Why Vygotsky?

The Role of Theoretical Psychology in Russian Education Reform



Stephen T. Kerr

University of Washington







Presented at the Annual Meeting of the

American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies



Seattle, Washington



November 22, 1997















Address for correspondence:

115 Miller Hall
University of Washington
Box 353600
Seattle, WA 98195-3600
(206) 543-1847; Fax: (206) 543-8439


Why Vygotsky?

The Role of Theoretical Psychology in Russian Education Reform


Stephen T. Kerr

University of Washington





In the mid-1980s, at the gloaming of the Communist epoch, there emerged in Russian education a group of teachers, scholars, and intellectuals intent on remaking the schools in a new and different image. The "social-pedagogical movement," as its founders came to describe it, grew out of a diverse set of circumstances -- the work of academic psychologists and social psychologists who studied the increasingly dysfunctional ways in which teachers and students interacted in schools, the "organizational-activity games" of clinical psychologist-practitioners who worked with entire cities and regions to chart institutional and social problems, the critical stance of journalists who saw the personal ruin created in many schools by thoughtless and authoritarian teachers, and the seminars, workshops and demonstrations staged by an intrepid group of "teacher-innovators" around the country. The movement flourished, contracted, transmuted itself through several incarnations, and remains a potent force for renewal in Russian education today.


Underlying the very different experiences and outlooks of those involved, however, is a single conceptual and intellectual thread: the work of Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, a psychologist who lived and worked in the early years of the twentieth century. At in-service training programs for teachers, scientific conferences, and meetings of the Collegium of the Ministry of Education, citations of and attributions to the work of L. S. Vygotsky have become an expected part of the intellectual background of discourse about Russian education today. Why Vygotsky's ideas, banished for many years under the Soviet regime, came to play such a central role in the attempts to renew Russian education, and what the implications of Vygotskian psychology may be for future developments in education, are the themes of this paper.



Who and What: Vygotsky and His Ideas


Vygotsky was a product of his time: an intellectual, a Jew, a true polymath who took as much pleasure in thinking through the intricacies of speech impediments and language acquisition as he did in contemplating Shakespeare's Hamlet or the psychology of art. His ideas spanned the usual disciplinary boundaries seemingly without effort, and his ability to think creatively in several fields and contribute at a high level in each of them has continued to intrigue scholars who have examined his work. While he was interested in problems of education and development, and while it is on those fields that his work is still studied most intensively today (perhaps also including the psychology of mental dysfunction -- retardation and schizophrenia), he was not viewed in his own time (and most likely did not view himself) as an "educational psychologist." He was, instead, a psychologist, critic, intellectual, and social activist whose work happened to touch intensively on education.


In American educational psychology, Vygotsky is remembered most commonly in connection with his notion of the "zone of proximal educational development" (sometimes the ZPD, ZoPED, or simply "the Zone"). Crudely put, the idea is that children develop by encountering concepts or tasks that lie beyond their immediate ability to accomplish, but which are within a "zone" of possible performance that may be realized if the child works along with an adult. For Vygotsky, the ZPD was specifically observable in situations where a young person's naive or individual notions of the world and its functions come into contact with an adult's more organized and "scientific" ideas, but in later Western discussions and interpretations, this focus on the interplay between pre-scientific and scientific worldviews came to be submerged under a general image of the interplay between adult and childish conceptions as aids to development.


Other aspects of Vygotsky's work have been especially interesting to Russian educators. The notion of development as growing out of the interaction of humans with one another, especially the interaction of adults and children, offers a distinctively collectivist vision of human psychological growth, substantially different from Western (and particularly American) ideas of radical individualism (i.e., behaviorism) and pre-determined stages of psycho-physiological growth (à la Piaget). In Vygotsky's conception, psychology cannot be viewed as separate from the twin concomitants of human history and human culture. In particular, Vygotsky saw the primary psychological tasks of childhood as being encounters with and learning how to assimilate and use the intellectual and cognitive "tools" developed by humans over the centuries -- language, mathematics, music and art, and so on. Absorbing the laws, conventions, ways of working with ideas and problems in the world that these tools afford are essential to becoming an educated person, a full human being, and Vygotsky was essentially interested in the processes that facilitated acquiring these tools, as well as in processes that inhibited or prevented one from acquiring them. For Vygotsky, the place where these processes came together was in education, whether defined as formal schooling or less formal encounters with an educative purpose.


