Awakening to Life. Alexander Meshcheryakov 1974
When a child comes into the world, he finds himself in a humanised environment. The space around him is filled with objects made by man: the house in which the child is born and lives, the cot in which he spends the majority of his day at first, the clothes and numerous objects required for his care, household and work implements linked to functions and modes of action devised by man long since. The whole of his humanised environment is initially actualised for the child through certain actions performed by others and designed to satisfy his needs.
A child possessed of normal sight and hearing is himself rendered human through his interaction with the phenomena of his humanised environment, i.e. he moulds his human mind in the natural course of his life, in a way that goes virtually unnoticed by those around him.
For a deaf-blind child the natural ways of communicating with those around him are drastically curtailed and therefore the process of his mind’s emergence and development is slowed down. It falls into clearly distinguishable stages and therefore it is easier to analyse than the same process in normal children.
Before a deaf-blind child starts to receive special instruction, the adult looking after him satisfies his physical needs using methods that have taken shape over centuries of human experience: in accordance with a special timetable he feeds and dresses the child and puts him to bed, etc. This very care, although it involves activity exclusively on the part of the adult, while the child’s activity is minimal, sows the seeds for the development of the child’s human mind.
These first elements of human mental processes take shape because the child’s needs are satisfied with human objects (clothing, household articles and implements, the paraphernalia of infant care) and through human methods (feeding, dressing, using the pot). An event of vital importance in the child’s life takes place: his physical needs become human needs since they are satisfied with the help of human objects and through human methods.
Another fact of fundamental importance for the development of the child’s human mind is that his needs are satisfied with the help of tools (i.e. a child eats with a spoon, he does not eat the spoon).
This circumstance gives rise to a special relationship between the subject (child) and the tool through which a need is satisfied.
It thus becomes possible and indeed necessary for the subject to learn the objective properties of the thing – the tool. The possibility of reflecting the objective properties of this thing in the activity carried out with it stems from the fact that the thing does not present itself directly to the subject as the object of his need, but as a tool with its various objective properties. The need to understand the objective properties of this tool for the satisfaction of needs stems from the fact that the child has to act in a correct way in order to achieve his aim. What does “acting in a correct way” with a tool involve? It means modifying action in accordance with the objective properties of a given tool, properties that have been revealed and consolidated in the course of social development in a specific mode of action. The socially evolved mode of action constitutes the social significance inherent in the tool or thing. In this way between the subject (child) and object of his need there comes in a thing (tool) complete with its intrinsic social significance. It is precisely this that is the decisive factor in a child’s humanisation. As a child masters a thing, i.e. learns to satisfy its needs with the latter, he appropriates its social significance and transforms it into personalised meaning.
In order to understand the essence of the process of formation of mentality as reflection of objective reality, the following points should be made clear.
In order to form an image of a thing reflecting its objective properties it is essential for the individual to carry out a practical action in relation to it. Perception of a thing without practical action in regard to it does not enable the individual to really grasp its essence.
On the contrary, the essence that is concealed behind a phenomenon, turns it into a riddle, lends it a significance that escapes initial perception without practical action. This essence is revealed in transforming action. Transforming action is effected through a tool, i.e. one object is changed by the subject by means of another (the tool). Action with a tool of necessity brings out the objective properties of a thing, properties that are independent of the subject of the cognitive process. It is the totality of the objective properties of a thing, that are necessary and sufficient for its utilisation in social practice, that constitutes its essence.
However, practical action of an individual, which is essentially a transforming action, although necessary, is not in itself sufficient to enable. the individual to apprehend through it the essence of things. Things which make up man’s environment are products of social labour. In them is objectivised knowledge acquired through social practice. This knowledge reflecting the essential properties of things is expressed in their functions, in modes of action. In order for an individual to acquire objective knowledge it is essential that his practical action correspond adequately to the socially evolved function of the thing, i.e. that the action be carried out in the mode associated with the thing in question.
However, the use by an individual of socially evolved modes of action, while essential, is still inadequate for the full assimilation of knowledge inherent in things. It is essential that actions be directed towards the satisfaction of the individual’s needs. The orientation of object actions to the satisfaction of existing needs, their development and the formation of new needs, is the essential condition for an individual’s active behaviour. The acquisition of new knowledge must correspond to the needs stemming from the individual’s practical activity.
