Vygotsky’s Vision:
Reshaping the Practice of Special Education for the 21st Century

B. Gindis, Ph.D.
Published in: Remedial and Special Education, (1999). Vol.20, No. 6, pp. 32-64.

INTRODUCTION. The last two decades of this century in the USA have been marked by an upsurge of interest in Lev S. Vygotsky's ideas. Several volumes of new translations of Vygotsky's writings appeared recently, the most prominent among them being "The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky" (Vygotsky, 1987-1998) and "The Vygotsky Reader" (Valsiner & Vanderveer, Eds., 1994). Since the late 1980s, literally dozens of books, articles and book chapters have been published by professionals in different fields interpreting, elaborating and expanding Vygotsky's scientific legacy. Lately, numerous websites and electronic discussion forums on the Internet have emerged to discuss ideas written by a fountain pen. Within the last two decades an "invisible college" of enthusiastic and inspired Vygotskians has formed in this country. Vygotsky has emerged as one of the major psychologists in the 20th century (Wertch, 1885, 1998), the "icon" of the "cognitive revolution" (Haywood & Tzuriel, 1992), post-modern educational progressivism (Newman & Holzman, 1993), and cultural pluralism (Rogoff, 1990). He is rightfully considered to be the founder of "cultural psychology": a psychological theory in which the human being is the subject of cultural, rather than natural processes (Ratner, 1991).

What is it in Vygotsky's works that invite scientists from different fields to scrutinize his writings as if he were our contemporary? Indeed, many factors created the stage for Vygotsky's selection as a promising alternative to existing psychoeducational theories and practices. According to some observers (Brunner, 1987) what has brought Vygotsky into the limelight was, in fact, a powerful pendulum swing from biologically-based understanding of human behavior to the social/cultural explanation of human activity. The timeliness of Vygotsky's works is borne out by the fact that he discovered the connecting links between sociocultural processes taking place in society, and mental processes taking place in the individual. Vygotsky, as no other psychologists in this century, succeeded in developing an approach that connects social and mental processes and describes the essential mechanisms of the socialization and development of the human being. In education, Vygotsky's theory is viewed as a counterbalance to behaviorism, and what is more important, as an alternative to the influential concepts of Piaget. For years, the predominant theoretical framework for child care and education in this country had been Piaget's theory. In this theory, a maturational process determines cognitive competence and a child's ability to learn: learning follows maturation. Contrary to this, Vygotsky considered learning as a shared/joint process in a responsive social context. In the Vygotskian framework, children are capable of far more competent performance when they have proper assistance ("scaffolded learning") from adults. The optimism of Vygotsky's general message, substantiated by a number of concrete methodologies (such as "dynamic assessment", "mediated learning", "cognitive education" among many others) developed within Vygotsky's theory, found an enthusiastic audience in American education of the 90s. Vygotsky has become a powerful "identification figure" in education (Mall 1990, Gredler 1992, Kozulin 1998), developmental psychology (Wertsch & Tulviste, 1992, Valsiner & Vanderveer, 1991), school psychology (Gindis, 1995, 1996), educational psychology (Karpov & Bransford, 1995, Das, 1995) and, recently, in early childhood education (Berk & Winsler, 1995, Bodrova & Leong, 1996).

Unfortunately, the powerful influence of Vygotsky’s ideas has not been as obvious and fruitful in the domain of special education in the United States. There is a sad irony in this fact because special education not only played a distinct role in Vygotsky's professional activity and personal life (Vygodskaya & Lifanova, 1996), but it also constitutes an important part of his scientific heritage (Kozulin, 1990, Valsiner & Vanderveer, 1991, Yaroshevsky, 1993). Special education was the main empirical domain from which Vygotsky obtained data to support his general theoretical conceptions. Being conscious of the "artificiality" of the data brought about in psychological experiments, Vygotsky considered special education as a huge natural laboratory where general psychological laws were discovered on the basis of various anomalies. Indeed, many of the major concepts of his cultural/historical theory were conceived, formulated and elaborated upon within the special education theoretical framework and terminology (Wertsch, 1985, Kozulin, 1990, Yaroshevsky, 1993). All this became apparent in the USA only recently, with the publication of the second volume of Vygotsky’s Collected Works, "The Fundamentals of Defectology", (Vygotsky, 1993). Finally, his major writings in the area of special education become available to English language readers. Nevertheless, we are still far away from utilizing the scope of intellectual treasures of Vygotsky’s writing in this domain. The translated book reflects the content of Volume V of the original (not complete) Russian publication (Vygotsky, 1983). Since that time, several important, previously unpublished papers relevant to special education written by Vygotsky (in one case in collaboration with A. Luria, in another with B. Warshava) appeared in the Russian language. In 1995, in Moscow, the most complete collection of Vygotsky’s writings on special education and related matters was published under the title: "Problemy Defectologii" (Problems of Defectology) (Vygotsky, 1995). This article will introduce Vygotsky’s ideas in special education based on all sources available.