Other aspects of Vygotsky's work have been developed and featured by those of his "school" -- the psychologists Luria, Elkonin, Leont'ev, and more recently Davydov and Zinchenko. Of particular importance here is the notion of "activity theory," an extension of the idea of the ZPD to encompass more sorts of interpersonal activity in more different kinds of settings, often very specific situations in which problems of a particular sort are presented to students, and in which they have to work collaboratively to try to solve them. Much of the work has been done with mathematics, although there are also examples in the sciences (especially physics), literature, and history.


These ideas may seem innocuous enough, but in their time they were seen as inflammatory and dangerous to the Soviet state. As Vasily Davydov, one of the current school of Vygotsky followers recounts from his own days as a student of psychology in Moscow in the mid-1950s, "To look at Vygotsky's book Pedagogical Psychology, one had to have a special pass from the KGB that would admit one to the restricted reading room in the Lenin Library where the book could be read" (Davydov, 1993). In the mid 1930s, Vygotsky was associated with the failed "pedology" movement among Soviet educators and psychologists, a movement that (because of its interest in Western notions of ability testing and examination of individual differences) was ruled bourgeois and anti-Soviet. Vygotsky himself died in 1934, and his works were generally unavailable until several years after the death of Stalin. Even then, educational dictionaries and encyclopedias treated his ideas gingerly, and described them as "mistaken" or as having been "subjected to wide criticism." While students were introduced to his work in pedagogical institutes, it was always through second-hand sources, and never in great depth. Graduate students and researchers, however, paid more attention, and by the 1970s there was a thriving group of scholars and educators using his ideas as guides for practice. (For other treatments in English of Vygotsky's work and influence, see Kozulin, 1990, and Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991).


The work of Vygotsky was brought more forcefully to public attention with the advent of perestroika. As old strictures fell away, those in the USSR Academy of Pedagogical Sciences (principally Davydov and Zinchenko, but also others) with an interest in Vygotsky's work began to proselytize more openly. At the same time, the educational "young Turks" among the publicists, journalists, teacher-innovators, and intellectuals sought to crystallize their interests and their newly discovered common views of the problems besetting the Soviet school system. At a meeting of the "teacher-innovators" in Peredelkino outside of Moscow in October, 1986, the notion of a "pedagogy of collaboration" (pedagogika sotrudnichestva) was put forward as an intellectual "glue" to unite the diverse approaches an interests of the reformers. The ideas of Vygotsky, particular the importance of the "cultural-historical" approach in psychology generally, and of the centrality of interaction among adult and children for humane personal development, were central to the formation of this vision.


As the movement developed, and its fortunes rose and fell, the ideas of Vygotsky have continued to play a central role in Russian efforts to restructure schools, provide an educational psychology more in tune with the needs of the individual and less focused on the needs of the state, and create new models of pedagogy that allow teachers to play more varied roles in the classroom. There have been numerous academic conferences devoted to his work and his legacy, several centers and laboratories named after him, and a major national educational association (the International Association for Developmental Teaching [razvivaiushchee obuchenie]) formed on the basis of his ideas and work. (For discussions of the development of the "social-pedagogical movement" in the former USSR, see Eklof & Dneprov, 1993; Johnson, 1997; Jones, 1994; and Kerr, 1990).



Introduction: Why Vygotsky?


But the question reappears: Why Vygotsky? Why should this particular set of ideas and intellectual positions have emerged as so central for Russians trying to recast their schools and their education system in new ways? What was it about Vygotsky's views that made them so attractive, why have they continued to hold the attention of progressive Russian educators to such a significant degree, and what are the implications of this strong attachment for the future of Russian education reform?


There are possible explanations here from several standpoints: historical and cultural (appropriately enough, given the label of "cultural-historical" often attached to Vygotsky's approach and school), but also psychotherapeutic, anthropological, and organizational. The easiest of these to consider are those in which Vygotsky's attractiveness has most often been discussed, the historical and cultural. The latter three (psychotherapeutic, anthropological, and organizational) are more conjectural. They suggest that Vygotsky's ideas may serve as a kind of "door," an enabling pathway through which new ideas and new perspectives can come to the awareness of Russian educators in a somewhat familiar and therefore more comfortable manner. And it is this latter set of ideas that ultimately may be more interesting and more consequential both for efforts to remake Russian education, and for the future of Western educational collaborations in Russia and the CIS.


