This is facinating stuff David and an important take on Dewey.
Howard Johnson

Hi Howard, thanks again for pointing me to the two Dewey and Vygotsky articles—they were very enlightening! Now that I’m re-reading Dewey after 20+ years, I’m sheepishly seeing that Dewey laid the foundation for vertical learning theory long before I did. I’ve got a much more substantial article in the works, but I’m using a few shorter articles to process my thoughts.

I feel like the gap between Dewey and Vygotsky appears larger than it really is because of how people have misinterpreted Dewey. One difference is how they write about interest. Because interest is socially mediated, Vygotsky felt that, in the proper environment, most students will become interested in whatever the teacher is interested in—so there’s less need to personalize instruction. In his writing, Dewey tends to focus on personalizing instruction and the interests of individual students, but I think he would agree interests are socially mediated and that it is the role of teachers to direct the student’s interest by placing selected stimuli in the environment.

Another difference is how they see disciplines. In Dewey’s view, an educated student should eventually be capable of shaping a discipline to his or her present situation—adding to and updating the human race’s maps. Vygotsky didn’t really write about that or see that as a goal. In his writing, a discipline tended to be fairly static.