"Defectology" is the term reflecting the domain of Vygotsky's research and practice relevant to contemporary special education. Special educators, however, may need some clarification regarding this term which has no real parallel in the English language and sounds rather degrading. As once noted by an American scholar (McCagg, 1989, p. 40), this term would not survive for three minutes in a discussion of the "handicapped" in the Western world today because it carries too much negative connotation towards the "disabled". In fact, the word "defectologia" (or "defectology" in the English transliteration) literally means "study of defect". In Russia, for more than a century, this term has referred to the study of the children with disabilities and the methods of their evaluation, education, and upbringing. To be technically precise, in Russia this term covers the following disabilities: the hard of hearing and deaf ("surdo-pedagogika"); the visually impaired and blind ("tiflo-pedagogika"); children with mental retardation ("oligophreno-pedagogika"); and speech/language impaired children ("logopedia") (Petrovsky, 1998, p. 364). As one can see, "Defectology" includes neither psychopathology nor learning disability or emotional disturbance as known in this country. It offers services to roughly the same population as special education in the USA, minus two large groups of students with disabilities: the emotionally disturbed and the learning disabled (who account for more than half of the special education population in the USA, according to Schulte, et al., 1998). According to defectological principles, children with organically intact brains and sensory systems traditionally belonged to general education in spite of the wide range of educational problems they presented (Gindis, 1986, 1988). Moreover, "learning disability", as it is understood in the contemporary USA, was definitely unknown in the Russia of Vygotsky’s time (Gindis, 1992). That is why an attempt to explain Defectology as a combination of "learning disability and abnormal psychology", as was done by the publisher of the second volume of Vygotsky's "Collected Works" (Vygotsky, 1993) is somewhat misleading (Gindis, 1994). In spite of some obvious lack of congruence between the fields of Vygotsky’s defectology and contemporary American special education, Vygotsky’s theoretical and methodological finding is the most powerful single source of professional inspiration for current and coming generations of special education professionals. But this is not an easily digested source!

It may be difficult for special education professionals to devour Vygotsky's texts: a difficulty that may be caused by many factors, including the differences in psychological and general humanistic traditions in American and Russian science (Valsiner & Vanderveer, 1991), the innovative nature of Vygotsky’s writing, "non-academic" and sometimes "unsystematic" and contradictory ways of expressing ideas, passionate argumentation with authors who are completely forgotten today, and last but not least - unfamiliar terminology (many of which are terminological relics sounding harsh to our ears!). No doubt, Vygotsky belongs to the cohort of the so-called "romantic" scientist (as it was defined by his most prominent student Alexander Luria, 1979) and his "romanticism" obviously determined the style of his discourse. This is not an "academic text" in the traditional sense, but rather an inspirational humanistic appeal (in the very broad, almost biblical, sense) to reconstruct the social/cultural reality. Stating this, let us go on to discover the essence of Vygotsky's ideas. There are two ways of applying Vygotsky’s theories to contemporary special education: his general theory, known in the West as Cultural-Historical Activity Theory and his special theory (less known in this country) which is called the theory of "disontogenesis" (literally: "distorted development").

UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIAL/CULTURAL ASPECT OF THE DISABILITY. Understanding the nature of a disability and the means of compensating for it are the core of any system of rehabilitation and special education. The uniqueness of Vygotsky's approach lies in his understanding of the disability not as a "biological impairment having psychological consequences", but as a socio-cultural developmental phenomenon. Based on the comprehensive review of many anthropological and historical studies (including reports authored by individuals with impaired organs) Vygotsky argued that a disability is perceived as an "abnormality" only when and if it is brought into the social context. The human brain, eye, ear, or limb are not just physical organs: impairment of any of these organs "leads to a restructuring of social relationships and to a displacement of all the systems of behavior" (Vygotsky, 1983, p. 63). Moreover, a defect varies psychologically in different cultural and social environments: "The blindness of an American farmer's daughter, of a Ukrainian landowner's son, of a German duchess, of a Russian peasant, of a Swedish proletarian - these are all psychologically entirely different facts" (Vygotsky, 1983, p. 70). Another argument: from the survival point of view, blindness, in the world of nature, is a more severe impairment than deafness. In the social world, however, deafness is a more severe disability because it prevents mastering of speech, blocks verbal communication, and bars entry to the world of culture. Therefore, being deaf "....disrupts a person's social connections in a more substantial way than blindness" (Vygotsky, 1983, p. 77). Vygotsky pointed out that from the social perspective, the primary problem of a disability is not the sensory or neurological impairment itself but its social implications: "Any physical handicap…. not only alters the child's relationship with the world, but above all affects his interaction with people. Any organic defect is revealed as a social abnormality in behavior. It goes without question that blindness and deafness per se are biological factors. However, the teacher must deal not so much with these biological factors by themselves, but rather with their social consequences. When we have before us a blind boy as the object of education, then it is necessary to deal not so much with blindness by itself, as with those conflicts which arise for a blind child upon entering life" (Vygotsky, 1983, p. 102).

Within the context of his paradigm of the social nature of the disability, Vygotsky introduced the core concepts of the "primary disability, "secondary disability" and their interactions. A "primary" disability is an organic impairment due to biological factors. A "secondary" disability refers to distortions of higher psychological functions due to social factors. An organic impairment prevents a child from mastering some or most social skills and acquiring knowledge at a proper rate and in an acceptable form. It is the child's social milieu, however, that modifies his/her course of development and leads to distortions and delays. From this point of view, many symptoms such as behavioral infantilism or primitivism of emotional reactions in individuals with mental retardation are considered to be secondary handicapping condition, acquired in the process of social interaction. Vygotsky pointed out that from the psychoeducational perspectives the primary problem of a disability is not the organic impairment itself but its social implications: an organic defect is recognized by society as a social abnormality in behavior. Expectations and attitudes of social milieu and conditions created by the society influence the access of a child with disability to socio-cultural knowledge, experiences, and opportunity to acquire the "psychological tools". Changing negative societal attitudes towards the individuals with disabilities should be one of the goals of special educators (Vygotsky, 1995). The search for positive capacities and qualitative characteristics in the upbringing (nurturing) of children with disabilities is the "trademark" of Vygotsky's approach. He called for the identification of a disability in a child from a point of strength, not weakness - he labeled this "positive differentiation". With his slashing sarcasm he nicknamed the traditional approach to the individuals with disability an "arithmetical concept of handicap" because of its view of a child with disability as the sum of his/her negative characteristics. He suggested, for example, the identification of levels of overall independence and needs for support rather than levels of feeblemindedness in children with mental retardation ( see: "Methods of Study a Child with Mental Retardation", Vygotsky, 1995, p. 114). Sixty years later this approach was employed by the American Association on Mental Retardation in their newest manual (AAMD, 1992).

UNDERSTANDING DISABILITY AS A DEVELOPMENTAL PROCESS. Vygotsky tirelessly pointed to the dynamic nature of disability: he argued that constant changes in the structure and content of a disability take place during development and under the influence of education/remediation. Vygotsky formulated the following basic assertions of child development fully applicable to the child with a disability. Human development is a socio-genetic process carried out in social activities. Education "leads" development which is the result of social learning through the internalization of culture and social relationships. Development is not a straight path of quantitative gains and accumulations, but a series of qualitative, dialectic transformations, a complex process of integration and disintegration. The essence and uniqueness of human development resides in its mediation by material instruments and social signs/language. Culture is acquired through internalization of social signs starting with language. Within the context of development, Vygotsky stated, there are two classes of psychological functions: "lower" (natural) and "higher" (cultural). The first class comprises elementary perception, memory, attention, dynamic characteristics of the nervous system, in short, everything that creates a biological predisposition of the child's development. The second class includes abstract reasoning, logical memory, language, voluntary attention, planning, decision making, etc. These are specifically human functions that appear gradually in the course of transformation of the lower functions made through the so-called "mediated activity" and "psychological tools". The formation of individual consciousness takes place through relations with others: it is a socially meaningful activity that shapes the individual’s makeup. Vygotsky indicated that each psychological function in the child "... appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological), and then inside a child (intrapsychological) (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 57). As one can see, the concepts of "natural" and "cultural" psychological functions discussed earlier are related to his notion of "primary" and "secondary" disability. Vygotsky wrote that progressive divergence in social and natural development leads to social deprivation as a society's response to a child's organic impairment. This, in turn, adversely affects the whole developmental process and leads to the emergence of delays and deficiencies, the so-called "secondary" handicapping conditions.