Only the sum of the above-listed conditions (the need for practical action, the utilisation of social modes of action, the orientation of action to the satisfaction of needs) makes possible the appropriation by the individual of socially evolved knowledge. These conditions are necessary and sufficient for the appropriation by the individual of social values inherent in things as products of labour, for the transformation of these values into individualised meanings.
All physical needs of a child develop into human needs in the normal course of things, although they vary in their importance for the child’s development and the shaping of patterns of human behaviour. Teaching a child to eat with a spoon and drink from a cup turns the physical need for food and drink into a human need, laying the foundation for the emergence of complex forms of behaviour connected with feeding.
The body’s physical need for protection (against cold, over-heating, injury and discomfort, etc.) is transformed in the course of a child’s instruction into human needs, such as the need for clothes corresponding to the temperature of the air around him, and the need for caution while moving about. A child’s excretive need is objectivised through his learning to use a pot and behave in the proper manner in the lavatory. Even a need as profoundly physical as breathing is objectivised in human actions, such as airing a room.
The needs which take shape during the early stages of a child’s development are satisfied by adults. When teaching a deaf-blind child, the adult transfers his active behaviour to the child, as it were, when he deliberately reduces his active role in actions involved in the care of the child, and gradually fosters and increases the child’s active role. The adult literally hands over to the child the function of his own care, which becomes self-care.
Teaching a deaf-blind child the skills of self-care proceeds according to the principle of “shared object activity” originally formulated by Professor Ivan Sokolyansky.
At the first stage of this instruction the adult carries out the entire action himself. At the final stage the teacher merely provides the signal for action and, without touching the child, watches-over his completely independent action, only helping him when he makes mistakes. Later even the adult’s signal for the child’s action can be dropped. The signal for the next action should be provided by the completion of the preceding one. Help from an adult in developing independent action should be administered in strictly defined doses and it should be reduced at a rate corresponding to that at which the child’s activity increases.
If the combined activity of the adult and child necessary for the execution of the object action which the adult is teaching the child is taken as one, then as the child masters the action in question the adult’s share in the execution of the action decreases from one (when the adult carries out the whole action for the child) to nought (when the adult no longer participates in the execution of the action), while the share of the child increases from nought (when he is wholly passive) to one (when he carries out the entire action independently). The sum total of the two shares of activity at each stage of the child’s tuition should come to one, i.e. the combined activity of the adult and child should be sufficient for the execution of the entire object action possessing a purpose that is within the child’s grasp.
During the early stages of his instruction a child’s needs constitute the levers for his independent human activity, in this case, self-care.
A deaf-blind child is taught to eat, dress, wash, and take care as he moves about, etc. All types of such activity engaged in by the child for the satisfaction of his needs are built up from actions, operations and methods evolved by the human race and assimilated by the child. These actions, operations, and methods – whether locomotory, orientative, imitative or executed in conjunction with an adult – when mastered by the child give birth to new needs corresponding to those actions. These new needs then constitute the prerequisite for the acceptance by the child of the task to teach him new forms of activity: activity connected with play, cognition, imitation, or communication.
The emergence of new types of activity within those already established is one of the essential features of the development of human behaviour. A graphic example of this is the process of emergence and development of cognitive activity. Its emergence is directly linked with the use of tools in activity for the satisfaction of primary (physical) needs. A human mode (in this case a mode involving the use of tools) for the satisfaction of needs confronts the child with the need to master a tool. A child has to use it properly and to this end needs to know it. A kind of vicious circle develops: in order to know how to act with the tool the child has to know it, and in order to know the tool it is essential that the child act with it. The vicious circle is broken when the adult begins to teach the child to act with the tool in the process of satisfying its needs. This instruction is only possible in the form of joint object action shared between the adult and the child.
