28 March 2013

Development Is Ours


Development, Part 0

Lenin and the GOELRO Plan, by Pavel Filonov

Development Is Ours

Introduction to a 10-part Course: “Development, Rural and Urban”

Next week, after Easter, SADTU Political Education Forum begins posting a ten-part course on Development (Rural and Urban). This will be the second of four ten-week courses to be run through this e-mail channel, and blog, in 2013.

Some Relevant Quotations on “Development

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Marx/Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848

Communism = Soviet Power + Electrification
V I Lenin, 1921

What we want is to combine in our process of inquiry the action of the forms of thought with a criticism of them. The forms of thought must be studied in their essential nature and complete development: they are at once the object of research and the action of that object. This is Dialectic, instead of being brought to bear upon the categories from without, it is immanent in their own action.
G W F Hegel, Shorter Logic (1830)

“When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master, that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, 1871

“The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”
Marx/Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848


“Development”, like many other powerful words, including “Freedom” and “Democracy”, had a meaning in revolutionary philosophy long before it had a vulgar bourgeois economists’ meaning.

Part of the purpose of our studies is therefore always, and with deliberation, to reclaim the political language that our revolutionary predecessors pioneered and left to us, and to take it back from the bourgeois demagogues who constantly try to steal it.

Development is the interior unfolding of a unitary phenomenon or system, propelled by the struggle of opposites within it. Development is the essence of dialectics. It is dialectics in motion. It is the essence of change. This revolutionary meaning of the word “development” is the only one that has a clear definition and an intentional purpose. It means the development of people.

The vulgar economists’ definition of the word “development” is a vague gesture in the direction of more infrastructure, lowering the cost of doing business, a higher GDP, and other such “indicators” or presumed generally-beneficial goods expediently selected to suit the occasion. In the US slang, it is “motherhood and apple pie”.

On grander occasions, the brandished indicators may be an internationally-endorsed set of arbitrary “development goals”, which, though globally celebrated, nevertheless fail to rise above the ad hoc and the eclectic, because they continue to evade the dialectical meaning of “development”.

The obfuscation of the word “development” is as deliberate as our attempts to clarify it. This is because in actual human society, development is class struggle, with winners and losers. There is no such thing as a “win-win” class struggle. There is no such thing as a “tide that lifts all the boats”. Some of the boats are tied to the bottom.

Bourgeois economists, and Imperialism generally, although it has manifestly failed worldwide to employ even half of the people and to provide for them adequately, are obliged to pretend that there can be such a thing as generally-beneficial development that does not challenge the capitalist system.

Hence they have stolen our word and hidden its true meaning, in an attempt to deceive us. We must take it back.

The picture is Filonov’s representation of Lenin and the ground-breaking “GOELRO” plan that included the electrification of the Soviet Union.

  • To download the full Development, Rural and Urban course in PDF files, please click here

22 March 2013

SADTU’s Quality Public Education Campaign


Education, Part 10a

SADTU’s Quality Public Education Campaign

SADTU recently launched a Promotion of Quality Public Education Campaign.

Says SADTU’s Human Rights Day (Sharpeville Day) Statement (attached):

“The national leadership of SADTU will soon embark on a nationwide information drive and the idea is to inform members, parents and communities about the initiative.

“The decision to come up with such a campaign is in line with SADTU’s 2030 Vision’s strategic pillar of Creating a Learning Nation.”

This is the tenth part of the Education course and the last item before we move to a new course on this platform, which will be the CU course on “Development”.

But Communist University courses are always open-ended.

We will therefore continue to post on SADTU’s Quality Public Education Campaign, as an extension of this course and for the record, as and when material is published that illuminates SADTU’s idea of quality in education.

21 March 2013

SACP on Education

Education, Part 10

SACP on Education

The attached document contains extracts from the South Africa Road to Socialism (“SARS”), adopted at the 13th National Congress held in Ongoye, KZN, in July, 2012.

SARS says, among other things:

“Education is a major terrain for the battle of ideas. It can be used to empower the working class and popular strata, but it can and typically is used to perpetuate the ideologies of oppressive ruling classes.

“... The SACP must wage a struggle for curriculum transformation aimed at empowering the working class and the majority of our people to play a meaningful role in the transformation of society.

“... In waging the struggle for access to education it is important that that struggle is coupled with the struggle for the teaching of progressive ideas throughout our education system.”

