Harvard Educational Review
  1. Natasha

    Vygotskian Dialogues

    By Matthew Lipman

    New York: Teacher College Press, 1996. 141 pp. $19.95 (paper)

    The ideas on cognition and learning of Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934), a Soviet psychologist and semiotician, have begun to have a major impact in the West in recent years. Even though he has been called the Mozart of psychology, Vygotsky's work was virtually unknown to the Western world when this genius died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-eight. It was only during the late 1970s that his works were introduced and enthusiastically embraced. Since then, his reputation in the West has matched, if not overshadowed, that of the towering Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget.

    Unlike Piaget's formalistic and stage-like theory of cognitive development, Vygotsky's theory provides more room for considering the role of culture in mental development, learning, and education in general. Perhaps for this reason, Vygotsky's theory is increasingly being adopted as welcome guidance for classroom practice. However, in order for educators and classroom practitioners to apply Vygotsky's theories, they need a contextual understanding of his ideas. For this reason, Lipman's Natasha: Vygotskian Dialogues is a timely book.

    In Natasha, Lipman engages in constant dialogues with an invented protagonist, a Ukrainian reporter named Natasha. Through these dialogues, often carried out in a playful manner, the book unfolds in an engaging and informative way that makes Vygotskian thought come alive. Readers of this book will find that the author has done a great justice to the consistent theme of Vygotsky's theory; that is, that thinking is the internalization of speech, and this reciprocal process between thought and language plays an important role in learning to think. Extending these Vygotskian principles, the author also highlights how the internalized meaning-making process is of great significance to learning and, furthermore, is relevant to the community of inquiry. However, some beginning readers of Vygotskian theories might be discouraged by the author's extensive dialogues on the ideas of other theorists, such as Bahktin, Dewey, Mead, or Weber.

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