In the process of development the child not only masters the items of cultural experience but the habits and forms of cultural behaviour, the cultural methods of reasoning. We must, therefore, distinguish the main lines in the development of the child’s behaviour. First, there is the line of natural development of behaviour which is closely bound up with the processes of general organic growth and the maturation of the child. Second, there is the line of cultural improvement of the psychological functions, the working out of new methods of reasoning, the mastering of the cultural methods of behaviour.
Thus, of two children of different ages the elder can remember better and more than the younger. This is true for two entirely different reasons. The processes of memorizing of the older child have undergone, during his additional period of growth, a certain evolution – they have attained a higher level – but only by means of psychological analysis may we reveal whether that evolution proceeded on the first or on the second line.
Maybe the child remembers better because his nervous and mental constitutions which underlie the processes of memory were developed and perfected, because the organic base of these processes was developed; in short, because of the mneme or mnemic functions of the child. However, the development might follow quite a different path. The organic base of memory, mneme, might remain substantially unaltered during the period of growth, but the methods of memorizing might have changed. The child might have learned how to use his memory in a more efficient way. He could have mastered the mnemotechnical methods of memorizing; in particular, he may have developed the method of memorizing by means of signs.
In fact both lines of development can always be revealed, for the older child not only remembers more facts than the younger one, but he remembers them in a different way. In the process of development we can trace that qualitative change in the form of behaviour and the transformation of some such forms into others. The child who remembers by means of a geographical map or by means of a plan, a scheme or a summary, may serve as an example of such cultural development of memory.
We have many reasons to assume that the cultural development consists in mastering methods of behaviour which are based on the use of signs as a means of accomplishing any particular psychological operation. This is not only proved by the study of the psychological development of primitive man, but also by the direct and immediate observation of children.
In order to understand the problem of the cultural development of the child, it is very important to apply the conception of children’s primitiveness which has recently been advanced. The primitive child is a child who has not undergone a cultural development, or one who has attained a relatively low level of that development. If we regard children’s primitiveness in an isolated state as a special kind of underdevelopment, we shall thereby contribute to the proper understanding of the cultural development of behaviour. Children’s primitiveness, i.e. their delay in cultural development, is primarily due to the fact that for some external or internal cause they have not mastered the cultural means of behaviour, especially language.
However, the primitive child is a healthy child. Under certain conditions the primitive child undergoes a normal cultural development, reaching the intellectual level of a cultural man. This distinguishes primitiveness from weak-mindedness. True, child’s primitiveness may be combined with all the levels of natural capacities. Primitiveness, as a delay of cultural development, nearly always retards the development of a defective child. It is often combined with mental retardation.
But even in this mixed form, primitiveness and weak-mindedness remain two phenomena essentially different in kind, the origins of which are totally different. One is the retardation of the organic or natural development which originates in defects of the brain. The other is a retardation in the cultural development of behaviour caused by insufficient mastery of the methods of cultural reasoning.
Take the following instance. A girl of nine years, quite normal, is primitive. She is asked, ‘in a certain school some children can write well and some can draw well. Do all children in this school write and draw well?’ She answers, ‘How do I know; what I have not seen with my own eyes, I am unable to explain. If I had seen it with my eyes ....’
Another example: a primitive boy is asked, ‘What is the difference between a tree and a log?’ He answers, ‘I have not seen a tree, nor do I know of any tree, upon my word’. Yet there is a lime tree growing just opposite his window. When you ask him, ‘And what is this?’ he will answer, ‘This is a lime tree’.
The retardation in the development of logical reasoning and in the formation of concepts is due here entirely to the fact that children have not sufficiently mastered the language, the principal weapon of logical reasoning and the formation of concepts. Petrova [1925, p. 85], the author of the work containing the above examples, states: ‘Our numerous observations prove that the replacing of one imperfect language by another equally imperfect always prejudices psychic development. This substitution of one form of reasoning by another lowers especially the psychic activity wherever the latter is in any case weak’. In our first example, the girl has changed her imperfect Tartar language for the Russian, and has not fully mastered the use of words as means of reasoning. She displays her total inability to think in words, although she speaks, i.e. can use the words as means of communication. She does not understand how one can draw conclusions from words instead of relying on one’s own eyes. The primitive boy has not as yet worked out a general abstract concept of ‘tree’, although he knows individual kinds of trees. That reminds us that in the language of many primitive races there is no such word as ‘tree’; they have only separate words for each kind of tree.
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