The Vygotskian theory, entitled the “Zone of Proximal Development” or ZPD, is a widely accepted principle in education. This zone essentially tries to quantify the difference between what a child can do without help and what a child can do with help. More or less, the ZPD is the bridge between dependence and independence. This bridge is critical to navigate when helping to guide students through difficult concepts, as it provides them with just enough rigor to where they are not overwhelmed, while providing them with the support needed to succeed as well. Really, it’s a “just right” amount of instructional support to aid in their development.
This theory of education could be extrapolated to the real world. For instance, in order for our friends, partners, colleagues, or anyone else to grow in a way that makes them feel successful or supported, we need to meet them within a zone of proximal development–one where they are positively reflecting on the growth experience, but one where they also are being pushed beyond that “just right” limit. Instead of the Zone of Proximal Development, I think this could be called the Zone of Proximal Change, or ZPC.
But this doesn’t account for everything.
Sometimes people don’t want to change, and that is an enormous inhibitor of growth. I’m a true believer in the idea that all motivation is intrinsic, meaning it is impossible to actually make someone enjoy or do something. Incentives and rewards are mere tools for compliance; they don’t actually motivate. Motivation is something that is self-created, meaning a person has to internalize all of the external factors in order to truly make an impact on his or her motivation.
As a result, in order to truly make a change, it requires something radical. It requires something bold.
This year, I tried to make a change by introducing the LGBT community into the curriculum in my school district. I was met with overwhelming, incredible support from the citizens of the community, but with a great deal of pushback from the powers-that-be within the school system, which begs the question, in our supposedly democratic society, where the people are supposed to determine the morals and values of society, how does bureaucratic power still dominate? Why do we have systems in place if they are only acting out of self-interest? What do we do when a system or organization no longer meets our needs and we feel that simple conversation and collaboration is counterproductive to the end result?
We make a change, and that change goes beyond the ZPC.
My good friend, Kyle Smith (@dailydoseofkyle) wrote this morning, “238 years ago, a group of brave men and women made an amazingly bold move, one that would forever alter the course of human history. Nearly two and a half centuries later, it’s easy to take for granted the sacrifices they made and the courage they must have had to take such bold and radical action.”
He’s right. Perhaps we’ve reached a point of complacency, where accepting the norm is better than risking what could be if we disrupt change. However, the founders of our country could have done the same. Certainly, it would have been less hardship for them to abide by the rules and regulations mandated by their rulers; more so, the consequences for disobeying proved to be catastrophic. This, however, did not deter them from being themselves, holding true to their morals, and advocating for what they believed to be right in their world. Certainly this year would have been much easier and much more “excellent” had I succumbed to the cultural confines of the administration, but I’m not sure I could have done that and still felt fulfilled.
The “Gay” Agenda
After proposing the aforementioned lesson on gay marriage to parents and taking all of the necessary precautions in planning the lesson (i.e., child-appropriate topics, social justice education best practice), my colleague’s and my efforts were harshly shut down by administration, without any sort of collaboration or discussion. In fact, the reprimanding went so far as to label me someone who was “pushing an agenda.”
Surely, in modern society, the black teacher who advocates for civil rights would not be pegged as an “agenda pusher,” but this would not have been the case 50 years ago. Likewise, the Jewish teacher who advocates for religious diversity would not be labeled as such either. And I’m sure that the female teacher, which encompasses approximately three-quarters of the teacher population, would not be reprimanded for advocating for women’s rights. However, when a gay teacher advocates for the rights of the LGBT community, it becomes a “personal agenda,” and I think this is because it currently lies outside of this “Zone of Proximal Change,” just like women’s rights, religious rights, and civil rights, at one time, lied outside of the ZPC, too.
However, it is impossible for these topics–these broad, social topics–to truly lie in self-interest and to be indicative of a personal agenda. Think about it this way: No matter what happens with the mainstream curriculum, I will still be gay. There will still be reciprocated love and appreciation between me and the students, parents, and colleagues with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working over the past four years.
And that love will be as palpable as it was… before I came out to all of them.
Teaching my students about the relevant and timely issue of gay marriage would not have changed any of that. It wouldn’t have changed a single thing about me, my situation, or my rights henceforth. Instead, it would have changed the future of the community and the future of these children’s lives, helping to create more empathic and altruistic beings who truly embrace diversity, and not just feign acceptance and tolerance.
It is impossible to teach and lead without a firm sense of our own values and morals, but this doesn’t mean we have an “agenda.” If we taught and led without these, we wouldn’t teach our loved ones and our children how to think, feel, and act in a social setting. This becomes difficult, though, when your values lie outside of the norm, or outside of the Zone of Proximal Change. So what do we do?
We be who we are. We speak up when no one else is. We fight for what we think is right in the world. We listen to others’ perspectives, internalize them, evaluate them, and assimilate them into our own consciousness. We approach disagreement with honesty, vulnerability, love, gratitude, and empathy, while still holding true to and advocating for what we believe to be true and just.
And as a result, we are happy, content, and fulfilled–even if it doesn’t turn out the way we wanted.