Re: Gredler & Shields vs. Gutierrez & Lemke

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Sat Apr 24 2004 - 18:36:03 PDT

Six comments in response to Bill on the Michael Glassman article and the
review of it by Margaret Gredler and Carol Shields.

1. the central question **********

There are a lot of issues to discuss already touched on in this thread. I
believe the central, overriding question is the one that Glassman
originally raises – how do the education ideas of Dewey and Vygotsky
compare? This is where his 2001 article “Dewey and Vygotsky: Society,
Experience and Inquiry in Educational Practice” starts, and what ties his
article together. I think the key to understanding what he is trying to do
in his article and what Greblen and Shields are criticizing in their review
of it is understanding more deeply the Dewey/Vygotsky discussion that
Glassman, to his credit, initiates.

In my opinion, Glassman’s take on this Dewey/Vygotsky discussion – or
perhaps better put, debate – is Deweyist. Glassman is clearly a Deweyist
and not a Vygotskyist. However, in my opinion, Greblen and Shields
themselves may not be Vygotskyist enough in their review of Glassman’s
article. They do not seem to adequately capture the methodological
problems with Glassman’s approach. I believe they head in the right
direction but seem to fall a little short. Their central aim was to
correct Glassman about what Vygotsky really said, and they pack a lot of
Vygotsky’s ideas in a few pages, more than meets the eye in one
reading. What they perhaps needed to do a little more of to balance their
review is to criticize Glassman’s method of reasoning, and not just his
sometimes limited scholarship when he discusses Vygotsky’s ideas.

The essential methodological error Glassman makes, in my opinion, is he
assumes that Vygotsky’s ideas about education can be reduced to a Deweyan
framework. He utilizes a mechanical method of comparing the two
educational theorist’s supposed answers to a Deweyan-framed checklist of
questions he offers the reader (“the role of social history,”
“conceptualizations of experience/culture,” “perspectives on human
inquiry,” etc.). In my opinion, the approach Glassman offers as a way of
understanding the differences between Dewey and Vygotsky is ahistorical and
one-dimensional and does not accomplish its goal of comprehending
Vygotsky’s theories. On the other hand, his explanations of Dewey’s
educational philosophy are quite good, perhaps even exceptional.

Of course, a “Vygotskyist” (Marxist) method of comparing Dewey and Vygotsky
is likely to seem equally unpalatable to a Deweyist. In my opinion, a good
place to begin a Marxist inquiry into comparing the educational
philosophies of Dewey and Vygotsky is the book by George Novack (which both
articles refer to), _Pragmatism Vs. Marxism: An Appraisal of John Dewey’s
Philosophy_ (1975). Another key place I would recommend going would be
Vygotsky’s 1927 article (a book, actually) “The Historical Meaning of the
Crisis in Psyschology: A Methodological Discussion.” I believe a Marxist
approach would frame the Dewey/Vygotsky discussion in terms of history,
both in terms of the developments in society that spawn these kinds of
differences in philosophical methodology (in Marxist jargon, the “class
struggle”) and in the history of the development of ideas (in Marxist
jargon, the “dialectic” of ideology).

However, were they to read such an analysis, a reader of Educational
Researcher might wonder why they are being taken over such broad historical
and philosophical terrains, when what they really want are innovative ideas
about what to do in places like the classroom. The 2001 Michael Glassman
article under scrutiny aims well at his audience with an underlying theme,
which he concludes with: “educators forget the power and importance of
everyday activities and social context at their peril.” Whether he has
Vygotsky right or half-right or all wrong, at least he offers something in
his article that educators can think about in their professional activities.

This is certainly a challenge Vygotskyists must address – and many are –
but it is one of the themes in the Glassman article that seems to be
missing in the Greblen/Shields review of it. The educator wants to know,
after all the interpretations and debates about Vygotsky’s theories are
done, just what do Vygotsky’s ideas about education mean in practice?

Both these articles in the Educational Researcher, despite their
limitations, help advance the important discussion of the differences
between Deweyist and Vygotskyist educational philosophy and
practices. This debate is going to be around for a while and I suspect
that it will get more interesting. It is good we are educating ourselves
about it here on xmca.