When he masters an object action, a child comes to understand the object involved in the action. This means that the child, as he masters the method of action, assimilates the social value inherent in the object concerned. Indeed, knowledge of objects is social values transferred to the mind of the child, i.e. appropriated by him. In attaining this knowledge the initial act, as we have seen, is the practical action involving the object. The social experience assimilated by the child lies at the basis of his knowledge of the world. This ensures that the knowledge is both objective (independent of the cognising subject) and also essential, since it is social experience which selects from the enormous quantity of phenomenological properties precisely those which constitute the essence of things.
Reproduction of an activity developed earlier always takes place in conditions that are subject to some change, so the reproduction can never be an identical copy of the original activity. Specific actions involving tools change in accordance with changed conditions. Knowledge of objects is therefore modified in accordance with changes that have taken place in the actions. Cognitive activity directing the reproduction of a specific activity in changing conditions is aimed not merely at the recognition of objects and the actualisation of existent knowledge, but at changing that knowledge, amplifying and modifying it. For this reason the actual process of perception (linked with object action in constantly changing conditions) always involves the reproduction of images and their modification.
In order to reproduce any activity in changed conditions new knowledge is required to supplement that obtained earlier. The contradiction between the ability to perform a given activity in one set of conditions and the necessity of carrying it out in different conditions necessitates anticipatory orientative activity of a wider nature than that required in each concrete case. Knowledge is acquired of alternative tools and modes of action from which the most suitable for the given conditions can be selected. In this way orientative activity creates conditions for a free choice of tools and modes of action in attaining the set tasks.
Orientative activity thus emerges within practical forms of activity. It is generated by the contradiction within the practical activity, between the necessity to carry out an action (so that needs can be satisfied), and the impossibility of carrying it because of inadequate knowledge of methods for its execution. The disparity between the knowledge evolved in the course of earlier types of activity and that necessary for new types of activity creates a constant motive force for the development of cognitive activity.
Many types of activity which a child is taught are called forth not by one particular need, but by a complex combination of needs. Play activity, for example, satisfies at least three needs – those for movement, imitation and communication; activity in observing clean habits is dictated by man’s excretive, locomotory and imitative needs, and so on. In a child’s subsequent development as well the perfecting of types of activity already mastered and the emergence of new types of activity are dictated by a complex interweaving of many different needs.
The relationship between a need and the activity corresponding to that need is also rife with contradictions. Each activity emerges (or rather is accepted and assimilated by the child) only if there is present a need which corresponds to it, while the need develops in the course of the corresponding activity. The contradiction between the need and the means of its satisfaction, i.e. the activity, during the first stage of the emergence of a new type of activity, lies in the fact that the need is insufficiently satisfied by the as yet imperfect methods of action. This contradiction is the motive force for perfecting modes of action. As these are perfected, they, in their turn, outgrow the need which brought them about. The need becomes too cramped for them. Thus a new contradiction emerges, between the developed modes of action and the need that lags behind. This contradiction furthers the development or modification of existing needs and generates new needs, which, in their turn, would require new modes of action.
This contradiction can never be completely resolved, and at the same time it is being constantly resolved in part in the vital process of the emergence of new human forms of activity and the development of human needs. This contradiction is indeed the motive force behind the process in which the methods for the realisation of the activity, determined by existing needs, brings forth new needs which give rise to the emergence of new forms of activity. The satisfaction of the first need, the action of satisfying and the instrument of satisfaction which has been acquired, leads to new needs; and this creation of new needs is the first historical act” (3, p. 42).
This process of the development of needs and the emergence of new forms of activity is infinite both in the historical perspective and with regard to individual development. In the development of deaf-blind children this process ensues when they are being taught to satisfy the her physical needs through socially evolved methods, as a result of which physical needs develop into human needs, which pave the way to the child’s acceptance of the task to develop new types of activity, while in their turn these new types of activity give rise to new needs. The need to protect the body from cold, for instance, leads the child to accept the task of learning to put clothes on, but as he masters the skills of putting on clothes, the wearing of clothes becomes a need in its own right, and then, as the child becomes acquainted with various types of clothes, this need develops into a need to dress correctly and smartly.
