Critical and Vygotskian theories of education: a comparison

It is a well-known implication of Activity Theory that the development of human beings cannot be adequately understood from a universalistic point of view. Development means learning to participate in human activities, using the cultural resources available for the developing child. This is not only a process of learning culturally available meanings, but of personality formation. As Leont’ev says, personality means “being an autonomous agent, realizing in its life activity the forms of relation to the world that emerged in the course of human history.” This means that both the quality of the development process and that of the final stage, of the personality, depend upon the quality of available resources.

In this respect, Activity Theory differs from many other theories of education and personality formation. Most of these have supposed that some universal principle is at work, the normal result of which is that every human being forms an identity, that is, a self-conscious, consistent and rational way of relating itself to the world in its actions. For the empirists, this principle was knowledge of the world as it is through the senses; for Progressive Education, it was given in the nature of human beings; for Piaget, it is the dynamic interaction between human nature and the structure of the world. Politics, or the structures of society, only play a role as accidental circumstances which may prohibit the full deployment of such principles, but are not theoretically relevant for psychology or for educational theory. Activity Theory does not have such a universal principle of development. Therefore, it should have an interest in developing a theory about the political aspects of education. It cannot take the presence and the quality of cultural resources for granted.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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