The document also includes an extract from a media release of the SACP in February, 2013 during a public controversy started by the government over the naming of teaching as an “essential service”, a term which has implications for teachers’ rights in labour law.

In the course of that quotation the SACP comes out clearly in favour of education for liberation, and for People’s Education for People’s Power.

The SACP is therefore on record as being ready for a struggle over the nature of education in our society.

In addition, in the document, there are words describing the intended Political Education regime inside the SACP.

15 March 2013

Languages, Politics and Education


Education, Part 9

Languages, Politics and Education

“The ANC is committed to the development of indigenous languages. We call on our government to prepare for the introduction of the teaching of our indigenous languages by 2014.”
ANC January 8th Statement, 2013

South Africa has 11 official languages, and these are not the only languages spoken, read and written in, in our country.

The latest South African legislation having to do with languages is the Use of Official Languages Act, 2012, gazetted on 1 October 2012.

South Africa has a Pan South African Languages Board, and there is a separate institution known as Kha Ri Gude Literacy Campaign, whose several objectives include the teaching of mother-tongue literacy, basic numeracy, and oral English to “adults who missed out on their schooling .

What is the concern of the Communist University in relation to languages? What would be the matters to discuss, about languages, in Communist University study circles, political schools and e-mail forums?

These questions must remain open, but we can attempt some answers.

Language in the Communist University

The Communist University has its own language policy. It is that participants may use any language of their choice. It is not the responsibility of the speaker or the writer to translate his or her output.

Of course, this may mean that less people read or hear what the contributor is saying. That is something that contributors have to keep in mind and make choices about.

But in principle, we prefer that comrades use their first language, even though, in practice, most of the time they use English. We prefer that comrades use their first language because if they do not, then the spreading of our political dialogue will only reach as far as the boundaries of the English-speaking part of the population.

The Communist University wants to break through that barrier.

Our Communist University objective is dialogue. The Communist University’s first and main necessity, therefore, is to foster reading and writing, and to adopt a method that is most conducive to the development of reading and writing habits among the participants.

There are other skills of communication, and we will set aside a full course called Agitprop that will cover song, graphic design, layout, clothing, and all kinds of means of expression.

But here we are dealing with verbal communication, and from the point of view of language. Let us repeat: The Communist University wants people to compose their thoughts and express themselves in their first language, or mother-tongue. Therefore, the CU needs to apply its mind to the means by which people can be more able to do that.


This will involve the development of dictionaries in all of the official languages that do not have them, which are all nine of the African official languages (isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, seSotho sa Lebowa, siSwati, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga) of South Africa. Such a project could be assisted by the use of Wiktionary, a collaborative project for the development of language dictionaries (not translation dictionaries. An example is the “Wikamusi ya Kiswahili”, which contains 13,780 Kiswahili words, defined in Kiswahili. Every language needs a dictionary in the language itself. Every language needs a literature, composed and published in the language. Every language needs production of new literature in the language.

Language in School

The institution of 11 “official” languages in South Africa, sanctified by the Constitution, is as far as we know based on “human rights” precepts. Consequently, because human rights are passive, what has been done so far has not been very effective in terms of bringing the languages to life.

The teaching of children in the mother-tongue that they have from home when they enter school for the first time may be a human right. But if so, then it is not yet being well observed in South Africa. Motivation for change in this regard comes not from “human rights” but from the relatively poor rate of success in attempting to educate people in languages (English or Afrikaans) that they did not learn in the home and therefore do not, in the beginning, know.

Imposing on young children the stress of attempting, at a very young age, to learn in language that they do not understand and have not yet been taught, is a cruelty and of course, it is not successful. On average, children who are presented with this hurdle, do not advance as fast as children who are welcomed into the formal education system in their own language.

Teaching of children first in their mother-tongue, and then teaching them English, using their mother tongue, with this transition taking place over several years of schooling, is now a political demand.

Broader Political Considerations in relation to language

Politics, from the communist point of view, is the development of people, this being a social process that to happen properly must involve all. The National Democratic Revolution, to succeed and to complete its historic project, must organise the entire country into a communication, and a constant dialogue.

To do so by imposing, whether by design or by default, one single language, is something we as the SACP do not support, no matter what may have been thought in the past about nations needing to have a single, common language.


It follows that the matter of translation must be approached with care. It will not do to have the two former colonial languages, or more likely only one of them (English) being used as the bridge for translation between the speakers of indigenous languages. Such a situation will carry too much of a danger that the English language, which is enormously larger in vocabulary and literature than the South African indigenous languages are, will cease from being a medium, and will instead become a dominant source.

