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Vygotsky and the Promise of Public Education

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Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur

Vygotsky and the Promise of Public Education recontextualizes the scholarship of educator and psychologist Lev Vygotsky, highlighting its relevance to contemporary issues in public education. Emphasizing the historical, social, and cultural formation of conscious awareness, Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur advances Vygotsky’s project with current research in psychology, enabling the redefinition of central concepts such as learning, teaching, and developing. This attention to how we conceptualize learning and teaching is vital to the project of crafting schools to fulfill the promise of public education. Written for teacher candidates, educators, researchers, and policy-makers, this book both recognizes the complications of teaching and learning in public schools and contributes to the scholarship on the critical possibilities of schools as social institutions. The significance of public education for each and every child and teacher, and the future that is created in each student-teacher relationship, is re-centered as, perhaps, the most worthwhile project of our time.

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Chapter 2: Understanding Learning and Development

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UNDERSTANDING LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT

What is learning from a Vygotskian perspective? What does learning “look like” when it is taking place? What sorts of traces does learning leave behind? How are learning and development related? These might seem like rather unusual questions because learning and development are typically understood as taking place “inside” an individual, as hidden inside the head. Learning is often thought of as “cognitive,” and as located in the brain. While Vygotsky recognized the contribution of both biology and nature, he argued that learning and development are also historical, social, and cultural processes. They are historical because they rest on the interrelated histories of human evolution, human cultures, as well as the developmental history of each individual. They are social because they take place between people in the social practices that constitute everyday life in families, schools, and other environments. They are cultural because they rest on the accumulation of culturally constructed technical and psychological tools, especially speech and cultural systems of meaning making. In this chapter, these ideas are elaborated in order to address two more specific questions. First, how does learning take place? Second, what role does learning play in development? Vygotsky was unique in identifying learning and development historically in the social interaction between people with the use of culturally ← 29 | 30 → created technical and psychological tools, rather than as simply a biological process of individual maturation.

The first section of this chapter introduces...

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