Skills of human behaviour are also shaped through imitation. Yet it would be wrong to consider imitation an innate human capacity. Man merely possesses the potential to imitate, but the realisation of this potential is called forth by social factors. The fact that a little girl imitates her mother and a boy his father is determined not by their instinct to imitate, which simply does not exist, but by the division of labour between men and women existing in a given age and in a given society. In human behaviour imitation is none other than a special form of learning. This comes clearly to the fore in the emergence, development and manifestation of the capacity to imitate in the deaf-blind. In teaching deaf-blind children elementary skills of behaviour a good deal of effort is devoted to fostering this imitative capacity. When an adult takes the child’s hands and makes them witness his action, and then suggests to the child that it carry out the same action, this is precisely teaching via imitation. Yet it is nevertheless teaching, teaching with reinforcement. Satisfaction of a child’s needs constitutes reinforcement of a child’s first imitative actions. This reinforcement lends expedience to the child’s imitative activity, develops it, shapes its operations and devices, which, as they are perfected, further the transformation of imitative activity, into independent activity. However, even in this case imitation does not cease to be a special form of learning, and this is particularly obvious in the case of deaf-blind children, who have to perceive an action through their hands and consequently carry out together with an adult the action that they will have to imitate and that they will have to learn, which, for them, means one and the same thing. In its subsequent development, imitative activity, like many other human activities, ceases to depend directly on physical reinforcement Moreover, reinforcement factors start to take shape within the activity itself. Research carried out by A.V. Zaporozhets and his colleagues revealed that the coincidence of an operation performed by a child with his conception of that operation can serve as reinforcement for an advanced imitative action. Advanced forms of imitation, so-called “intellectual imitation” were investigated in detail by the French psychologists Paul Guillaume and Jean Piaget.
In all cases a child’s imitative activity represents a form of learning coupled with reinforcement. In some cases the coincidence of an action performed with the child’s conception of the action can provide the actual reinforcement, while in others the reinforcement comes from approbation on the part of an adult or friend. It is important to remember that factors which actually reinforce imitative action conceal complex and long motivational chains and that the final links in those chains, on which is built up the multi-storeyed edifice of reinforcements, can be far removed from the action, and the connection between them and the action being performed may be far from self-evident. An important step in the development of imitative activity for the deaf-blind is transition from imitation of an action actually perceived to imitation of an imagined action, i.e. transition to imitation of a model perceived previously.
Both these kinds of imitation represent a kind of learning for the deaf-blind: in the first case the learning aspect is clear and obvious and in the second it is removed in time from the manifestation of its results. For this reason, when a child imitates a model he conceived in his mind, his actions may appear spontaneous rather than as something taught. The essence of the child’s actions carried out in imitation both of models actually perceived, and of models perceived previously, consists in there being two participants in the actions, the adult and the child. The essence of imitative action lies in the sharing of its execution by the adult and the child.
When patterns of imitative activity are being fostered in a child, it is essential to bear in mind the state of his skills, the level of his development, his preparedness for imitative action of a specific degree of complexity. If a child is not yet ready, when he is taught action through imitation such action is no more than superficial copying that only reflects the external aspects of the action and not its essence. In order to imitate an adult in reading for instance, a child must learn to read, otherwise he will be imitating not reading but the holding of a book.
The behaviour of a deaf-blind child emerges as human behaviour thanks to the fact that he is taught to use objects of human culture (culture in the broad sense of the word, of course). A child is taught to eat with a spoon for instance: a spoon is an object of human culture, with which a specific mode of action is firmly linked. It dictates a specific action to the child, and when he learns this action and performs it the child is performing an act of human behaviour. There are thousands of such objects of human culture in everyday life and learning how to use them shapes human behaviour.
In this connection one “tricky” question arises, a question which has been raised in these pages more than once and which can be summed up as follows: if learning to use a spoon and other everyday objects renders a child human, then why do not similar skills, when they are developed in animals, such as monkeys, transform animal behaviour into human behaviour, why do they not render animals human?
An animal inherits the experience of preceding generations, experience that is genetically fixed in anatomical and physiological structures and forms of behaviour determined by these structures. Individual morpho-physiological changes (mutations) can be handed down to the species in the evolutionary process through biological heredity. In animals experience accumulated in the course of an individual life is lost if it is not fixed in gene mechanisms. Any “wisdom” achieved during the individual life of an animal is of no use to his species, since there is no opportunity to pass it on to future generations.
