Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (1896–1934) was a Belarussian teacher, literary critic, special educator, and cultural psychologist whose career ascended in conjunction with the fall of the Romanov dynasty in Russia and subsequent formation of the Soviet Union. His enduring legacy came from his studies of human development that emphasized the role of cultural mediation rather than biological stages. He understood human development to follow from the ways in which people's thinking is shaped and engrained through participation in cultural activities. He saw people from different cultures developing in relation to their environments and the goals, social practices, artifacts, and other mediators that channel development in specific, culturally relevant ways.

This emphasis on culturally mediated human development makes Vygotsky relevant to current multicultural education. Schools in the United States tend to run according to principles adapted from the European Enlightenment, with an emphasis on rational thinking, the suppression of the emotional dimensions of learning, scientific thought, essayist traditions over expressive, the elevation of technical subjects (science, mathematicians) that have historically been the domain of males, and other traditions (McCagg, 1989). This emphasis benefits people from particular demographic groups, particularly middle-class Whites, more than others (Smagorinsky, 2017).

Cultural groups whose home-based literacy practices follow other conventions tend to be degraded and diminished for not complying with norms available through the dominant culture. Whole populations become pathologized through stereotypes based on school performances that ignore the many achievements from outside school that illustrate their intelligence, creativity, competence, and other qualities (Moll, 2000; Steele, 2011). Multiculturalism thus benefits from an understanding of mediated human development, one that helps account for the myriad ways in which human beings learn to navigate their worlds, and how the constricted nature of school instruction and assessment limits the potential of students who are socialized differently to be recognized and appreciated.