5.5 Evaluating social constructivism
Vygotsky highlighted how intrinsic developmental and cultural forces interact, and as Moll concluded ‘Vygotsky's primary contribution was in developing a general approach that brought education, as a fundamental human activity, fully into a theory of psychological development’ (Moll, 1990, p. 15).
His focus however was largely on the cultural elements and how these became part of the child. Yet he did not consider the ‘inside out’ forces from the child's point of view. This is reflected in his support for school instruction. The Soviet schools for children with developmental difficulties (except deaf-blind schools) that applied his principles were run along very formal teacher-led lines. There was little room for pupils to talk to each other; the teacher was the transmitter of the cultural knowledge.
Vygotsky's model, at least as used in the Soviet Union, promoted separate special educational practices for separate identified groups of children. This would run counter to current moves toward inclusive education in which teaching styles are developing to accommodate diversity. However, in the United Kingdom Vygotsky's theories have been used to develop ideas about inclusive education (Thomas and Glenny, 2004), effective peer tutoring and to challenge static models of learning which constrain the possibilities for children's potential development.
Crain (2000) has suggested that this theory could lead to instruction focusing too much on the young child's future attainments and exerting a pressure to get her or him started on a formal curriculum and conceptual and analytical reasoning. This might ignore the young child's need to develop their ‘childish’ capabilities – imagination, being physically active, drawing, singing and so forth. However, one argument against such criticism is that waiting until a child is ready for instruction is waiting until the child does not need teaching. For example, the deaf-blind children discussed might never be ready for instruction and would therefore remain locked out of the world without the tools to access it.
Crain's argument is based on the concept that children pass through a fixed sequence of stages, as in Piaget's theory. They need to master each stage in turn before proceeding to the next. Their ‘childish activities’ are part of this process. At particular stages they are ready and able to learn particular things. Crain's points also imply that childhood, and a time for being a child, is something that needs to be protected to promote healthy psychological development.