Historical significance. Vygotsky is appealing to Russian educators for obvious historical reasons: he was a native son (or as native as a Jewish intellectual from what is now Belarus could be in the former USSR); he was a founder of and was long affiliated with a circle of psychologists seen as formative for current Russian psychology, regardless of the fact that he was officially persona non grata for many years; and, importantly in the post-Soviet context, he and his ideas were actively repressed for several decades under the Stalinist regime. All of these provide for a kind of hagiographic reverence for Vygotsky's memory and his work in the Russian context. Indeed, there may be something especially satisfying to Russians in the fact that Vygotsky's work has recently become so attractive to Western psychologists and educators; where Russian psychology was for so long dismissed in the West as mindlessly caught in Pavlovian variants of physiological explanation, now it is (at least in some quarters) the West's turn to play second fiddle, as the ideas of Western psychologists such as Skinner (behaviorism) and Piaget (individually oriented cognitive psychology) are now increasingly called into question as being too simplistic, too narrow, too unsatisfying as a framework for explaining the broad variety of social factors now seen to be at play in determining psychological development and interaction (see, e.g., Jerome Bruner's [1996] self-conscious apology for his late discovery of the significance of Vygotsky's work).


Even Vygotsky's avowed, if heretical, Marxism may be seen in some Russian quarters as an advantage in the contemporary context. That he was not only a native son, but also part of the major social and political events of his times is likely seen by some Russian educators as an advantage. In contrast to Western images of apolitical and value-neutral science, Vygotsky was obviously interested in the political and social ramifications of his work and of psychology generally. It would not be too much of a stretch to say that his focus on issues of literacy, its acquisition, and the particulars of developing literacy among pre-literate peoples were in some sense all reflections of his realization that, for his era, literacy was the cutting issue to help assure the advance of the peasantry away from backward notions and toward more socially aware (hence Marxist) understandings of their place in history. These ties to the Marxist vision of a more just, classless society still ring with significance for many Russian educators today, especially those older teachers who were recruited more for their political fidelity and compliance than for the ability to develop their own pedagogical and organizational ideas. In the chaos of contemporary Russia, the idea that Vygotsky was a Marxist may have an appealing familiarity in contrast to recently imported Western ideas such as assessment of learning outcomes and standardized testing. (For an interpretation of Vygotsky's work that seeks to preserve his Marxist orientation, see Newman & Holzman, 1993.)


The danger with seeing Vygotsky as a purely historical artifact is of course that he becomes irrelevant to current issues and problems. The challenges that Vygotsky saw as critical in his times, especially the generation of mass literacy as a precondition for the creation of a classless state. Under current conditions, we might well observe that this condition has been basically met, without its expected consequence, but that there are other issues, equally pressing, that involve such phenomena as organizational life, the ways in which social institutions (such as schools) change and the roles that workers (e.g., teachers, administrators) play in those institutions. This is an issue to which we shall return later.


Cultural relevance. If Vygotsky is in some ways seen as an especially interesting part of the current Russian educational scene because of his historical rootedness in Russian psychology and social development, we must ask if there are aspects to his attractiveness that go beyond the historical to include the larger question of cultural relevance. The ground here is somewhat more slippery, and the path takes us into questions that connect to such shibboleths of cold war analysis as theories of national character (e.g., Gorer, 1962, on Russian character traits, the "swaddling hypothesis," et al., and Bell, 1958, on the variety of explanatory theories generally) Nonetheless, there is enough to some of these points that they deserve to be recognized as parts of the appeal of Vygotsky to contemporary Russian educators.


Primary here, of course, is the fact that, while Vygotsky was interested in the development of individuals, he was likely more interested in the ways in which individual growth and development was contingent on a wider social and cultural context. The notion of the ZPD, and the image of development as proceeding from important social interactions, are inherently appealing to Russians whose interest in the group, as opposed to the individual per se, has always been strong. The current Russian instantiation of Vygotsky's ideas in "activity theory" is no less focused on the social, as compared with the still overwhelmingly strong concentration in Western psychology with the individual (Repkin, 1993, provides a good introductory account of the notions of activity theory and their application to education; for discussions of activity theory in the West, see Wertsch, 1985, and Moll, 1990).