QUALITATIVE VERSUS QUANTITATIVE DIFFERENCES IN UNDERSTANDING OF DISABILITY. Traditionally, a child with a disability has been considered to be either "underdeveloped/developmentally delayed" (in the case of mental retardation) or "a regular child lacking a sensory organ" (in the case of physical and/or sensory impairments). In other words, the difference between a child with a disability and his/her non-disabled peer is only quantitative. According to Vygotsky, the development of the individuals with a disability is not "slowed-down" or "missing" variations of normal development. For example, he objected to the terms "developmental disability" or "developmental delays" in relation to mental retardation. He called our attention to the qualitative uniqueness of a disabled child’s development mediated by a such powerful factor as the social implication of disability. He wrote: "A child whose development is impeded by a disability is not simply a child less developed than his peers; rather, he has developed differently." (Vygotsky, 1983, p. 96). The development of a child with a disability has major qualitative differences in the "means and ways" of his/her internalization of culture. The core of the development of a child with a disability is the "divergence" between his/her "natural" and "social" paths of development. Vygotsky pointed to two major differences in the development of a child with a disability in comparison with his typically developing peers: the formation of compensatory strategies (mechanisms) and the emergence of social complications of the disability. Without an understanding of these qualitative differences, no effective remediation is possible. Vygotsky suggested that in the future science will be able to create the disability-specific "profile" of this discrepancy as the most important characteristic in the psychological development of the child with a particular disability. He listed the dynamic and forms of socialization, adoption of "psychological tools", and formation/use of compensatory strategies as the "milestones" of this profile (Vygotsky, 1993, see: "Defect and Compensation" and "Principles of Social Education for the Deaf-Mute Child"). Compensatory strategies are by no means "mechanical substitutions" of impaired functions: they are the product of the child’s personality, his/her experiences, and education. Compensatory strategies are aimed at mastering of "psychological tools" and using them to acquire cultural forms of behavior. When the direct way of developing psychological functions is blocked (e.g. in the case of blindness) the compensatory strategies offer an "indirect" path to the same goal of cultural development. Creating the "disability-specific" compensatory strategies was Vygotsky’s vision of the future in remedial education. In Russia, based on Vygotsky’s theoretical foundation, an effective system of educating and raising deaf individuals was created (Knox & Kozulin, 1989, Lebedinsky, 1985, Zaittseva et al. 1999).

Vygotsky’s understanding of disability as a social/cultural, developmental, and qualitatively-specific phenomenon has brought about two distinctive methodologies that may have a long-lasting impact on the field of special education: "zone of proximal development" and "dynamic assessment’.

"ZONE OF PROXIMAL DEVELOPMENT" and "DYNAMIC ASSESSMENT". Thousands of teachers and parents, well before Vygotsky, observed that with the proper assistance from an adult or a more advanced peer, a child is capable of much more learning than on his/her own. Vygotsky elevated this simple observation to a theoretical generalization known as the "Zone of Proximal Development" (ZPD). He stated that the process of scaffolding brings about abilities that have been in the process of emerging, developing, (that is, have not yet matured) and thus reveals the hidden potential of a child which is crucial for both diagnosis and prognosis. The ZPD is one of Vygotsky's ideas that has a direct bearing on practice, both in psychological testing and in school instruction (Moll, 1990) and is, perhaps, the best known and most experimentally scrutinized concept in Vygotsky's entire legacy. (For an elaborate review, see: Rogoff & Wertsch, 1984, Valsiner & Vanderveer, 1993).

