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.
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.
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.
There’s a moment halfway through Diane Ravitch’s 1977 book The Revisionists Revised when, pausing to praise the historian Selwyn K. Troen, Ravitch levels the most succinct critique of the Marxist / Critical Theory movement that I have ever read:
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.”
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.
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.
There are several things I like about Cremin’s approach.
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.”
Just read a fascinating book: The Teaching Gap by James Stigler and James Hiebert. Originally published in 1999, this book was recommended by the late Grant Wiggins in an old blog post. When Grant Wiggins recommends a book, I try to read it. He’d lauded it as something of a “modern” classic.
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.
I think I’ve posted in the past about my quest to read my way through some of the “classics” in education, and one of the few definitive lists I was able to find (which says something interesting) is educational writer Grant Wiggins’s, posted on his blog before he died. Last night I found myself poking around on his site and discovering, from the author of Understanding by Design himself, several interesting blog posts about the very topic I’ve found myself thinking a lot about while teaching during this pandemic:
To what extent should we as teachers plan (and how)? To what extent are educational experiences educative — if we had the ends and goals in mind ahead of time?