The Educated Mind? Vygotsky, Egan and zones

So, I am trying to reduce a stack of reading that is literally three feet high (includes issues of Viz, London Review of Books, Private Eye etc). I am putting in about 4 two hour sessions on the stepper at the gym per week, and the stack is down to two or so feet…

The quote below is from one of tonight’s (re)reads – “Hyperlectures: Schole: Teaching culture in a non-linear environment.” I printed it off at least ten years ago and it now no longer seems to be on t’web.

“Lev Vygotsky developed the concept of a zone of proximal development to describe “how learners can be aided through contact with those who have just passed through their curent developmental stage, able to serve as models and guides.” Vygotsky envisaged this zone predominantly as a linear track distinguishing between what a student can perform alone and what he or she can do with the help of others. Kieran Egan rereads the zone “as a space for expansion in all directions outward from a central node,” thereby transforming the zone into a space descriptive of overall didactic transference, and calls for “a deliberate teaching effort to extend the zone, into the most advanced kinds of understanding.” He then continues: ‘Students may grasp only the haziest hint of the more distant resonances set off by such teaching, but that does not mater. Its purpose is to create a dimenstion toward which the student’s understanding may grasp.'”

And who is this Egan chap? You know where sez

Kieran Egan (born 1942) is a contemporary educational philosopher and a student of the classics, anthropology, cognitive psychology, and cultural history.[1] He has written on issues in education and child development, with an emphasis on the uses of imagination and the intellectual stages (Egan calls them understandings) that occur during a person’s intellectual development. He has questioned the work of Jean Piaget and progressive educators, notably Herbert Spencer and John Dewey.
He currently works at Simon Fraser University.[2] His major work is The Educated Mind.

The book – The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding – sounds interesting…

Criticism of previous education theories

Egan argues that much of educational theorizing pivots around three basic ideas of what the aim of education should be:

to educate people in content that would give them a “privileged and rational view of reality.”[1] (Plato). Here we find the ideas: reason and knowledge can provide a privileged access to the world; knowledge drives the student mind development; education is an epistemological process.
to realize the right of every individual to pursue his own educational curriculum through self-discovery (Rousseau). Here we also find the ideas that the student development drives knowledge and that education is a psychological process.
to Socialize the child – to homogenize children and ensure that they can fulfill a useful role in society, according to its values and beliefs.

Egan argues in chapter one that, “these three ideas are mutually incompatible, and this is the primary cause of our long-continuing educational crisis”[2]; the present educational program in much of the West attempts to integrate all three of these incompatible ideas, resulting in a failure to effectively achieve any of the three[3].

Following the natural mind development

Egan’s proposed solution to the education problem which he identifies is to: let learning follow the natural way the human mind develops and understands. According to Egan, individuals proceed through five kinds of understanding:

Somatic – (before language acquisition) the physical abilities of one’s own body are discovered; somatic understanding includes the communicating activity that precedes the development of language; as the child grows and learns language, this kind of understanding survives in the way children “model their overall social structure in play”.
Mythic – concepts are understood in terms of binary opposites (e.g. Tall/Short or Good/Evil), images, metaphor, and story-structure.
Romantic – the limits of reality are discovered and rational thinking begins. Egan connects this stage with the desire to the limits of reality, an interest with the transcendent qualities in things, and “engagement with knowledge represented as a product of human emotions and intentions” (Egan, 1997, page 254)
Philosophic – the discovery of principles which underlie patterns and limits found in data; ordering knowledge into coherent general schemes.
Ironic – it involves the “mental flexibility to recognize how inadequately flexible are our minds, and the languages we use, to the world we try to represent in them”; it therefore includes the ability to consider alternative philosophic explanations.

“Drawing from an extensive study of cultural history and evolutionary history and the field of cognitive psychology and anthropology, Egan gives a detailed account of how these various forms of understanding have been created and distinguished in our cultural history”.[4]

Each stage includes a set of “cognitive tools”, as Egan calls them, that enrich our understaning of reality. Egan suggests that recapitulating these stages is an alternative to the contradictions between the Platonic, Rousseauian and socialising goals of education.


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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2 Responses to The Educated Mind? Vygotsky, Egan and zones

  1. leavergirl says:

    My elementary school teacher used the Vygotsky method to great advantage. She invited several of us girls on the cusp of reading (we were second graders) to an evening session where several third grade girls were invited who were good readers, and who encouraged us to read to them, one on one. The teacher was there but stayed out of it. That’s when it clicked for me… my whole world changed in an instant. I went home a reader. I still get goosebumps, remembering.

    Then the several of us could act as guides to our own classmates. Brilliant. She was a mean ol’ Teach but she sure did this one right.

    • dwighttowers says:

      Yep, sounds like she knew what she was doing. I forget who (Paul Goodman, someone else?) points out how absurd it is that we have cohorts of same age children together so endlessly and how it amplifies their weaknesses and suppresses their strengths… Should try to dig that out….

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