of collective and individual co-authorship and shapes students’ individual qualities. Polyakov points out,

“What seems to be a credible result of a correct realization of creative activities irrespective of their orientation? The answer is in students’ positive initiative rather than their passive observation, which goes along with the feeling of a collective  (“we have organized, decided and carried it out” rather “it has been organized, decided, and carried out for us”) [7, p. 14].

Sergey Danilovich shows the prospects and anti-prospects of the CCSE spread. In 1993 he suggested seven scenarios of the CCSE development in the future. After 20 years, his scenarios turned out to be true in many aspects.

Polyakov as a connecting link between modern social education theory and practice

Polyakov’s special achievement is his multifaceted understanding of the modern social education theory and practice through the organization of collective disputes, and lively discussions among researchers and practitioners. There is an annual synthesis school (in the child-adult format) participated by scholars, university faculty, schoolteachers and high school students.

Below are the most significant events, organized by Sergey Polyakov:

June 29 – July 2, 2003: A panel discussion Russian education today – a dialogue of concepts. Sergey Polyakov invited leaders of Russian scientific schools of education for a constructive dialogue, to share modern ideas, thoughts and concepts in social education. In fact, this meeting marked the renewed tradition of mobile research schools earlier initiated by L.I. Novikova.

May 18-21, 2009: A panel discussion Psychology and pedagogy of contemporary education: possibilities and limits of interaction. It was an open discussion of educators and psychologists as well as a meeting of younger researchers with educators and psychologists who made a significant contribution to the contemporary science. The symbol of the panel discussion represented overlapping circles with the diverse life of the modern school gleaming in the intersection area.

June 29 – July 1, 2015: A panel discussion A multidisciplinary approach to sociocultural challenges of the school: supplementation and oppositions. This conference helped to identify sociocultural challenges of contemporary schools and analyze them in terms of an integrated multidisciplinary vision incorporating the knowledge of education, psychology, and sociology.

Science Fiction

Many of Polyakov’s publications are labeled as Sci-fi, or science fiction. Why did he include a few science fiction paragraphs into his book that raises the most down-to-earth and realistic issues of social education? The author explains: he wanted to have a clearer view of the future. We, readers, have the right to accept this explanation. However, we also have the right to take part in the game and start offering our own interpretations. For example, we may assume that Polyakov’s most significant ideas are still unacceptable among the public (other interpreters would refer to the authorities or censorship, etc.), so let them wait until their time comes being currently disguised as a fairy tale. Or, perhaps, this is a realistic description of the current situation… but in a parallel world. Someone might see here a symbolic sign of a utopian nature of education as a science in general. They might say that we have been teaching the humans for so long but they nevertheless try to run back to the forest and climb a palm tree. Finally, some one might exclaim that the author is simply making fools out of us – he has intentionally written this for us to rack our brains. But why not rack our brains, as thinking is the teacher’s main task.

Coming back to the author’s explanation of the fantastic nature of these paragraphs (the look into the future), it will turn out that there is an element of prophesies in this fiction. In his book written in 1996 Polyakov describes a 2051 conference in Bombay. Almost bingo! Just a 40-year and 5,000 km difference: indeed, the conference took place in 2011 in Nanjing (China). But these are permissible errors.

Here is another prophecy that is about a futuristic prediction about the dangers of 2006 (Realistic social education, 2004). Everything is as from the book, literally, as from the book! All the three dangers revealed themselves. They include the stifling bureaucratization, all possible forms of pseudo-patriotism, and an excessive professional specialization of universities which are turning into vocational schools.

P.G. Averyanov: For a long time I could not understand why Sergey Danilovich preferred reading books by brothers Strugatsky if Victor Pelevin [a modern Russian author]. After detailed questioning we could jointly came to the following conclusion: Pelevin’s speculative fiction is sarcasm over human nature while Strugatskys’ speculative fiction is the dream about the human being. Thus, the hackneyed problem “tastes differ” transformed into the area of outlook: to destroy or create, a revolt or enlightenment. But who said that a revolt and destruction are always evil while creation and enlightenment are always good? So, the choice is not between the good and evil (naturally, we will never prefer evil). So, what is the choice criterion? And we come back to the truism about tastes and differences. In short, the Pelevin - Strugatskys dilemma was thoroughly reflected on, and I decided to give up the idea of converting Sergey Polyakov from Okudzhava’s fans to the fans of “Grazhdanskaya oborona” (Civil Defence, one of the earliest Soviet and Russian psychedelic/punk rock bands, 1984-2008). However, taking into consideration the multidimensional nature of Polyakov’s phenomenon, I may still reconsider my decision.

Students about their teacher

The personality of a man, scholar, and mentor reveals itself best in the reflections and recollections of his students. Let us look at some of them.