Man is much less apt to inherit forms of behaviour that have been fixed biologically. He inherits the experience of his forbears, fixed in human culture. The individual experience of a human being via social contacts becomes the property of society, and this social possession is assimilated by individuals and comes to constitute part of their own behaviour. Sooner or later positive experience of a human individual becomes the property of the whole of mankind: any member of society gleans his individual “wisdom” from the coffers of “social wisdom.” The more the individual gleans from the coffers of social wisdom and the more he contributes to them of his personal experience, the more he comes into his own as a human being.
The appropriation by the individual of social forms of behaviour and attitudes and “returns” society receives from the individual in the shape of special features of his behaviour and mentality constitute dialectical interaction between the individual and society.
Hegel in his analysis of the differences between animals and man wrote in his Philosophy of Nature: “The urge in a particular animal is a quite distinct urge; each animal only has a limited range of phenomena serving as its own inorganic nature, which is peculiar to it alone and which it has to seek out from a multitude of phenomena and relying on no more than instinct. A lion does not need to see a deer to desire it, nor an eagle a hare, nor other animals grains of corn, twigs, grass, oats etc. to desire them, nor do they make any choice in these matters. The desire is so immanent to the animal that in the animal itself is to be found the specific distinctness of the grass, and indeed of a definite grass, of definite grains etc., while all else does not even exist for him. Man as the universal, thinking animal has a nature with a far wider range and takes all objects into his inorganic nature and in its knowledge too” (18, pp. 474-75).
Hegel did not appreciate, and as an idealist could not appreciate that man is a thinking being because his nature is a social one. For him man’s social nature was the outcome of his primordial rationality. Yet he is quite right in asserting that virtually all objects can come within the range of man’s needs. Before becoming the object of an individual’s activity, a thing has to be the object of a social need, and so the need of a specific individual is at the same time a social need. All genuinely human forms of activity and the needs underlying them are social.
When we compare man’s forms of behaviour, that are social in origin, with the biological activity of animals, it is important to draw the following distinction. Biological forms of animal behaviour are forms of the animal’s practical relationship with life and his environment. “Human” or “cultivated” forms of behaviour in an animal that are trained or rather “schooled” are artificial and opposed to his biological forms of behaviour. Indeed, an animal, when it finds itself in its natural environment, reverts to the biological forms of behaviour peculiar to it. If man is left to his own devices, no human mind will develop. Let us recall Kaspar Hauser for instance, who was incarcerated in early childhood, so that he did not see, hear or touch other people. The development of the boy’s mind was thus brought to a standstill and, when at the age of seventeen he was set free, the youth’s mind proved to be at the level of that of a child at the age at which Kaspar Hauser had been condemned to solitude. It is not possible here to cite cases of human children brought up among animals because of the dubious reliability of such accounts. They do, however, seem to support the idea that there are no specifically human inherited forms of behaviour and that among wolves for instance a human child starts to behave and think like a wolf. When I read of these cases described from time to time in popular literature, one question always comes to my mind: why does it not prove possible to humanise the children found living among animals? This idea is in direct contradiction to our experience in instructing deaf-blind children. Of course, the earlier their instruction begins the better. This is why we take on a child at any early age, as soon as he is discovered to be deaf-blind. Yet if a deaf-blind child is already fourteen or fifteen years old, he can be taught and humanised just as well as a young child. Probably children who were thought to have been brought up among animals were mentally deficient children who had wandered off into forests and were discovered there soon afterwards.
Human behaviour is shaped entirely in ontogenesis: it is the result of the interaction between the individual and society, the result of upbringing on the part of other people. This behaviour emerges as the only practical relationship with life and the environment for man. Indeed he has no other behaviour patterns.
It would therefore appear that on the one hand (in the case of animals) the assimilation of “cultured” behavioural skills does not constitute “practical life” but rather mechanical schooling for purposes of display, little. more than a conjuring trick, while real life and a practical relationship with the environment finds expression in the biological forms of behaviour that are customary for the animal: on the other hand (in the case of men) skills of cultured behaviour constitute the realisation of his human life, and are the specific and only form of his practical relationship with his environment.