2. questions of discourse modes **********

Other general questions that have been discussed include: appropriate
discourse modes in reviews of academic articles, appropriate titles for
research articles, and scholarship methods. I like the way Bill has
brought in ideas from Kris and Jay, such as “third space” and “dominant
script” to help shed light.

After reading the Glassman article, I can see that some of the complaints
raised in the Greblen/Shields review about certain scholarship methods
employed by Glassman in that article actually have merit. There really are
instances of the use of “unsupported inferences” and “misstatements” about
Vygotsky’s writings in the Glassman article. We should discuss these on
their merits.

However, I don’t think these kinds of problems should be the axis of this
discussion. I believe the bigger issue is the way, as Greblen and Shields
put it in their introductory abstract, “Glassman attempted to force
Vygotsky’s goals into a Deweyan framework.” The interpretations of
Vygotsky from a Deweyist perspective - and the converse, the
interpretations of Dewey from a Vygotskyist (Marxist) point of view - are
difficult but necessary features this kind of debate. To get involved in
such a discussion one must learn in how to sort out the conflicting claims
for themselves. This is part of the job of scholars and scientists and any
thinking person. Complaints from opposing sides of a debate about how the
other side selects, portrays and interprets writings cannot be
avoided. The only choice is for everyone interested in such a discussion
to keep going back to these texts and refining their understandings as the
debate proceeds.

The title of the Greblen/Shields review has been commented on quite a bit
now. This title does not strike me, however, as coming from a position
of dominance and hegemony- from a “dominant script” - but rather, as coming
more from a place of some exasperation. (I suspect some of the frustration
it reveals may have stemmed from the reviewers trying to track down some of
Glassman’s unsupported statements about Vygotsky’s ideas – Glassman’s
article does create difficulties for a critical reviewer). The authors
believe that Vygotsky is generally misconstrued, and that the Glassman
article is a clear example of this problem. It would appear they were
trying to get some attention drawn to their concern by using a provocative
title. (Kind of worked a little, didn’t it?) :-))

3. the dialectic ********

Another question that has emerged is the concept of the dialectic –
essentially, the Marxist concept of development. It has been wittily
suggested that the dialectic, like Linus’s Great Pumpkin in the Charles
Schulz comic strip, only exists for those that believe in it, and even at
that, only appears on occasion, if ever. (Now I have this image of Hegel
lurking at night in autumn pumpkin patches waiting for the great Absolute
Pumpkin …) …. :-))

Since the concept of development and its theoretical expression in
dialectical materialism was not part of either the Glassman paper or the
Greblen-Shields review, I suggest we start a different thread on this if
people want. I for one would be happy to participate. The Ilyenkov
chapter that Victor recommends, “The Method of Ascent From the Abstract to
the Concrete in Marx’s ‘Capital’” could be a very good choice to
discuss. To include other xmca’ers that are interested but might not have
time to study this material, perhaps one of us “Ilyenkovites” could write
up a readable review of the chapter for the rest to look at.

An appropriate title for such a thread might be “Dialectical Pumpkins.” Or
maybe, even better, “Does No One Read Ilyenkov’s Words?” Okay, now I am
being silly :-)). But an xmca discussion on “the dialectic” (still a
highly technical and foreboding word and topic) could be productive.

4. The book Mind and Society and the ZPD ************

Bill touches on several specific questions, such as the lack of reference
in the Gredler/Shields review to specific theories by Vygotsky, and the
specific meaning of their title. I’ll say something about TL and MS brings up.

Bill makes a point of mentioning that _Thought and Language_ (TL) and _Mind
and Society_ (MS) are not (substantially) referenced by Greblen and Shields.

The fact that TL is not mentioned in Glassman’s article could be one
explanation for why it does not figure in the review.