The ZPD in its application to special education, however, still remains pretty much "terra incognita". It is known that in terms of individual differences, the depth of the ZPD varies, reflecting a child's cognitive and meta-cognitive learning potential. From this perspective, it offers a qualitative distinction between children with mental retardation and educationally neglected, temporally-delayed, or bilingual students from impoverished families. Those children might appear similarly backward in their functioning according to the results of standardized psychological testing because those tests report the current samples of behavior (Sattler, 1992), but they do indeed differ dramatically in their ability to benefit from an adult's help, as Vygotsky and his followers in Russia showed (Lebedinsky, 1985; Lubovsky, 1990; Rubinshtein, 1979). On the other hand, questions do arise about the validity and effectiveness of this notion applied to children with disabilities, whose unaided performance could be extremely limited ((G. Cole, 1987, p. 171-172). The real advantages of this concept and its practical application within the American system of special education still remain to be seen based on further verification of its merits and limitations (for a more in-depth discussion, see: Gindis, 1992).

Vygotsky is rightfully considered to be the "founding father" of what is now known as "dynamic assessment" (Minick, 1987; Guthke & Wingenfeld, 1992; Lidz, 1995). In the early 1930s, at the height of the enthusiasm for IQ testing, Vygotsky was one of the first (if not the only one in his time) who defined IQ tests’ limitations based on his understanding of disability as a process, not a static condition, and on his understanding of development as a dialectical process of mastering cultural means. He noted that standardized IQ tests inappropriately equalize the natural and cultural processes and, therefore are unable to make the differentiation of impaired functioning that can be due to cultural deprivation or can be the result of organic damage. In the essay "The Difficult Child", Vygotsky (1993, pp. 139-149) described the case of a bilingual Tatar (a nation within the Russian Federation) girl who was diagnosed as having mental retardation. In fact, her poor performance on the standardized cognitive tests was due to her social/cultural deprivation and related to her limited knowledge of both Russian and her native language. Vygotsky showed that as a result, she had not attained the level of acculturation expected at her age: her overall development was frustrated and she appeared to have mental retardation according to an IQ test. The most appropriate test in this case should be a "developmental assessment", which, Vygotsky insisted, should concentrate on mental processing and certain qualitative meta-cognitive indicators, such as cognitive strategies employed by the child, type and character of mistakes, ability to benefit from the help provided by the examiner; and emotional reactions to success and failure. Although Vygotsky had no chance to elaborate on his ideas to formulate specific assessment operations, he laid down the background for a family of testing procedures commonly recognized as "dynamic assessment" (DA). This is an interactive procedure that follows a test-intervene-retest format focusing on the cognitive processes and meta-cognitive characteristics of a child. Through an analysis of a child’s pre-test and post-test performance following test-embedded intervention, an evaluator can derive important information about the child’s cognitive modifiability, his/her responsiveness to an adult's mediation, and his/her amenability to instruction and guidance. Therefore, the DA provides information - not readily available through standardized testing - crucial for effective remediation, which is the ultimate goal of this assessment. As was observed by Lidz (1995), traditional standardized assessment trails the child's cognitive development to the point of "failure" in his/her individualized (independent) functioning, while DA in the Vygotskian tradition leads the child to the point of his/her achieving success in joint/shared activity. A breakthrough in practical application of the DA procedures in special education is attributed to the works of R. Feuerstein (1980) and his colleagues. As of now, DA is still mostly a "supplementary" procedure to the traditional assessment, however, the next century may witness an accelerated shift from standardized testing towards dynamic assessment (Haywood, et al., 1990). A group of prominent researchers in different countries: USA (Brown & Campione, 1987, Lidz, 1991, Swanson, 1995), Canada (Daz, 1995), Israel (Tzuriel 1992, Kozulin 1998, Feuerstein, 1997), Great Britain (Evans, 1993), Germany (Guthke & Wingenfeld 1992), Russia (Ivanova, 1976, Vlasova, 1984, Lebedinsky, 1985, Lubovsky, 1990), are productively developing different aspects of DA in its application to individuals with different disabilities.