Hence the problem of translation is not prior, but is downstream. Priority is the creation of new indigenous-language literature, including a first dictionary, in each language. The publication of existing literature is a prerequisite.

The problem of translation is now the problem of serving a culture that is expressed in multiple languages, where such a culture exists. This is a different project from the colonial translation project, which had the aim of dominating the indigenous language-systems, taking ownership of them, and making a bridge by which all of the mother-tongue intellectuals could enter and dwell within the realm of the colonial lingua franca.

This distinction has to be asserted politically. Once accepted, it has technological implications which also have to be asserted. If not, then the gains won politically will be smuggled away in the technological execution.

An example

Hugh Tweedie has contributed the following link: http://www.njas.helsinki.fi/salama/index.html

This web site appears to present an automatic generator of dictionaries, which would in principle be a good thing, and a very good thing.

But it is not very clear as to whether these are what it calls “monolingual” dictionaries (i.e. proper dictionaries that define words in the language itself), or whether they are dictionaries which are definitions of words in English. If the latter is the case, then one would want to look elsewhere, because the mediation of languages via English translation is not what we want in the post-colonial time.


The compilation of dictionaries of our official languages need not be done by speakers of the language, or even by South Africans, and it may even be done by, or assisted by, machines. But the first destination must be a pure, stand-alone dictionary in each language.

The second step is making means of translating directly from any one of the official languages to any other one, and not via a coding in English. If we had such an engine, then we could take a giant step forward.

Translation requires a critical conscience. Machines cannot, and never will be able to, provide such a critical conscience. The translation is a new work, with a new, or an additional, author. This, too, must be politically asserted in contradiction to those bourgeois who would commodify everything, up to and including the spoken word and the air upon which it is borne.

  • There is no original reading-text for this item. Please assist the CU by posting suitable texts, links and references to texts, discussing the problems of language in politics and in education.

11 March 2013

Good Intentions


Education, Part 8a

Good Intentions

The South African Council for Education (SACE), which is a registration council, has as a slogan “Towards Excellence in Education”.

Excelling what?

The Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign (QLTC; see attached) has the slogan “Ensuring Quality Learning and Teaching for All”.

What quality is it talking about?

Do any of the stakeholders (Departmental Official, Teachers, Learners, Parents and Community) think that “quality” means anything more than “good”, or “nice”?

The intentions are good. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Five years after the QLTC was signed, the teachers are being victimised. The obligations of the other four named stakeholder groups are forgotten.

Yet it was the teachers, and the SADTU teachers in particular, who “came to the party” with “Assessment for Learning”, under the auspices of the Curtis Nkondo Professional Development Institute, created by themselves. The teachers acted to make the QLTC a reality.

SADTU’s 2030 Vision statement, passed two years later in 2010 (attached) commits to (among the many other bullet points), “creating, through our classroom commitments, a nation that learns and advances its civilisation.”

It goes on to say:

“The 2030 Vision represents a turning point in the history of SADTU and the pursuit of NDR objectives within the teacher community.

“The Vision is based on the view that we need to build a new teacher for an emerging South African society, rather than simply normalise something which was never normal.”

SADTU has taken repeated initiatives. The statement of SADTU’s Quality Public Education Campaign, already launched on 8 March 2013, is expected to be published very soon.

Let us hope that this new campaign will be the occasion for discussion of everything that a SADTU “Quality Public Education Campaign” can possibly mean, and indeed, of what the QLTC could have meant. Because if it just means, to those who hear it, “better than bad”, or “higher quality than low quality”, then we are no further along than we were with the QLTC so-called non-negotiables, five years ago.

Actually, far from needing non-negotiability, South Africa needs a negotiation – a dialogue – about the quality of education; that is to say, about the nature of education, and what it is for. Merely declaring “non-negotiability” does not convert what is quantitatively relative into something qualitatively absolute. Such a declaration only reveals a desire for firmness, while it displays a lack of firmness, a lack of concreteness, and equivocation between multiple bullet-points.

This course, so far, has explored what education might be, in its largest conception. We have found that the process of education is inseparable from politics, inseparable from from liberation, and inseparable from a struggle for People’s Power. The SADTU “Quality Public Education Campaign” can take this exploration further, and popularise the struggle for People’s Education for People’s Power.

