Learning and Communication Theories in Instructional Technology

Dr. Mimi Recker

Lev Semenovich Vygotsky's Biography

(1896 --1934)


L. S. Vygotsky was born in 1896, about a hundred years ago in Tsarist Russia, in the town of Orscha in Belorussia to a middle-class Jewish family. As Jews, Lev Vygotsky family held prosperous outside from the Russia under the Tsar Nicholes. He grew up in Gomel, an inside city that is what is now an independent nation of Belorussia, about 400 miles west from Moscow.

During that time, there were strict laws on what jobs Jews could hold, what region of the country they could live in, and limits on how many could be formally educated. He, therefore, recieved his education in an unconventional way. Lev studied wit h a private tutor for many years, and enrolled in a Jewish gynasium only at the junior high school level. Despite under the quota for Jews entering college, finally he was fortunately admitted to Moscow University by ěJewishî lottery. During the years studying in Moscow University, 1913-1917, at the insistence of his parents he initially applied to the Medical School of Moscow University. Nevertheless, as soon as he started studying in Moscow University, he transferred from the Medical School to the L aw school. The humanities courses at Moscow University could not satisfy his desire for knowledge. Therefore, he enrolled in the history and philosophy program at a private university, Shaniavsky University, where many leading professors of Moscow Univ ersity left for. By 1917, he graduated from the two universities at the same time. He was graduated just as the First World War was ending, and Russian Revolution changed all institutions and expectations. After college, Vygotsky returned to Gomel and taught classes there for seven years. Initially he taught literature in the secondary school, and after a few years, taught the teacher education in the local training institution. That is he fed much practical experience in that field of education.

Vygotsky was particularly interested in the philosophy of history and was a recognized leader of a small circle of high school students concerned with the problems of Jewish culture and history. He was at that time very enthusiastic about the Hegeli an view of history. His mind was then engaged by the Hegelian formula -- thesis, antithesis, synthesis. By the age of eighteen Vygotsky already had become an accomplished intellectual -- his essay on Hamlet, which later became an integral part of The Psychology of Art (1925) -- his Ph. D thesis, was written at that time. He was enthusiastic in literature and theatre as well. He particularly admired Stanislavskyís Art Theatre, so later on, he used Stanislavskyís notes for actors in his Thought and Language.

He also became interested in psycology and began to do research in this field. He participated in the meeting of the Second Psychological Congress in Leningrad on 6 January 1924, and delivered a speech on ěThe Methodology of Reflexological and Psych ological Studiesî in which he claimed that scientific psychology cannot ignore the facts of consciousness. Although the talk challenged the leading Soviet behavioral Scientists without successfully convincing everyone of the correctness of his view, it d rew the attention of Alexander Luriaís, the academic secretary at the Moscow Institute of Psychology. He invited Vygotsky to join the research team in Moscow. In 1926, Vygotsky finished The Historical Meaning of the Crisis in P sychology, Which was published Only half a century later in 1982.

Before he died, it was a time of relatively openness for academic freedom. For him, it was simply a period of time as the almost friend-lost decade of his life. Vygotsky worked in a wide range of arenas. He worked for displaced refugees, with th e physically and metal handicapped people, in some different institutes and universities. He managed to finish writing seven books and dozens of articles before his death of Tuberculosis at the age of 37 in 1934.

Since 1936, psychology became politicized and only certain psychologists were proved by Stalinís regime. Vygotskyian theory was not one of the lucky schools. It was not until 1960ís, after the death of Stalin, the political influences on academic lif e decreased, Vygotskyís ideas resurfaced in Russia, and his commentaries on Piaget were published in the West. In the late 1980ís, Vygotskyís ideas became increasingly popular in the United States.

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Last Updated on May 3, 1996 by the P540 Vygotsky Group

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