Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Adult Development Theories, Education, and Waiting for Superman to save us all...

            This past week we learned about Adult Developmental Theories.  Erik Erickson, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Sigmund Freud and many others were a part of it.  First, I would like to set forth something about my beliefs.  I choose Lev Vygotsky as my theorist that I can most identify with.  Here is a section of my discussion about him from class:

Lev Vygotsky, creator of the Sociocultural Theory of development felt discovering the zone of proximal development, and utilizing it in education was the best way to teach children. “The difference between the level of solved tasks that can be performed with adult guidance and help and the level of independently solved tasks is the zone of proximal development.”[i]  The theory was developed during war torn Russia in the 1920s.  He “believed social interaction and culture led to the best cognitive development. Vygotsky wanted to know where a child could be; not where a child is developmentally.” (Ch 1, pg. 15)  His theory also introduces the concept of ‘scaffolding’, where a teacher or mentor gives assistance to a child to complete a task, but does not do more than is necessary.  His theory opened up the pathways to schools in Russia to educate their children based on these principles. However, it was suppressed under Stalin’s Rule. Even in adult development we can see Vygotsky’s work.  Each task that we learn for a new job or even in returning to school emphasizes the need for ‘scaffolding’.  We build upon our skills by being mentored or taught by others.  Jerome S. Bruner, a social psychologist who became involved with education in the 1960s, was influenced by Vygotsky's concept of "scaffolding.”  He developed a new theory of cognitive development through the MACOS (Man: A Course of Study) project, bringing Vygotsky’s work to America in a new theory.

Vygotsky’s work of ‘scaffolding’ and the zone of proximal development is exactly what I believe should be the first priority of education.  Today, the educational system, at early ages ‘teaches to the tests.’  I find this concept frustrating.  Since many students will not reach their potential due to the gross lack of misjudgment in using this method.  Vygotsky believed in the potential of a student, not merely ‘where they are now’, but rather ‘where can they be’.  Education has changed dramatically. When I was in school during the 70s and 80s the way we learned was much different than my daughter experienced.  While I was rewarded for my accomplishments with Advanced Placement and Honor courses providing a level of challenge reaching my potential, her high school removed all of these courses due to budget cuts.  The other big factor in education today is what I call (and many psychologists in the field) ‘over diagnosis.’  Many children are being diagnosed with learning disabilities, particularly Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when they may be simply not challenged, and therefore ‘bored’ of their school work.  This is a sad fact in today’s educational world.  ADHD soared in the mid-90s. “The 700% increase in psycho stimulant use that occurred in the 1990s justifies concern about potential over diagnosis and inappropriate treatment of child behavior problems.” [ii] Thus, creating an environment where everyone, including children have a label, but I ask, is it accurate or is it the product of over diagnosis? Vygotsky would see the potential in a child and work through ‘scaffolding’ to reach it.  We seem to see a problem in American children and work towards medication to get rid of it.

            Having said that, what do you think?  Is Vygotsky the way to go?  Or should we continue to teach our children within the education system’s version of where they are now, not where they could be?

            I find the system of education extremely frustrating today as indicated above.  There is so much need and room for improvement.  I was informed by one of my friends that a new documentary Waiting for Superman has come out in theaters.  I am anxious to see this film and what they have to say about education, who’s to blame, and what can be done. Also, I found a BBC news clip about Finland, yes, Finland.  Apparently they have the best educational systems in the world.  Interestingly enough, they use ‘scaffolding’ in it.  Here’s that clip:

            Here is the trailer about the new documentary, Waiting for Superman:  Enjoy!  

            Here is a review on the film also (in case you were interested):,8599,2021951,00.html

            Until next time…

[i]Daniels, Harry (Author). Introduction to Vygotsky.  London, GBR: Routledge, 1996. p 172.

[ii] Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health:

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