While reading The socialist alteration of man I was struck by how it seemed he was arguing for a very holistic type education without using that term. His initial arguments focus around how humans are far more affected by our social evolution, rather than the biological one that is happening at a far slower pace. “Primitive” societies are more directly influenced by major social changes, while when they become more advanced this influence is “mediated by a large number of very complex material and spiritual factors.” (Vygotsky, 1930). These complex factors mean that societies are not single units, but rather made up of multiple splinters or fractures of varying beliefs and cultures.
The thing that jumped out to me as I was reading, was the quote of Engels “The division of labour has caused man himself to become subdivided. All remaining physical and spiritual faculties are sacrificed for the sake of developing just one type of activity.” (Vygotsky, 1930), and how with manufacturing this fragments a workers’ skills even more. This idea of fragmentation made me consider our education system and what it rewards. I would argue that our education system encourages a continual narrowing of skills, going from a generalist program in elementary school, to splitting subjects into specific courses (Multiple math courses and sciences for example), to the university system with Undergraduate degrees (selecting a major), Masters and PhDs. All of these represent a narrowing of scope and I didn’t initially agree with the idea that it makes us worse as people. Each of us have unique strengths and weaknesses, it is part of being human, and by focussing on our strengths then we can help out our society by having individuals be excellent in multiple areas. After all you only need one blacksmith per village, but require farmers, craftsmen, teachers etc as well. Even the way we conceptualize jobs, tends to be with a narrow focus (studying science leads to becoming a scientist). We want education that is directly applicable to our chosen path of study, and I am definitely guilty of this during times in my B.Ed when I would complain about the “usefulness” of one concept or another.
However towards the end of the reading I began to consider the idea of polytechnic schools, marrying these physical and intellectual learnings together. I am now a firm believer in being exposed to multiple different subjects, even when they are not directly applicable to your job because I think it makes more well rounded individuals. While I was often frustrated in my mandatory undergraduate philosophy courses, I am glad I took them simply because they expanded my mind in a different way than my music classes did. This (I believe) is more what Vygotsky and Marx are saying is important with education. By separating trades and intellectual abilities, you are fragmenting education and reducing the holistic nature of it.