A further aspect of Vygotsky and his work that may be particularly appealing to Russian educators is his consistent interest on the centrality of "high" culture and the best achievements of the human mind. (This, of course, in addition to his interest in the problems of functioning resulting from retardation or disturbance; Vygotsky likely sought out the extremes because of the opportunity they provided to examine the range of human intellectual activity). The interest in high culture accords well with the focus Russian teachers (including many of the innovators of the 1980s) put on introducing their charges to the "best of world civilization" and the "universal human values" made evident through literature, music, and art. The fact that many Russian teachers now feel this heritage, and their efforts to preserve and promote it, to be under assault from a wave of imported Western action films, music videos, and titillating literature must provide special weight to this point of view about Vygotsky's work.



The historical and cultural explanations for the attractiveness of Vygotsky's work are perhaps the clearest and easiest to appreciate. It is likely that even Russian educators would recognize the validity of these perspectives. But there are perhaps other factors at work here as well, factors that illustrate the difference between the perspective on social life and how to think about it that came to characterize the Soviet and Western world views over the past 75 years. While these are highly speculative, they may also be interesting on an intellectual level. Perhaps more relevant here, they may offer useful practical insights into the problems of arranging and implementing joint projects between Western and Russian partners in the field of education.


Psychotherapy and education. Russians have lived for the past 75 years in a world distinct from the West in many ways; one of the less visible of those has been the absence from the Soviet, and then the Russian, scene of most Western notions of psychotherapy. Freud, of course, was an anathema to Stalin and other Communist ideologues, who saw his internal landscape of the subconscious as subversive to materialist Marxist notions. But even absent the specific teachings of the Viennese doctor, the alternative perspectives of Soviet/Russian psychotherapy never attained the central place in the everyday worldview of the average Russian that Freudian constructs did in the mind of the average American. The perspectives that keep popular self-help books on psychology at the top of American best seller lists were largely absent from the Soviet Russian's world-view, and even now they have barely made inroads there. Such concepts essential to the working vocabulary of Western educators as "self-esteem," "empathy," "stress," "depression," "self-efficacy," and so on, were largely absent from the way Soviet-era educators defined the world and discussed among themselves the problems they and their students faced.


The benefit of these ideas to American educators, of course, has been disputed in the USA, with many critics characterizing them as "psychobabble" and branding them distractions from the proper instructional tasks of the schools. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that Russian educators have lacked a common set of conceptual categories with which to address the inner lives of their students. Evidence that this led to an accumulation of underlying problems is seen in the recent Ministry of Education estimates that some 31% of Russian school children suffer from some sort of neuro-psychological disorder, and that only 5% of these receive qualified treatment (Ob itogakh, 1995).


Vygotsky, of course, does not address this issue directly -- he was certainly not a psychotherapist, and never cast his work (even that which focused on the problems of psychological functioning among the disturbed) in such ways. But what his work, and interpretations of it in contemporary Russia, does offer is a framework for considering the self vis à vis others that was largely lacking under the Soviet regime. It is this sort of approach that was featured strongly in the concept of a "pedagogy of cooperation" that was developed by the educational reformers in the mid-1980s, and in which the work of V. A. Sukhomlinsky (1979) and Shalva Amonashvili (1987), a Georgian psychologist and educator, played central roles. Here, the position of the teacher and the student are defined in a new way, and the purposes of education are redefined away from a "production" model in which the student is to be "filled up" with new (useful) perspectives and knowledge, and toward a "club" model in which the interaction of student with teacher, and student with student, is organized around notions of self-development and informal interaction. These notions are in and of themselves new, and allow Russian educators to examine their practice with not only new potential classroom activities, but fundamentally new paradigms of the worth of individual students, the value of recognizing their personalities, and the importance of providing a supportive environment (see, e.g., Frumin, 1988).


A further suggestion that Vygotsky's work is linked, if unconsciously (!), in Russian educators' minds with a new view of the place and value of supportive interpersonal relations is seen in the ways his ideas have been taken up and used by those in Russia who have sought a renewal of the pre-Revolutionary sense of vospitanie (typically translated as "upbringing," although "nurturance" might be a better approximation.) For Russian educators, the ideas of "instruction" and "upbringing" (obuchenie and vospitanie) were always closely linked, but also seen as distinct. In the Soviet era, vospitanie came to have excessively ideological overtones, and was typically treated as a forum for instilling loyalty to the CPSU and subjecting individuals to the discipline of the group. But the reformers of the 1980s, using the example of the "Communard Movement" developed by Igor Ivanov (e.g., Soloveichik, 1989), began to recast vospitanie as a fundamentally moral endeavor in which children would be introduced to the wider society through carefully mediated, respectful interactions with peers and adults (see Sidorkin, 1995, for a discussion of the Communards). Work of such scholars and educators as Gazman (1995) and Krylova (1995) carried this new version of vospitanie into wider circulation, work that was deeply influenced by Vygotsky's notions.