If the battle for education is to be won, by the country, with the teachers in the vanguard, then SADTU’s Quality Public Education Campaign will have to open up the word “quality” in particular for examination, and not take it for granted as an unquestioned still centre of things, accepted by all, but show it up boldly as the actual site of struggle.

“Quality” in education has to mean, not a fixed thing, but the idea of change itself. Qualitative change is change in nature, which is revolutionary change. Quality not merely quantitative or marginal change, or “improvement” such as the QLTC “Non-Negotiables” statement mentions in its first line.

The purpose of education is to change the world, and not to reproduce the status quo. SADTU recognises this.

Qualitative education will recognise, as Lev Vygotsky recognised, that it is qualitative crises that mark the education of a child in its development towards becoming an adult. It will recognise that these intense but necessary crises cannot be adequately comprehended quantitatively (i.e. by numbers).

Qualitative education will recognise that the social life of adults, as a community, must also pass through similar, but new, qualitative, revolutionary changes, and that the preparation of children for life must therefore also be, quite openly and explicitly, the preparation of children as revolutionaries.

No other kind of education will do for South Africa. This should be the message of SADTU’s Quality Public Education Campaign.

07 March 2013



Education, Part 8


The writing of this Communist University course on Education has been planned for years. It has been in active preparation for more than a year. But it is being written as it is published, week by week.

So far, we have managed to tackle the main theoretical load that the course must carry and continue to carry in its annual re-presentations on the four CU channels.

We have looked at theories of mass public education such as N F S Grundtvig’s “Schools for Life” idea that survives in the form of the Danish folk-high-school movement; Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”; and the Cuban “Universalisation of the University”. We have seen, through Lenin’s eyes, that all education is political. We have seen how the political conflict plays out in the realm of conventional theories of formal education, and through Jean Lave’s eyes, we have seen the relevance of Marx’s Third Thesis on Feuerbach, among others. We have understood, through Mike Cole’s, Andy Blunden’s and Lev Vygotsky’s eyes, that the separation of schooling from life is a mistake, and that the development of people is one historic and revolutionary process.

As with previous Communist University courses, the last parts of the course on Education have been reserved for the more current “problematic” facing South Africa, in the light of the theoretical review that is comprised in the earlier parts. And now, but not for the first time in the CU courses, we find that life has conspired, on cue, to dramatise the matters under review, and that a real-life crisis presents itself at the same moment as we arrive at consideration of the potential for conflict.

This week - on the 5th of March 2013 to be precise - the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) called for Minister of Education Motshekga’s resignation, and announced its intention “to mobilize all our members for an indefinite strike as a response to the assault on collective bargaining, our basic right as workers and to promote quality public education.”

Tomorrow, on International Women’s Day (8th March 2013), at a special event in Katlehong, Ekurhuleni, SADTU will launch its Campaign for Quality Public Education.

Thus, in the same week that the CU Education course was already planned to look at the South African educational conjuncture, we have a confrontation between the education workers and the political Minister.

We also have a potentially revolutionary move by the organised educators in SADTU to redefine education qualitatively, so that it can respond to South Africa’s historical need for popular development, as opposed to the narrow school curriculum dictated by the bourgeois imperialist hegemony that has still not released its long-term grip on South Africa’s educational system.

In the latter respects, SADTU’s intentions are in keeping with the ANC’s January 8th Statement of 2013 (attached), which in turn reflects the transactions of the 53rd ANC National Conference that took place the previous month, in Mangaung. The January 8th Statement calls for major, integrated, educational initiatives. It also declares the Decade of the Cadre, and declares 2013 to be the year of unity in action towards socio-economic freedom.

Among the initiatives mentioned in the ANC January 8th Statement are these:

  • Internal education of ANC members, politically, generally and academically
  • Literacy and general education of the community led by the ANC at local level
  • Assistance by ANC-led volunteers to the formal-education schools in the localities.
  • Expansion of access to education, including to Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges
  • Commitment to the development of indigenous languages and to their use in schools

If it was proceeding nicely, the ANC’s programme was going to grow into the kind of co-ordinated raising of political and general culture of the nation that we would want to see in the light of the first seven parts of this course on Education.

But instead, the Minister of Education has thrown a series of provocations in the path of the ANC’s own programme, and she appears to be getting support in this provocative, aggressive and destructive stance from the ANC Secretary-General, Cde Gwede Mantashe.

