By Rene Van Der Veer
The Bloomsbury Library of Educational Thought has a series on different influential thinkers. This one is written by Rene van der Veer, who is certainly qualified. If you're interested in a slim Vygotsky bio, this book might fit the bill; if you've been reading works by and about Vygotsky, as I have, the book will not be a game-changer, but it will fill in some gaps.
For instance, I discovered that
- Vygotsky wrote most of his unpublished book on the crisis in psychology during a hospital stay in 1926 (p.23).
- According to van der Veer, Vygotsky's likely fate if he had survived tuberculosis would have been the Gulag. "The disease killed him; otherwise he might have been murdered" (p.29).
- His textbook Educational Psychology was written at Gomel, but published in 1926, years after he had moved to Moscow University (p.43).
- Vygotsky was strenuously anti-racist—but he was demonstrably ethnocentric (p.57). He assumed that cultural differences were developmental differences (p.100). Nevertheless, he insisted that intelligence tests be based on the subject's own cultural tools, a principle that underpinned the Uzbek expedition (p.98).
- Vygotsky is known for the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), but he claimed not to have invented it; unfortunately, he did not make its origin clear (p.79).
- The ZPD might have been posited to explain the "leveling effect," which we now believe to be an artifact rather than an actual phenomenon (p.86).
In the last chapter, van der Veer overviews contemporary educational research based on different strands and interpretations of Vygotskian thought.
Should you read this book? If you know very little about Vygotsky, it's a good introduction. If you're familiar with his work, I don't think it adds a lot to your understanding, but it does fill in some minor gaps.