A further way in which Vygotsky's work has served as a kind of substitute for the kind of perspective on the individual's place vis a vis the group that is supported in the West through therapy talk and psychotherapeutic concepts is seen in the development and use of so-called "organizational activity games" (organizatsionno-deiiatel'nostnye igry, or "ODI") as a tool for local educational and social development in the Gorbachev-era USSR. These games, based on the neo-Vygotskian idea of activity theory (in particular as worked out by G. P. Shchedrovitsky (1995; esp. pp. 667-716) and the ways in which individuals could be encouraged to develop new perspectives on their own work and interactions with others, came to be a staple of local and regional planning efforts in the late 1970s and 1980s. Here again, some of the ideas of interpersonal interaction that are taken for granted in the West -- formation of a sense of "community" in small groups, patterns of intra-group communication, and the emergence of solutions from shared discussion and dialogue -- found a distinctive Russian expression in language and terms similar to, but distinct from, Western therapeutic concepts.


Anthropology and observation. Yet another sense in which Vygotsky's work is attractive to Russian educators lies in the significance it attaches to observation (of oneself, others, and settings) and to reflection on the significance of what is observed. The concept of "reflection" is essential to Vygotsky's idea of how individual cognition develops; it is not only through interaction with others, but also importantly through conscious, purposive reflection on the significance of what has been experienced, learned, etc., and subsequently through the integration of those new perspectives into an individual's existing repertoire of ideas, actions, abilities. The power of this new kind of reflection should not be underestimated in the Russian case, for it represents a distinctive new category of experience which educators can use as a tool for analyzing their own work.


A good example of the use of this new category is seen in the work of the Eureka organization, a Russian NGO founded and managed by Alexander Adamsky, one of the journalists assembled by the then-editor of Uchitel'skaia gazeta in the 1980s, Vladimir Matveev. Adamsky created Eureka as a vehicle to continue the organizational activity he had begun while working for the paper and which served as the impulse for the foundation of the Creative Union of Teachers in the late 1980s. Eureka offers seminars for teachers both individually and regionally, under the general rubric of "programs for educational development." Vygotskian psychology serves as the basis for much of the work carried out, and the process of reflection holds a central place in the actual work carried on in those seminars. Teachers are typically presented with a variety of "new pedagogical models," ranging from classical European approaches such as Montessori and Waldorf, to such native Russian approaches as Tolstoyan pedagogy and Bibler's "Dialogue of Cultures," to varied contemporary American, English, Dutch and Israeli models. They are then asked to discuss, think, sometimes themselves practice what they have just seen demonstrated. All this is typically followed by sessions in which "reflection" is encouraged. To say that these sessions are disturbing is an understatement; tears, anger, shouting matches, and other expressive behavior are commonplace, as participants grapple with the implications of what they have just seen for their own work and that of the schools in which they work.


What is going on in these settings is obviously deeply personal and moving for the participants, and these aspects of the experience are obviously more closely linked to the kinds of "psychotherapeutic" effects noted above. But there is something else happening as well, especially for those participants able to work through the personal implications on a more even keel. There are important insights here into interpersonal awareness and observation that have been missing from Russian pedagogical dialogue for many years, ideas that have become familiar to many Western teachers in recent years through such constructs as "action research" and "teacher leadership" programs. It is a model of professional activity and practice in which one not only learns to become self-aware, but in which one also strives to become aware of what is happening around one, among one's peers, and to become reflective on the significance of what has been seen and observed for one's own work. It might be thought of as a kind of applied, action-oriented, participant anthropology. Indeed, some of the first works on educational anthropology to appear in post-Soviet Russia were authored by Boris Bim-Bad, a psychologist grounded in the study of Vygotsky (Bim-Bad, 1994).


