The Brilliance of Lev Vygotsky

Think back to your school days. Think of the teachers that lectured at you. Were you expected to memorize the predetermined perspectives and theories of past generations? Did they seem relevant? Today, can you recall what you learned?

I can, sort of. But the subjects I really remember are those that a few remarkable teachers shared with me. Did you have some of those teachers? The ones that drew you in. They were passionate about what they taught. They surrounded you with the subject, connecting it with your personal experiences, with other school subjects, with current events, and with your future. They engaged you. Do you remember what you learned? I do. Now I know that this style of teaching is a learning theory based on the socio-cultural perspective of cognitive development. As I learn more about it, I cannot get it off my mind.

Even the history of Socio-culturalism is truly fascinating. It is based on the work of Soviet psychologist, Lev Vygotsky. In 1936, two years after his death, his name and work were banned for twenty years. It was not until 1978 that American psychologists and educators truly understood the critical importance of his theories. Thus, for over 40 years, psychological theories vitally relevant to society were kept virtually hidden. His work is so relevant to education because he placed learning in a social context. He defined learning as dependent on everything: school environment, social interaction (between and among students, teachers, parents and the larger community), classroom environment, cultural messages, and instructional tools among other things.

Now I will go back to one of my remarkable teachers, Mr. Kingsley, my high school art history teacher. He gave us the opportunity to sculpt clay and carve soap so that we could truly appreciate the genius of artists like Michelangelo and Rodin. He placed art in its historical context and connected it with literature, math and science. He described with passion the personalities, conflicts, and relations of the leaders and artists that created art movements. In order to excite us about museum visits, he told us to look for the one painting, sketch, or object that we would purchase if we could. (Try it; you will look at art in a whole new way.) We discussed with him, and each other, what we thought about art, and he was genuinely interested in our opinions.

What if all classes were taught this way? It is possible. I am learning how, and I cannot imagine teaching any other way.

Until next week, fight on!