Mantashe has even, this week, gone to the extent of digging up a dead issue (“essential service”), as if in the hope that it may serve to provoke yet more trouble. He must be aware of the SACP’s positive and constructive intervention of a month earlier which said in no uncertain terms: Drop the Concept “Essential Service”!

The SACP’s statement comes out plainly in favour of education for liberation: People’s Education for People’s Power!

Now SADTU is taking up the banner of Quality Public Education and aspiring to leadership of a revolutionary kind in this field.

How did this reversal happen, so that while SADTU and the SACP are still on the line of march of the January 8th Statement, the ANC has taken another road, a road of provocation? Cde Mantashe appears to be claiming the position of Humpty-Dumpty in “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, arrogantly claiming to be master of the meaning of words, like this:

In keeping with the CU’s standard practice of presenting original documents, we will attach, and make available by download, the following documents:

  • ANC January 8th 2013 Statement
  • A Compilation of SACP, SADTU and ANC statements from February and March 2013

In the next item within this part of the course we plan to report on SADTU’s Campaign for Quality Public Education.

03 March 2013

A Misunderstanding


Education, Part 7b

 ZPD (“Zone of Proximal Development”) Diagram from “Afl” programme material

A Misunderstanding

To conclude this part we will show how different and even opposite interpretations of learning theories can arise. We will try to show that the theory of Vygotsky, famous as it now is, can be followed in name, even while other, and even contrary, theories are being advanced.

Our text (attached) consists of excerpts from Module 1 of the Assessment for Learning (Afl) programme, which is now (2013) in its second year. The programme is run by the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) via its Curtis Nkondo Professional Development Institute and was developed by staff of the Tshwane University of Technology.

This programme is admirable in many ways, and it is successful. It also marks a clear advance for SADTU into the overall leadership of education, above and beyond its role as a trade union and as a professional association, as previously conceived. With the Afl programme, SADTU is moving confidently on to ground that it did not fully occupy before, and it is doing so at a crucial moment in South Africa’s history.

Quantity and Quality

However, in this course of ours (now coming to the conclusion of its 7th part out of ten weekly parts) we are focussed on certain matters, which we have hitherto illustrated by comparing the ideas of Lev Vygotsky and those of Jean Piaget. The Afl document we are quoting has a section headed “Theories of Learning”. It sets out the rational basis for the further proceedings of its course. It does not mention Piaget. It does rely quite heavily on Vygotsky, but in a strangely misunderstood fashion.

This misunderstanding reveals a particular difficulty in education.

Vygotsky was concerned to discover how children can, and do, successfully develop into mature adult members of society, which in his case was a dynamic, optimistic, revolutionary society – the Soviet Union, in its early years.

Vygotsky distinguished between qualitative development and quantitative learning. Like all communists, his presumption was that qualitative, substantive change of nature is always the product of revolutionary crisis, whereas quantitative change is marginal, incremental, gradual and cumulative.

There is a relationship between the two kinds of change. In any given case, quantitative change will bring matters to the point where qualitative change is possible, and therefore at once, inevitable. This understanding of gradual, quantitative change, leading to precipitate, revolutionary change, is one of the “tools of analysis” of Marxist practice.

Vygotsky studied the crises of childhood and adolescence, and found much more in them than trouble. He found that this is where the most important gains are made. This is where “development” happens, and where development means something different and greater than learning.

Learning knowledge, of itself, does not cause a child to “grow up”. Accumulated knowledge only causes the child to complete tasks which, being complete, present the child with what Vygotsky calls a “predicament”. This means that the child cannot go on living in its old way, but must make a risky, frightening jump into a new way of living and being.

Now see how our Afl document describes Vygotsky’s ideas:

“Vygotsky argues that it is within the ZPD that all learning takes places. The implications of Vygotsky's theories for teachers is noted by Allrich (n.d.) who notes that as learning proceeds, a portion of the Proximal Zone becomes part of the Present Knowledge, and as a consequence, a smaller Proximal Zone remains.”

This is a misunderstanding. Vygotsky actually says that most learning takes place between crises. The kind of learning that takes place between crises is measurable, because it is by nature quantitative.

The much more important qualitative kind of change requires a special kind of attention. It is not like “all learning”. Vygotsky calls it “neoformation”, and he says that when such a transition is approaching, it is not helpful to expend a lot of energy on other things.