In the process of this human behaviour, that is integrated in its structure , there emerges and develops a systematised reflection of the external world. A child’s first images of objects and actions are formed when his needs are still attended to by adults. A child’s physical needs satisfied by an adult with the help of specific objects determine the formation of his first images. When a child is being taught to satisfy his needs independently, i.e. when he is being taught the skills of self-care, the child’s first operations of orientative activity take shape. A child’s success in self-care activity depends on whether or not his images correspond adequately to objects in the real world. This dependence calls forth the development of orientative activity, which initially forms part of self-care activity and serves the same ends.
A child’s increasingly complex activity in the world of objects, starting with the cot in which he sleeps, with an ever greater number and variety of things coming within his orbit to be used by the child with an adult’s assistance in its practical life, gradually shapes in the child’s mind a system of images of the objects around him.
The reflection of the reality around the child in a systematised way is ensured by the stability of the child’s object environment and by a strict, well-ordered timetable.
Just as the space around a child is rendered human and meaningful by man-made objects that fill it and that the child uses to satisfy its needs, so the filling of a child’s days with actions following on one from the other renders time human for him. Just as the constant arrangement of objects in the space around a child helps him to find his way about in that space and makes the world around him stable, something he can envisage and understand, and, in the final analysis, a world that has been apprehended and in which the child can act purposefully and sensibly, so the stability of his timetable makes it possible for a child to find his bearings in time. Time ceases to be something amorphous and indiscrete that just flows past him. In view of this a timetable can be referred to as humanised time for the child.
Thanks to the sequence of actions stipulated in a timetable it becomes possible for time to be reflected in the mind, and an image of time takes shape. A child thus starts to conceive of time, and he can do this not merely retrospectively, i.e. remember the past, but also forwards, i.e. imagine the future. Thanks to a timetable a child can not only find its bearings in past time but also in time to come and then plan his activity in an expedient (rational) way.
A systematised conception of the environment is made possible not merely by the stability of the object surroundings in which the child finds himself, but, most important of all, by the integrated nature of his actions within that setting.
The actions of a child, which he is being taught by an adult, should not remain isolated, disconnected actions. One of the main principles to be adhered to in instructing deaf-blind children is the need to develop an integrated system of behaviour as soon as a child has learnt a minimum of behavioural elements necessary for budding up such a system.
A child’s actions in the course of his day must all be linked up one with another, although initially they might only have been called forth by his physical needs. With the help of an adult a child gets up, sits on the pot, washes his hands and face, dresses, eats his breakfast, goes out for his walk, etc. One action follows on another, one instance of behaviour provides the signal for the next. Taken together these actions constitute an integrated pattern of behaviour, in which each link follows on naturally from the one before and leads on naturally to the next.
Isolated and disconnected skills of self-care and habits of behaviour, however complex they might be in themselves, do not possess decisive significance for the rearing of a deaf-blind child, if, when taken together, they do not constitute an integrated pattern of human behaviour.
Attempts to teach deaf-blind pupils suffering from a severe degree of mental retardation have shown that they can be trained in certain skills of self-care and behaviour, indeed even in fairly complex work operations. However, these separate actions were not linked together in an integrated pattern of human behaviour. Each skill or ability that had been established was only put into practice in response to a specific external stimulus.
Objects are cognised in the context of their functions and designations, in their external correlations and functional links, because their cognition is incorporated in a child’s integrated behaviour which for him possesses practical significance.
Images of objects take shape as a child masters actions involving objects. Purposeful activity which brings together these actions in a system gives rise to integrated structures of images that in their totality form an integrated picture of the external world.
In the case of mentally retarded children no integrated picture of the world took shape, because in their case no integrated pattern of behaviour could be established. Of course this is not the only factor which distinguishes mentally retarded children from those who are mentally normal. Individual behavioural skills and work operations, which the mentally retarded children succeeded in learning, differed from the corresponding behavioural skills and work operations as found in normal pupils. The skills which could be taught to the mentally deficient children were few in number and they only took root after long periods of tuition: if for example a normal child only needed to be shown a necessary action two or three times before he grasped it, even a simple operation would have to be repeated hundreds of times for a mentally retarded child. A skill learnt by a mentally retarded child would be of an inert and inflexible nature.
