(I'm addressing you personally here because I had an idea the other day that for some reason came with your name attached to it. Perhaps you will be able to explain why!)
The distinction Vygotsky insists on--between learning and development--is one of many terms (e.g. "pseudoconcept", "spontaneous concept", etc) that Vygotsky takes over and fills with all new content. In Koffka, it's really a botanical concept: some changes are "growth" of the mind, and other changes are simply changes.
But Vygotsky changes the content of the concept and uses it as a weapon against Thorndike. For Thorndike, there is no such thing as learning; only learnings. And these little learnings are not generalizable; what you imagine is development is really just accumulated learnings.
This superficially "democratic" argument (which Thorndike uses to demonstrate the equality of skills and the pointlessness of formal disciplines) gives American education the basis for the long night of behaviorist inspired "banking education", only very partially relieved by (similarly individualistic) cognitivism in the later twentieth century. For Thorndike, knowledge is not knowledge but skill, and skills are individually wrapped, self-identical, independent, aliquot and fungible--just like coins and words.
But what about letters? In "The Sound of Music", Maria sings:
When you read, you begin with ABC
When you sing, you begin with Do-re-mi
She is being only slightly over-grandiose when she adds:
When you know the notes to sing
You can sing most anything!
It's not quite that simple, but we can easily understand why that is how it looks to the child, and how he or she might compare this awakening awareness to the moment reported by the seven-year-old Helen Keller, where she said that "everything has a name!" and suddenly became aware of the key inner principle of language (as opposed to scattered labels for things, or names on the one hand and objects on the other). Not just learning. Microgenesis!
Now, here's the idea with your name on it. Unlike computer languages and unlike animal communication systems, all human languages depend on binding of some kind, and this principle seems to apply right up the hiearchy of linguistic organization, from phonology (where consonants are bound to vowels) to morphology (where there is a clear distinction between bound morphemes like "-er" and "re-" and unbound morphemes like "work") to syntax (bound clauses and unbound clauses) to discourse and text (bound initiates vs. proclamations). Of course, computer languages use this principle at some level. But when they do it is because they have been made in the image of their maker. Animal communication systems do not use boundedness for the simple reason that there all communication is bound to context and there is no such thing as a truly unbound communicative act when you are a chimpanzee or for that matter a one-year-old child.
With human languages, there is always a distinction between the traffic signal (which is self-similar, context independent, and thus unbound) and the car horn (which is continuously variable, meaningful only in context, and thus bound). Vowels are traffic lights, and consonants are car horns. Prefixes and suffixes are car horns and words are traffic lights. Independent clauses are traffic lights and relative clauses are car horns. An elliptical turn is a car horn, and a fully elaborated one is a traffic light. No such thing exists in nature, and I am strongly inclined to consider this principle a kind of linguistic analogy with human social relationships and with culture, and to point to discourse as the prime mover for that very reason.
It seems to me that letters and notes, alphabetic writing and even understanding the key distinction between the name and the noun all have to do with grasping and generalizating the distinction between boundedness and unboundedness. Thorndikean "learning", in contrast, has to do with rejecting it, and that is why Koffka and Vygotsky reject him. Thorndike sees every building as a rabble of bricks. Since he cannot even theorize the mortar, his "description" of development is not microgenesis, but mere learning-rubble.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
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