Vygotsky: My Final Take

I have to be honest, my deep dive the other week into the mysteries of Lev Vygotsky’s Thought and Language left me, in the parlance of today’s politics, “harmed” (and possibly “triggered”).  By the end of a few nights of reading Vygotsky’s technical sentences and lofty concepts, my brain felt like a Belgian waffle.  Vygotsky talks about the internalization of concepts; after reading his work, I had internalized a sense of failure.  It’s tough going, dense and abstract, not exactly the kind of thing you can absorb while relaxing on the couch at night, stealing glances at “Lone Star Law.” It takes a sustained effort before you finally start to pick up what he’s saying.  Then you turn to Page 2.

Amazon.com: Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological  Processes (8601300367804): Vygotsky, L S, Cole, Michael, John-Steiner,  Vera, Scribner, Sylvia, Souberman, Ellen: Books
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There’s a lot there: One chapter of Vygotsky’s “Thought and Language”

Vygotsky Notes: Chapter 6, Thought and Language

It has taken me some time, but I spent the past week working my way through a single chapter of Vygotsky’s Thought and Language.  This post is a summary of some of the remarkable things I found in there.  I choose this chapter because it contains mention of Vygotsky’s famous concept: the Zone of Proximal Development.  But, my goodness, there is so much more in just this single (lengthy) chapter.

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Time to Read Vygotsky

Lev Vygotsky - Wikipedia

I’ve had Lev Vygotsky’s “Thought and Language” on my to-read pile (located on the floor of my office) for sometime.  More importantly, I’ve had Vygotsky himself on my “to-read” pile for sometime, too.  I wanted to take some words here to mentally run through my understanding of him and my context for encountering him — and to describe my initial understanding of his theories — before I write about what I learn from reading his work.

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Taking the Long View

There have been two experiences lately that have helped me gain a very different perspective on my role as an educator.  More specifically, both experiences have shown me just how narrowly we teachers too often view our roles and view our students.  The first “experience” I had was reading Lawrence Cremin’s work on educational history.  I’ve written about that previously, but I’ll say a bit more about it.  The second experience — an ongoing experience — has been parenting.

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Cremin II: Public Education and the Education of the Public (1976)

Yesterday I blogged about finishing Lawrence Cremin’s 1976 book, Traditions of American Education.  Today I happened to pick up his other book from the same year, simply called Public Education.  First of all, a short side note: I love bland, overly broad titles like this.  The other day I was reviewing one of my advisee’s grades with her when we noticed that her geometry class has only one main academic “standard” simply called “Geometry.” That’d be like if I started off my 12th grade classes with a unit just called “English.” I could just say: “Look, I don’t want to restrict what we’re going to learn.” 

Public Education (The John Dewey Society Lecture) by Cremin Lawrence A.  (1976-04-01) Hardcover: Amazon.com: Books

Anyway, I’d actually begun this book first, but had put it down and, frankly, just sort of lost it in the swirling chaos that is the living room of every family with a toddler on the loose.  My son is now tall enough that he can just reach up onto counters and tables and select what he wants: box of cookies, steak knife, major credit cards.  It sort of like living with one of those Great Danes who can just walk over and eat off the table (except with less self control, in my son’s case).  So this book had ended up buried in no-man’s land behind the couch and it wasn’t until today that I found it again.  I’m glad I did.

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Lawrence Cremin

Having read quite a bit by Diane Ravitch, I always wanted to go back and read more by her mentor, Lawrence Cremin, the so-called “dean” of American educational history writers and the former president of Teachers College, Columbia University.  Last month I got two more new Cremin books and I’ve just finished one, called Traditions of American Education.

cremin - traditions american education - AbeBooks

There are several things I like about Cremin’s approach.

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Skinner’s Metaphors

The other day I was standing in line outside the coffee shop waiting on my order, as one does now in this time of COVID.  My local coffee shop has erected a giant, rooved enclosure right outside their ordering window, with heaters and everything, and I was standing there, waiting for my drink, perusing a book of educational philosophy I’d been delinquent in returning and was on my way to do so when I came across one of the chapters I’d been skipping over for some time: behaviorism.  I leafed to the end of the chapter, where the sample writings are, and found myself transfixed by one of the passages, a write-up by BF Skinner called “The Etymology of Teaching.” 

Skinner and Behaviorism – Harvard University Brain Tour
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Teaching Ethics in School

The other day I happened to spend some time leafing back through an old copy of The English Journal that had ended up on my office floor, when I came across a really fascinating article that I thought bears commenting on.

It’s an article written earlier this year by a professor named Ross Collin about the relationship between ethics and what we read in English class.  It’s called “Four Models of Literature and Ethics.” The premise is that the author has identified four different conceptual models that contributors to The English Journal have used, knowingly or not, to explain how to teach ethical knowledge while reading literature.

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