John Dewey – Lev Vygotsky :Comparison of Educational Theories

John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky had different ideas on human thought but in many ways their ideas came to the same outcomes in education. Dewey’s ideas on thought were based on instrumentalism and he focused his educational ideas on this. On the other hand Vygotsky’s educational ideas revolved around Marxist social ideas. These ideas might be different but they aren’t opposites and could play off of each other very well. Much of the work of these men happened at the same time and they used and agreed with many things the other said.

Instrumentalism is a way of looking at ideas and thoughts as instruments for action. This belief led Dewey to believe that vocational studies needed to be a part of the education system. He thought schools should have a combination of vocational and academic studies. In this way he said students should take part in life like activities that would promote creativity and cooperation. Dewey saw repetition and memorization as the worst possible ways to teach people how to do something. An idea he really supported through out his whole range of research and writings on education was that there need to be a focus on thought and not strict topics. He thought it was a waste to teach kids how to do things in just one context. He condemned elitism and felt teachers shouldn’t teach as if they are all knowing and better then their students. He thought teachers should be creative and practical in their approach to teaching to provide students with opportunities to think for themselves (Dewey 1934).

Vygotsky applied Marxist social ideals to education, believing that a person could learn more if they were learning in a social situation. His theory of “Zone of Proximal Development” stated that there was a difference between the level of learning that one could reach by studying alone and the level they would reach working with a teacher or a more advanced peer. In this way he believed that education should be formed into a social process. His ideal class would contain group work, peer review and one on one contact with the teacher. He too would be against elitism by teachers as Dewey was and agreed with many of Dewey’s ideas. He was in favor of teaching thinking skills rather then just topic based lesson (Indiana University 2004).

In comparing these two thinkers we see different thoughts on thinking and education. However these thoughts don’t disagree with each other and they could actually be applied in unison. Dewey and Vygotsky would both produce a classroom where the emphasis is on learning how to think rather then learning mere facts. Also both classrooms would be lead by a teacher who is more of a guider and helper then a strict authority on what is right. They both would want the teacher to act as more of an equal to the students rather then the commonly practiced elitist idea where the teacher is set as being better then the students. Both men would also have interaction between the students as a tool for learning. This idea was more of a main point in Vygotsky’s teaching methods but would be included in Dewey’s as well.

In many ways the ideas of these two men have been combined to create the classroom environment that is now seen as being most conducive to learning. It could also be said that these two men both had great ideas about education but it was the mixing of their ideas together that made the biggest impact on education. Creative lesson plans and social learning are two very important parts of the education world as it is today.

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