COMPENSATION, REHABILITATION, AND EDUCATION OF THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES. Vygotsky wrote that the effectiveness of the compensatory strategies may be relatively free from the severity or type of the child’s disability. Timeliness and appropriateness (in terms of methodology used) are more important. One of the most outstanding confirmations of this rather bold statement was the work of Vygotsky’s compatriots I. Sokoliansky and A. Meshcheriakov (1979) with deaf-mute-blind children. An innovative idea of L. Vygotsky's was that the most efficient compensation for the loss or weakness of natural functions can be achieved through the development of the higher psychological functions. Paradoxically, while what may be impaired are the natural processes (visual, auditory, motor, etc.), the objects of rehabilitation are the cultural processes of abstract reasoning, logical memory, voluntary attention, goal-directed behaviors, etc. Vygotsky pointed to the limitations of traditional sensory-motor training, saying that pure biological compensation (e.g., superior hearing in individuals who are blind) has been an exception rather than the rule, while the domain of higher psychological activities has no limits: "Training sharpness of hearing in a blind person has natural limitations; compensation through the mightiness of the mind (imagination, reasoning, memorization, etc.) has virtually no limits" (Vygotsky, 1983, p. 212).

In Vygotsky’s view, special education programs should have the same social/cultural goals as general education programs. Their specificity is in addressing the "secondary" disability syndrome, that is in countering the negative social consequences of the "primary" disability. Instructions in special education should follow the same principle as general education, namely, that "education leads development". In the essay "Defect and Compensation" Vygotsky (1993, pp. 52- 64) wrote about the "two-sided nature" of a handicap: an underdevelopment or absence of the functions related to an organic defect and forming an adaptive-compensatory mechanism. The effectiveness of this mechanism depends on the adequacy and timeliness of the methods of correction used in educating the child. The focus of the compensation should be the intensification of cultural enlightenment, strengthening of the higher psychological functions, the quantity and quality of communication with adults, and social relationship with a "collective" (an organized group of peers). Vygotsky believed that a physical/mental impairment could be overcome by creating alternative but equivalent roads for cultural development. Common laws of development (for children with a disability and their non-disabled peers) include internalization of the external cultural activities into internal processes via "psychological tools" and "mediated learning" provided by adults. The concept of the internalization of psychological tools as the main mechanism of development has a special importance for rehabilitation in the field of special education. Different "tools" (e.g. various means of communication) may convey essentially the same educational information, the same meaning. "Different symbolic systems correspond to one and the same content of education... Meaning is more important than the sign. Let us change signs but retain meaning."(Vygotsky, 1983, p. 54). Vygotsky pointed out that our civilization has already developed different means (e.g. Braille reading, sign language, lip-reading, finger-spelling, etc.) to accommodate the unique way of acculturation for a child with a disability through acquiring different symbolic systems. We should continue developing special "psychological tools" to address special needs, concluded Vygotsky. This appeal was made well before the era of sophisticated electronic gadgets and computers and is now more compelling than ever!

An organized peer group (a "collective" in Vygotsky’s terminology) as a remedial factor is not a particularly popular approach in special education (Evans, 1993), although it was found that students with special needs may benefit both academically and even more so in social/emotional domains through peer-mediated activities (Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1998). According to Vygotsky, a "collective" is an effective means of mediation and a powerful facilitator in forming the higher psychological function in a child with a disability. In a group of peers under the guidance of an educator, a child with a disability may extend his/her ZPD. In fact, Vygotsky believed that it is the "collective" that has the most promising remedial potential for a child with a disability (Vygotsky, 1993, an essay: "The Collective as a Factor in the Development of the Abnormal Child", pp. 191-209). This particular aspect of Vygotsky’s legacy applied to children with mental retardation has an interesting and practically significant development in Russia (Rubinstein, 1979, Vlasova, 1984, Lubovsky, 1990) and may be useful for American special education (Gindis, 1992). Lately, one can observe growing interest in this idea (Topping & Ehly, 1998).

"INCLUSION" AS THE FUTURE DESIGN FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION. Within his general theory of child development, Vygotsky created a comprehensive and practice-oriented paradigm of educating children with special needs. Vygotsky's idea that the development of a child with a disability is determined by the social aspect of his/her organic impairment creates a new perspective for socialization/acculturation and overall remediation of children with special needs. It took Vygotsky several years to develop his unique vision for the future model of special education which may be called (using his own words) "inclusion based on positive differentiation". ("Positive deferential approach", according to Vygotsky, means a favorable societal outlook on a child with a disability from a point of view his/her strengths, not weaknesses). In order to properly comprehend and fully appreciate his conceptualization on this matter we have to understand the historical background of the development of this idea and Vygotsky’s dialectical mode of thinking (for more elaboration, see Kozulin, 1990 and Yaroshevsky, 1993). A reader of Volume ll of his "Collected Works" may be somewhat confused that Vygotsky was equally critical of what he called the "unlawful segregation" of the disabled and "mindless mainstreaming" of children with special needs.

