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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 6: Attending to Diverse Experiential Histories

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ATTENDING TO DIVERSE EXPERIENTIAL HISTORIES

Vygotsky’s (1960/1997b) perspective on development, as the relation between individual and social environment, is a strengths-based perspective. Rather than contribute to the “negative description of the child” common in psychology at the time, he argued for a picture of the child that highlights “the positive uniqueness that distinguishes the child from the adult” (p. 98). Working to better understand the development of children in relation to their social environments, Vygotsky proposed the derivation of principles for learning-teaching relationships and instruction. In addition, he noted specific conditions that shape children’s lived experiences, such as inequalities in access to formal education and in educational offerings, as well as poverty, homelessness, and the loss of parents. He was acutely aware of the profound impact of children’s social environments and wanted to better understand how children make sense of their experiences under these challenging conditions. Attending to lived experiences reminds educators not only of the unity of individual and social environment, but also of the wide range of experiences that children have prior to and during formal schooling and the possibility that the social environments in which children grow may be more or less consistent with the way schools are structured and the expectations for ← 169 | 170 → children upon entering school. When learning is unified as a process of coming to know, becoming a certain kind of individual and, in turn, relating to others in new ways, and coming to value...

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