V.R. Yasnitskaya: Sergey Polyakov was a member of the local pedagogical students’ team, a youth leader at Moscow School #561 (set up by A.V. Mudrik), a teacher at Chernyshevsky Settlement of Yakutia (where, in fact, Polyakov’s research started with his observations and analytical notes about the collective of high school students) and at Undorovskaya School (where the young physicist “enflamed” his students by setting up their own film studio). All that was the “initial realization” of his determination, into which he intentionally or unintentionally involved an increasing number of different adults and children – average and gifted but always interesting and significant to him. In fact, it is a rather rare talent – to treat any individual not as a curious object or possible substance necessary to realize one’s ambitions, but with an earnest and constructive interest.

P.G. Averyanov: According to Polyakov, the goal of social education should not be to shape a personality. His goal is to create conditions for a human interaction. It was this idea which saved me from a total disappointment in the beginning of my pedagogical path when I discovered that my students were unlikely to develop into what I had previously “planned” them to become. Instead of plunging myself into disappointment (in myself, in people or profession) or pathetic hysterical dictatorship, I jumped at that idea and began to organize interaction with my students (earnest arguments, problem-solving and discussions of urgent issues). Gradually there came an understanding that everything will be fine, and even without my pedagogical zeal.

We may consider Sergey Danilovich either as a man who shares our ideas and initiatives or as an instigator (encouraging his students to come up with their ideas). I remember when I was conducting a formative experiment for my study – there inevitably was an image from a fantasy book, an image of a wizard’s apprentice pushed into white rapids by his mentor so that the apprentice could demonstrate his supernatural powers. Looking into the mad eyes of that apprentice (myself), I remember a graduate student pushed to some youth camp called Yunost (Youth) for some festival, so that the student could stage a play with the campers given that some other teachers were rather aggressive in claiming their rights to use the same students in other plays. There was a lot of floundering. Well, I did not acquire any supernatural powers, but the experiment turned out to be rather convincing. And perhaps, that was no less fantastic.

A.S. Danilova: Unfortunately, I tried but I was unable to find the original source of Sergey Polyakov’s quote (or even a small part of it) which remains in my memory, “Let us agree on words.” At the first sight there is nothing special. But just think how often we have failures, incidents or misunderstanding in our professional activity. The author wanted to say something, but the reader understood a completely different thing. Or could not understand anything at all. Eight years ago, when I just began working on my thesis, I came across so many terms, notions, and interpretations that I was swamped in them. Suddenly, there was shown some ‘emergency exit,’ “Let us agree on words”. Indeed, if in the very start we agree on terminology and briefly but accurately formulate basic notions, everything will work out fine. Now, when I teach senior-year students, I start with agreeing on words. Thank you, Sergey Danilovich, for such a simple but significant lesson of mastery! What did I learn from Sergey Danilovich? I believe this is a wish to see something original and promising in any, even most “routine” or ‘hackneyed’ idea.

I.Yu. Shustova: Polyakov is the man of ideas and events. Polyakov’s unexpected ideas and suggestions redirect the interaction process (with school or college students and teachers) into a new productive route, emphasize general meanings and bring this interaction to a new quality level. A sketch: Gymnasium #33, children’s problem discussion, Polyakov’s unexpected idea suggests combining all ideas put forth during the discussion into a wholesome image of all of them together – a live sculpture which unites the action, shared emotions, and the understanding of what everyone meant. As a result, the discussion gets a new impulse. His works are also an event, they imply deep insights and revelation, ands give birth to new thoughts and creativity.

Incognito: “He intentionally said it,” were the words of one graduate student who by that moment has already successfully defended her thesis. “Polyakov, my supervisor, was just passing by and asked why I was sad. I replied that I came across with some difficulty working on my thesis. He asked me to remind him of the topic. We talked it a little and then he left. Half an hour later I felt offended that he had forgotten the topic of my thesis. Then I felt deeply ashamed… for the same reason. Because I had not showed him anything written. In a month I brought him a thick binder. He is a genius of unusual solutions.”

A few doctorate students, including myself, keep uttering the sacral phrase, “If our supervisor was anybody else but Polyakov, we would not be able to defend our dissertations!” What does this statement mean? Most likely, this is an attempt to comprehend how much Polyakov trusts his students. Many of us have a folder with the same crazy ideas left in the text by Sergey Danilovich. He even used to discuss them with us. Now, from time to time we give a start, what if we had not rooted those ideas from our dissertations… Here is the question: what was it then, that he trusted in us – that we would bring them to perfection or use our own brains to understand their worthlessness? Actually, this does not matter. What matters is what a huge number of students, doctorate students, and teachers keep thanking him for the undefeated ability to dream.

Polyakov’s special research seminar, or the school of introduction to science.

In 1996 Sergey Polyakov set up a special seminar for his graduate students. This year we are celebrating its 20th anniversary. For us it is the school of maturity. It is here that we make first research presentations in public, learn to formulate and argue our thoughts and ideas. This is where we bring up relevant problems from education, psychology, and philosophy, well aware of the fact that such discussions help us to understand something new. This is where we discover new people, who are invited by Sergey Danilovich. And this is the place for emotionally warm and cheerful celebrations (congratulations on obtaining degrees, New Year’s eve, May Tea Party, etc.).