It is true that in the early stages of his career as a researcher and an administrator, Vygotsky did call for "normalization through mainstreaming" of all children with disabilities, going sometimes to the extreme. In many aspects his earlier writings had a lot in common with what is nowadays called "The Full Inclusion Model" as described in Stainback et al., 1989, and in Lipsky & Gartner, 1996). Vygotsky passionately argued against what he called "the social prejudices against the handicapped" (see, for instance, his essay: "Principles of Education for Physically Handicapped", Vygotsky, 1993, pp. 65-76) - an appeal that found a deaf ear in Stalinist Russia (McCagg, 1989), but was fully appreciated half a century later in the USA by a broad audience (Newman & Holzman, 1993). In fact, Vygotsky's idea of social inclusion of children with disabilities into the social/cultural life of their communities as a condition of effective rehabilitation and compensation was never realized in his native country (Lubovsky, 1996). His criticism of a "negative model of special education" as a combination of lowered expectations, a watered-down curriculum, and social isolation sounds very much up to date (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994).

On the other hand, in his later works Vygotsky expressed firm conviction that only a truly differentiated learning environment can fully develop the higher psychological functions and overall personality of a child with a disability. Special education should not be just a diminished version of regular education, but a specially designed setting where the entire staff is able to exclusively serve the individual needs of the child with a disability. It should be a special system that employs its specific methods because students with disabilities require modified and alternative educational methods. Vygotsky insisted on creating a learning environment which would supply students with disabilities with alternative means of communication and development, on using those "psychological tools" that are most appropriate to compensate for their particular disability. Students with disabilities need specially trained teachers, a differentiated curriculum, special technological auxiliary means, and simply more time to learn. How realistically can these demands be met in a regular classroom situation? His main premises were that a child with a disability must be educated with a special set of "psychological tools" (Vygotsky actually used the phrase: ""sign system"). The process of arming a child with a disability with these "tools" must take place within their "zone of proximal development" (which is "disability-specific") and in a mainstreamed social/cultural milieu where compensation for the "secondary defect" should take place through experiences and opportunities that are as close as possible to normality. In Vygotsky's view, the main objective in the field of special education was the creation of what he called a "positive differential approach". Special education in his vision should be a system that employs its specific methods (because students with special needs require modified and alternative educational methods), but remains within the mainstreamed social/cultural situation. The main goal of special education, therefore, is not only to compensate for primary defects through facilitation and strengthening of intact psychological functions but, mainly, to prevent, correct, and rehabilitate secondary defects by psychological and pedagogical means. The "mainstreamed" social/cultural environment is the only adequate context where it may occur.

CONCLUSION. Lev S. Vygotsky formulated a unique theoretical framework for the most comprehensive, inclusive, and humane practice of special education known in the 20th century. By no means did he leave a completed system, ready for application and free from contradictions or "blind spots". It is more an approach than a paradigm ; a blueprint for further elaboration rather than a tested model. The timeliness and fruitfulness of many of Vygotsky's theoretical concepts in the domain of special education have been substantiated by empirical data accumulated within the half century since his death. Scientific validation and actual implementation of others are yet to be seen. Vygotsky’s appeal to consider psychoeducational assessment and methods of training/teaching as a social/cultural process is finding acceptance with thousands of professionals throughout the world. His idea that the development of a child with a disability is determined by the social implication of his/her organic impairment creates a new perspective for socialization, acculturation, and development of children with special needs. Vygotsky's scientific legacy contains a theoretical framework that might integrate all branches of contemporary special education. The socially, culturally, and developmentally oriented theory of the late genius has the potential to unify, restructure, and promote special and remedial education as a science, profession, and social institution.

In spite of the fact that special education became the "testing ground" for many of Vygotsky’s innovative ideas, this domain itself remained for a long time in the shadow of his scientific heritage. Hopefully, this special issue of Remedial and Special Education will be the groundbreaking event in embracing Vygotsky’s ideas in special education in this country. On the whole, this issue of Remedial and Special Education testifies to the extraordinary timeliness of Vygotsky's ideas. Publication of this issue creates a knowledge base for the theoretical and practical implications of Vygotsky's ideas within the American system of special education. Indeed, Vygotsky's scientific legacy sets a course to follow for special education at the cusp of the 21st century.