The extension of Vygotsky to organizational theory. Vygotsky was clearly a psychologist, and his work uniformly focused on the way in which individuals developed in the context of groups. He did not particularly concern himself with the ways in which larger collectivities -- groups, organizations, social institutions -- come into being, operate, and change (or resist change). And yet, some of the more interesting current extensions of Vygotsky's work are those both in Russia and the West in which Vygotsky's notions are used as the basis for a new kind of theoretical approach to the functioning of organizations and groups. For example, at the Moscow conference in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Vygotsky's birth, the Finnish psychologist Yrjö Egeström gave a keynote address (1996) on the extension of Vygotsky's ideas to working with groups. And Yurii Gromyko, a prolific writer on educational issues and head of the Moscow Academy for Educational Development, has proposed that one of the cardinal failings of Vygotsky's ideas for current conditions is their lack of applicability to organizational questions (Gromyko, 1996).


This new attempt to develop a set of concepts and ideas satisfactory for considering how organizations work and how they change marks an important achievement for Russian educators if it can be carried forward. Western educators have developed a number of important ideas in this area over the past twenty years, many of them borrowed from business and industry. Central here are change theories, the concept of the "change agent," the "learning organization," and related ideas, as well as specifically educational notions of faculty and organizational development. Whether Russian educators will be able to extend and fine-tune Vygotsky's ideas in these directions to suit their own context remains to be seen.



Implications: Vygotsky, Theory, Practice, and the West


What difference does all this make? Should Western educators find any theoretical or practical significance to the current fascination with L. S. Vygotsky and his work in Russia? I would suggest that there are at least two major consequences of the possibilities outlined above, one on the theoretical level, and one practical.


Theory and pedagogy: A new lens. The significance of Vygotsky for Russian education, and for Western educational thought based on Vygotsky's ideas, may be deeper than immediately meets the eye. There are several specifics here. First, the Vygotskian paradigm (if that is not too grand a term) is distinctive as well as distinctively Russian. It offers a useful comparison to the still-dominant individualism of most Western psychology in general, and educational psychology in particular. The focus on cultural and historical processes is not just interesting for its own sake, it also provides a set of elements that Western scholars of education have recently found largely lacking in their own work, and which they have struggled to retrofit into existing pedagogical models. (The long and anguished debate over "qualitative" vs. "quantitative" approaches to educational research, as if they were truly unique approaches, over the past 15 years or so in the USA is merely one example of this).


Vygotskian ideas also offer a powerful set of tools for considering how mind and consciousness develop, and how these notions can be reflected in educational activities. As such, these notions are valuable for researchers and developers interested in creating new kinds of educational environments, especially technology-rich environments, for learners (see, e.g., Rubtsov & Margolis, 1996). They thus serve as important devices for moving the discussion about educational processes and effects toward a more "constructivist" approach, one that takes the specifics of context and culture into account. There is another element here also -- the fact that Vygotsky's conceptions of human development and the processes needed to encourage same span the full range of human functioning, from the retarded and disturbed to the exemplars of high culture. In the Western case, and especially in the USA, the focus has most often been on how to raise the achievement of the least accomplished and most disadvantaged. Vygotsky's emphasis on the epitomes of human culture may offer a useful counterweight for Western scholars.


New views of practice. Finally, the work of Vygotsky and the way that work is now being interpreted in the Russian context offers some distinctively new perspectives on practice for Western educators. In their impact on the daily work of teachers, Vygotsky's views may provide a different vehicle to bridge pedagogical theory and practice, a gap that yawns wide for educators in the West. In the new approaches to activity theory and "developmental instruction" being developed by Vygotsky's followers in Russia, we may in fact have the kind of approach that Western researchers have sought for so long, but have so far been frustrated in their inability to find -- an approach that combines a high level of theoretical power, sophistication, and the possibility for scientific validation, with the possibility of actual implementation in real classroom settings by ordinary teachers (and not merely in a protected laboratory with especially dedicated practitioners). The interest of a wide public of Russian educators in the approaches of Vasily Davydov and his group, through the now-2500-school-strong Association for Developmental Instruction, as well as the participation by many of these schools in official competitions and contests, suggests that there is something here that teachers find valuable and also practically workable (see Iz reshenii, 1996).


This last may be the key aspect of the new interest in Vygotsky for Western educators, especially those who seek ways not only to collaborate with Russian colleagues, but also to justify this collaboration to government agencies, school boards, and university administrations. These new perspectives may offer us at least the outline of an answer to the age-old administrator's question regarding exchanges: "So, what's in it for us?" The things that are "in it for us" here are a set of distinctive new ideas about psychology, development, classroom interaction, and organizational change, a perspective that complements, but does not duplicate, those found in the West. If we continue to treat developments in Russian education as necessarily uninteresting, impoverished, and parochial, we will do so to our own disadvantage.





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