Turning back to the words of the students, the seminar participants:

A.S. Danilova: I wanted to start saying, “The seminar has existed for 20 years already…” Then I thought, “what do I mean, has existed”? It’s wrong to say has existed, worked, taught. The seminar has been living, developing, and constantly getting younger. It has trust in the future of Russian education. It makes new paths in education. It takes in the aroma of original ideas and discoveries. It invites friends – just as devoted and unselfish workers.

P.G. Averyanov: The seminar resembles an oasis. For the whole month its participants roam about their challenging professional paths and finally, on the third Thursday of each month, they get together in “caravanserai” #352. And they quench their thirst of free and routine-free thinking, which is not constrained by momentary self-interest or demands from above. And, what is most precious, they quench their thirst of collective thinking. Which problems are still left to discuss? They are just any – any problems that help people to gain mutual happiness.

I.V. Zakharova: I am so grateful that we have this seminar. It is the source of creative energy, filled with care for every individual, for our education and the fate of every first grader. Perhaps, pilgrims are attracted to holy places by the same feeling that attracts us to this seminar although life quite often sends us pretty far away from education.

E.M. Shporkina: The seminar provides a great intellectual and moral support to researchers, especially to beginners. This is the community of people keenly interested in everything that goes on around them in real life and in people’s attitudes.

A.D. Barbitova: Sergey Polyakov’s seminar is mandatory for graduate students. It is not mandatory but appealing to its former participants, who have already obtained their degrees. It is appealing as it is open to discussions and meetings with new and extremely interesting scholars, educators and professionals; it is open to new points of view and opinions; it is a launching point for many educational projects.

It is at the workshop that we can hear, “The homeroom teacher activity is interesting!” or “Gender approach in education is interesting!” or “An educational intuition is interesting!” or “To shape positive attitude to the profession is interesting!” or “Inclusive education is interesting!”

And each new round of meetings with Sergey Danilovich Polyakov gives a new round of results. Probably, this is the key to the life strategy and methodology of Sergey Polyakov’s graduate students’ workshop and to the further professional growth of each workshop participant.


  1. Vospitatel'naya deyatel'nost' pedagoga: ucheb. posobie dlya stud. vyssh. ucheb. zavedeniy [Teacher’s social education activity: A manual for students of higher education institutions] / I.A. Kolesnikova, N.B. Borytko, S.D. Polyakov, N.L. Selivanova; Ed. by V.A. Slastenin and I.A. Kolesnikova. 3rd edition, M.: Akademia, 2007.
  2. Zhivaya pedagogika: Otkrytost'. Kul'tura. Nauka. Obrazovanie: Materialy kruglogo stola “Otechestvennaya pedagogika segodnya – dialog kontseptsiy” [Life pedagogy: Openness. Culture. Science. Education: “Russian pedagogy today – a dialogue of concepts” panel proceedings]. M.: Narodnoe obrazovanie, 2004.
  3. Na perekrestkah pedagogiki i psihologii: Sbornik nauchnyh trudov [At the crossroads of education and psychology]. Ed. by A.D. Barbitova, S.D. Polyakov, and I.Yu. Shustova. Ulyanovsk: UlGTU, 2006.
  4. Polyakov, S.D. Tekhnologii vospitaniya: ucheb.-metod. posobie [Social education strategies]. M.: VLADOS, 2002.
  5. Polyakov, S.D. Psihopedagogika vospitaniya i obucheniya: Opyt populyarnoy monografii [Psycho-pedagogy of social education and teaching: A popular monograph]. – M.: Novaya Shkola, 2003.
  6. Polyakov, S.D. V poiskah realisticheskogo vospitaniya [In search for realistic social education]. M.: “Pedagogicheskiy Poisk” Center, 2004.
  7. Polyakov, S.D. Pedagogicheskaya innovatika: ot idei do praktiki [Educational innovation theory: from an idea to practice]. M.: “Pedagogicheskiy poisk” Center, 2007.
  8. Polyakov, S.D. Psikhopedagogika shkoly. Nauchno-populyarnaya monografiya s elementami nauchnoy fantastiki [School psycho-pedagogy. A popular science monograph with elements of science fiction]. Ulyanovsk: UlGPU, 2011.
  9. Polyakov, S.D. Kollektivnoe tvorcheskoe vospitanie: perezagruzka [Collective creative social education: a reload]. M: Izdatel'skaya firma “Sentyabr”, 2015.
  10. Psihologiya i pedagogika: prostranstva vzaimodeystviya. Materialy “kruglogo stola” “Psihologiya i pedagogika sovremennogo obrazovaniya: vozmozhnosti i granitsy vzaimodeystviya” [Psychology and pedagogy: spaces of interaction. “Psychology and pedagogy of contemporary education: possibilities and limits of interaction” panel discussion proceedings]. M.: Shkol'nye tekhnologii, 2010.
  11. Pervoye Sentyabrya (2014, June 11). Pedagogika XXI – vyzovy buduschego [Education for the 21st century – challenges for the future]. Retrieved from http://ps.1september.ru/article.php?ID=201401110

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