Let us now look at what Andy Blunden wrote in an e-mail to the CU:

“The problem is that zoped was not a big concept for Vygotsky or his following, but when the theory got to the US (which as it happens is where Vygotsky got the concept in the first place) it really took hold. So in American renditions of Vygotsky's ideas, ZPD is transformed into the key concept. But like I said in my speech on Child Development, who would try to teach kids things they either couldn't do even when you helped them, or something they could do already without help?

“The point is to be aware of that obvious fact, and not wait until development happens somehow unaided, and the teacher can say "Oh Johnny can now add up so let's teach him addition." (which is what Piaget tends to tell us.) The tricky bit, which is that what Vygotsky was concerned with, is to know just which activity learning will bring in its wake a qualitative development - when a penny's worth of learning turns into a pound’s worth of development. It is also a good idea to keep in mind when you are teaching a group (as you always are) and the kids are helping each other.”

The above should be sufficient to defend Vygotsky’s ideas, and to show that it is not all right to exchange, as in the diagram shown at the top (and again in the attached document), the word “development” for “learning goals”, or vice versa, and still attribute the idea to Vygotsky.

Learning goals are nominated by teachers or perhaps by the Department of Basic Education. Development, on the other hand, is a matter of necessity. The necessity is primarily social, and is bound up with biology and with aging. Development is not about facts and information.

In terms of the Afl, not much harm is done by this misunderstanding. The brief setting-out of the theoretical stall, even if it falsifies Vygotsky, serves the good purpose of preparing the ground for a necessary and beneficial discussion of Learning Intentions and Success Criteria. These are undoubtedly vital pedagogical tools, and crucial to the assessment of learning, which is a good thing.

But the document fails to understand Vygotsky, and it therefore leaves unfinished business that is arguably even more important than the kind of learning that is being assessed and measured. This unfinished business is the growing-up of children into society as mature adults.

There is an assumption that those who get jobs, will be all right. And there is a second assumption, that if the children are well prepared they will all get jobs. Whereas there is nothing in history, or in logic, that makes either of these propositions to be any more than very unsafe assumptions.

What can teachers do about that? Vygotsky suggests that teachers should first keep their eyes on another prize, which is development of the personality within society.

Vygotsky’s is a revolutionary suggestion. When teachers are ready for it, they will have to take it up. To paraphrase Vygotsky, this is a neoformation waiting to happen.

02 March 2013

Wooden Piaget


Education, Part 7a

Wooden Piaget

Below are three diagrams, representing Jean Piaget’s periodisation of childhood into four stages. These examples are taken from what seem to be hundreds of different versions available on the Internet (for more, click here).

The stages are clearly treated as, in Andy Blunden’s words, “a nature-given process of maturation”. The discrete way that Piaget names them (“Sensorimotor”, “Preoperational”, “Concrete Operational”, and “Formal Operational”), is indicative of this.

Vygotsky, in contrast, marks the stages by describing the crises of transition from one to the next, and all of these are social crises. Vygotsky sees the typical features of the stages as cumulative, while it is in the critical jumps between stages that qualitative change is achieved, according to Vygotsky.

Vygotsky’s periodisation is correctly called “stages of development”, but Piaget does not recognise the social action of child and society. For Piaget, the stages arrive, "Natural History" style, and child and society accept the changes, passively. Vygotsky is describing the active development of subjectivity and hence, development of freedom. Piaget misses this. Piaget is wooden, plodding, pedantic.

In defence of his reputation against the critique of Vygotsky (see attached), Piaget is evasive.

Piaget’s method is categorical. When confronted with a difficulty, he invents another category. In this way, he becomes more and more dense and elaborate, and appears more and more clever to those, and they are millions, who would rather not have a critical method, because a critical method makes demands that people do not always want to meet. What is really dull, can take on an aura or mystique, and this is what has happened with Piaget.

The crude difference between Piaget and Vygotsky is that Piaget is lazier than Vygotsky. Hence it is only in Piaget’s last paragraph that he gets to the crux of Vygotsky’s message, where he (Piaget) says:

“I have not discussed in this commentary the question of socialization as a condition of intellectual development, although Vygotsky raises it several times.”

Having at last acknowledged this, Piaget hastens at once to contradict Vygotsky with a bald assertion:

“Actions, whether individual or interpersonal, are in essence co‐ordinated and organized by the operational structures which are spontaneously constructed in the course of mental development.”

Spontaneously constructed?