In carrying out actions required for self-care mentally retarded children developed no orientative or investigatory behaviour. No interest in the objects around them which were not directly necessary for the satisfaction of physical needs could be fostered in these children. Nor did any imitative activity or need for such emerge. It also proved impossible to encourage a need for communication; hence their rejection of all instruction in means of communication. Apart from simple signs that were direct designations of actions connected with the satisfaction of physical needs, these children could not learn to perceive any signs. Nor did they ever use even these simple signs on their own initiative.
The mind of a deaf-blind child only starts to develop when he enters into a relationship with an adult. The essence of this relationship is that the child grasps and assimilates the experience of other people, that he uses it for the satisfaction of his own needs. And what the child learns first of all is practical activity – everyday behaviour.
The practical activity of a deaf-blind child, initially of the very simplest variety and directed towards the satisfaction of his physical needs, later, as his needs develop, becomes more and more complex and shapes his mental development.
The first step towards the emergence of independent human behaviour is the establishment of shared actions involving objects. The nature of such actions is determined by objects created by human labour and modes of action which in the course of social experience have come to be associated with the objects in question.
As he masters these modes of action for the satisfaction of his needs, the deaf-blind child appropriates social experience. His appropriation of social experience is effected through shared action involving objects. If the process of a child’s initial instruction is correctly organised, the action of the adult in attending to the child’s needs develops into joint action of adult and child and is shared between them. In this joint action shared with the adult a child of necessity forms an image of the object involved in the action and likewise an image of the action itself, since the action could never be performed were there no anticipatory conception of it. A child must of necessity imagine what he himself is going to do, otherwise independence in the execution of an action is impossible. The function of this image of the action is an orientative one. A child’s conception of an object and the action to be performed with it help him to decide what he needs to do next, i.e. after the adult began a specific action.
Shared action involving objects is indeed the tiny cell from which sprouts the whole “body” of human behaviour and mentality. Initially, in this shared action only immediate reflections of objects take shape as well as of actions carried out with the latter. Subsequently more complex reflections of reality will be built up on this foundation, expressed through signs and symbols which will foster the cognition of concepts.
The initial sharing of actions involving objects between adult and child takes place as a child is being trained in the simple skills of self-care; subsequently the child masters, through shared action, more complex self-care skills (cleaning and mending clothes, cleaning shoes, washing and ironing small articles of clothing). As he masters skills of communal chores a child grasps operations for work shared between him and his fellows; together they tidy their rooms, carry out monitorial duties in the dining room, and work in Pets’ Corner. Later the child will work in a workshop and learn skills of productive labour. In the practical experience of participation in collective work he acquires knowledge of the social division of labour and relations between people.
As a deaf-blind child acquires skills of self-care, household duties and various types of work, he assimilates human experience accumulated in objects and modes of action with the latter in the context of social relations; he acquires grains of universal knowledge and builds up elements of human mentality which make possible further assimilation of universal human experience through specially developed means of communication.
The leading principle in our work has always been involvement of a deaf-blind child in an active life that corresponds to the norms of human culture, initially to the norms of everyday culture in the home, the culture of self-care fostered in the child as he is taught how to act correctly (i.e. in accordance with the rules of our human way of life) as regards objects.
If this is achieved, then all other tasks are basically straightforward: instruction in language (first sign language, then finger-spelling and finally word speech), the development of logical thinking and the mastering of moral norms. All these skills are built onto the foundation provided by the previously established culture of behaviour. I am firmly convinced that a reversal in the procedure must result in a failure, both as regards shaping everyday behaviour and imparting moral principles. Our experience disproves the idea which is still adhered to by some pedagogues to the effect that the human mind is awakened only when language or speech is mastered. In our view, language in the early stages only gives form to elements of human thought that have already taken shape in the context of practical behaviour involving objects. It goes without saying that, once language has become established, it exerts an extremely powerful influence on a child’s established patterns of behaviour and on his mind, enabling the latter to advance to the higher level of development, one that would have been unattainable without language. It is only after mastering language that a deaf-blind person becomes capable of comparing his own actions against the cultural standards evolved by mankind in relation to all spheres of life.