Gredler and Shields do, however, make a critical assessment of the other
book, MS, _Mind in Society_, in footnote 6. (FN 6 first appears on page
22, beginning of the section on ZPD). They suggest _Mind in Society_
originated an erroneous view of the ZPD, that of being "constituted by
tasks solved in collaboration". They point out that Glassman "draws" from
this book to "support his interpretations." Gredler and Shields go on to
support their alternative interpretation of Vygotsky and the ZPD position
with passages from a number of other publications of and about Vygotsky’s
work. This would seem to explain why they do not reference to _Mind in

Here is the text of FN 6: “The erroneous view that the ZPD is constituted
by tasks solved in collaboration seems to originate in _Mind in Society_,
an early interpretation of Vygotsky in which the editors admit they have
taken “significant liberties” with his work (Cole, John-Steiner, Scribner &
Souberman, 1978, p. x.) Glassman (2001) draws from _Mind in Society_ to
support his interpretations (p. 11).”

It would be interesting to hear more from Gredler and Shields about their
critique of _Mind in Society_.

5. Bakhtin et al and the ZPD *****************

Bill points to the claim made by Gredler and Shields that “Vygotsky did not
include the assistance of another in his definition of ZPD” (p. 22).

Bill then makes an inference from this that seems problematic. Referring
to Gredler and Shields, he remarks “they, it would seem, would preclude
constructive integration of the the work of Bakhtin and Vygotsky (as well
as Dewey and Vygotsky).” My question is, how would one know from G&S’s
review what the beliefs of these authors are on this - what ideas and
writers they think can be “constructively integrated”? The main point of
their review, as I see it, was that, in general, and in this Glassman
article in particular, Vygotsky is often misconstrued. Unless Bill or
someone sees something I missed, their review did not address what ideas
they think can be integrated between Bakhtin, Dewey and Vygotsky, or say
anything one could make such inferences about.

It seems to me that what needs attention is the argument Gredler and
Shields make about what Vygotsky meant by the ZPD. They reject the
“current portrayals of the ZPD as those tasks that a learner can complete
with the assistance of an adult.” Glassman codifies this interpretation of
the ZPD as a “mentor” approach (which he contrasts with a "facilitator"
approach). Gredler and Shields argue that this is not a correct
interpretation of the ZPD. As Bill points out, they say “Vygotsky did not
include the assistance of another in his definition of ZPD” (p. 22).

Instead, they argue that Vygotsky held the point of view that the ZPD
represents the psychological functions in the child that are in the process
of maturing. They argue that Vygotsky believed that the psychologist and
educator must include in their analyses the ZPD, which they explain that
Vygotsky saw as the not-yet mature functions. According to their argument,
Vygotsky believed that psychologists and educators must not limit their
attention to those psychological functions that have already
matured. Rather, they must devote attention to functions that are
currently in the process of development, and this is what Vygostsky called
the zone of proximal development.

This is leads to some questions for Vygotskyists to ponder: What is
correct and not correct about this interpretation of Vygotsky’s theory of
the zone of proximal development offered by Gredler and Shields? What did
Vygotsky really mean by the ZPD?

6. Glassman’s approach to Vygotsky’s words on the ZPD *********

In my reading, Glassman, for his part, does not generally reference to
Vygotsky’s actual words about the ZPD (I see one exception, on page 11, a
quote from Mind in Society, page 86 – BTW, this is not germane, but it
appears that this citation was inadvertently left out of the References
list for those that might look for it). In general, Glassman’s article
only references the reader on this topic to entire books and articles by
Vygotsky – usually not even page numbers (a practice I see too often in
social science journals). In addition to his generally unsupported
(speaking quote-wise) interpretations of Vygotsky theory of the ZPD,
Glassman does refer the reader to studies relevant to the ZPD by
Vygotsky-influenced researchers (Saxe et al, Rogoff et al), and to books
interpreting Vygotsky’s theory of the ZPD (Wertsch and Rogoff, Berk and
Winsler, etc.).

Glassman reveals a part of his methodology on page 4 (half-way down, first
column) when he says “The zone of proximal development, especially as it
has been interpreted in the West, focuses on the role of the adult as
social interlocutor who is also a representative of society.” (my
emphasis). His qualifier “especially as it has been interpreted in the
West” may perhaps reveal what Glassman is truly concerned with - not so
much exactly what Vygotsky said or what his theories really were – but
rather how his ideas are put into useful practice. In doing so, it may be
that Glassman is consciously following a key tenet of Deweyist pragmatism,
which evaluates truth in terms of its usefulness, and not its historical
and ideological context and development.

- Steve

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