What is spontaneous, is not constructed. What is constructed, is not spontaneous. These two terms are not compatible. This phrase, “spontaneously constructed”, demonstrates in a nutshell what Piaget’s problem is. It is that he cannot bear to contemplate the free-willing subject. Whereas for Vygotsky, learning to be free, by being free, is exactly what it is all about.

Piagetian diagrams:


01 March 2013

Blunden on Vygotsky


Education, Part 7

Blunden on Vygotsky

“The whole process of becoming human is driven, from beginning to end, by the striving of the child to overcome the limitations to its self‐determination and emancipate itself from imprisonment by its own drives. This drive for emancipation then proves to be the only genuinely human drive, the drive which knows no end and transcends all barriers.” (p.12)

Vygotsky understands the movement from quantity to quality, and he understands the pursuit of freedom as being the source and basis of human morality. In both of these matters, we are talking about the development of the human fee-willing Subject, individual and collective.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, in the Communist Manifesto, wrote that in the classless society, the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

A psychologist by the name of Mark Edwards, who has a blog called “Integral World”, writes about Vygotsky and Piaget, as follows:

“In the end, Piaget's view of development is that of the internal maturation of individually located organising structures. As he puts it,

"Actions, whether individual or interpersonal, are in essence co-ordinated and organized by the operational structures which are spontaneously constructed in the course of mental development." (Piaget, 1962)

“... What really separates the two is that Vygotsky saw all higher development, i.e. non-biological, as mediated through cultural artefacts and through the "accumulated products of prior generations".”

This ties in with the philosophy of Andy Blunden that we have explored elsewhere, whereby all human activity can be understood as involving two or more people, mediated by an artefact, or plural artefacts. This typical unit of humanity, Blunden calls a “collaborative project”. Edwards’ diagram, above, illustrates this kind of always-developmental relationship.

In an e-mail, Andy Blunden has written:

“I think Piaget is the icon for the point of view that children mature, and as they become ready, teachers have to deliver the child the ideas they are able to understand. So there is a nature-given process of maturation underlying the practice of teachers who only have to supply what the children want.

“Vygotsky turns this around. It is the interactions children have with parents and teachers, etc., which drive their intellectual development.”

Andy Blunden’s lecture “Vygotsky’s Theory of Child Development”

(See also Andy Blunden’s definition of “neoformation” on page 7 of the text. “Neoformation” is a new – to the child, at the time - form of social interaction)

Let us quote:

 “So it is clear under these circumstances that it is the position of this central neoformation in the Zone of Proximal Development which is crucial if the teacher is interested in assisting the child in making a development, rather than in simply learning to do more things.

“On the other hand, during the long stable periods of development, that is precisely what the child needs. The central line of development is the maturing and consolidation of the central neoformation which characterises the whole stage of development. And during the early phase of that stage, while a child is still stabilising the neoformation of that stage, operating at the higher level is beyond the child’s imagination and reach. This only becomes possible when the central neoformation has matured.

“So during the stable periods of development, the social situation of development obliges the child to strive to master the psychological functions lying within limits imposed by her social situation of development and as a result of this striving, the central neoformation develops and leads the whole process of development.

“Vygotsky assumes that carers and teachers will be aware of those psychological functions which lie within the Zone of Proximal Development, and which Neoformations are central and which peripheral. Appropriate instruction which promotes the striving of the child and the differentiation and growth of the central neoformation will assist development, whereas efforts to interest the child in other activity, which involves peripheral lines of development or are beyond the child’s age level of ability, will not be expected to bring any benefit in development.

“During the latter stages of that stable phase of development, the child begins to be able to perceive new possibilities, and by assisting the child, the teacher or carer may be able to see that qualitatively new functions are coming to be within the child’s reach, and instruction should be directed at encouraging these new forms of activity.

“It is here that Vygotsky’s concept of the “Zone of Proximal Development” is relevant. Instruction may lead development, if and only if instruction assists the child in promoting the differentiation of the leading neoformation. Vygotsky proposed that what the child can do today with assistance (for example by asking leading questions, offering suggestions) or in play (which allows the child to strive to do what they actually cannot yet do), they will be able to do tomorrow without assistance. The desired “flow over” to different functions resulting from success in performing the given task will occur only if the intervention has promoted the central or leading neoformation. Otherwise, teaching by assisting the child with a task may help them learn that task, but there will be no flow over to development.”

In spite of the jargon, it is clear that Vygotsky has a theory of development. Piaget, on the other hand, assumes spontaneous development as a given. We will return to Piaget in the next item.