Re: identity

From: Wolff-Michael Roth (
Date: Thu Sep 30 2004 - 18:09:50 PDT

> So here it where I am from reading your article:
> Cristobal's science related identities are conditioned by specific
> sub-domains, right? He contrasts (p. 54) chemistry and physical
> sciences on
> the basis of his knowledge differential and the consequences that has
> for
> constructing teaching situations. I want to know about the
> environmental
> sciences domain that the example with Ya-Meer comes from; who is
> Cristoball-scientist in environmental sciences and how or if that
> shows up
> in actions and interactions. Cristobal's identity in science is also
> apparent in the school distinction between the third floor versus
> basement
> science classroom teachers. I want to know which SLC is on the third
> floor,
> how the science teachers relate to each other across the SLC's etc etc
> and
> how or if this shows up in teacher and student actions and
> interactions.

All of this belongs to long and complex stories. On the third floor,
they had the elite SLC, the one focusing on Science, Math, and
engineering. These would be the ones going to college. So this is why
all the equipment was hoarded up there and the kids from the basement,
the drop-outs Penny ECKERT (1989) might say, could not access the
materials. Incidentally, there was some shuffling about and Cristobal
had so much success--together with his coordinator--that both were
promoted and took over the third floor (CC) whereas his coordinator
became vice-principal. We are writing about the changes to the school
in other studies--but a key to the transformation in the school was our
"cogenerative dialoguing" which consisted in sitting together with
students--just as we had done with Ya-Meer--and making sense of the
things that work and that do not work.

> Ya-Meer's science related identities I know even less about. He
> participated in the chemistry class one year and the environmental
> science
> course the second year and he takes "Cisco" classes that his father
> amplifies. I have a general feel for his grades but not what he
> is/does as
> a scientist. Do any ideas or ways of thinking/speaking show up when
> there's
> a hurricane coming or a dispute about a new power plant, or when a
> disease
> is diagnosed in his circle of people, or when the news says the bird
> virus
> has its first case of human to human transmission? What happens when

I guess that these are all very interesting questions, to which I do
not have the answers. Ken Tobin is still in contact off and on with
Ya-Meer, who made it into college, took on some leadership role in his
dorm, and turned out to be rather successful, as other kids from the
basement we have been working with. Ken left Philadelphia to join CUNY,
so our contacts to the situation in Philli is reduced. Ken and his
students and postdocs have written about the ideas that show up
elsewhere, such as when they invited students to work in data analysis
and data collection during the summer time. There are a bunch of
dissertations coming from this work, and Ken may be able to give you
more specific details about who wrote what. I am cc'ing this message to

> chemistry concepts or procedures can yield a question or elaborate an
> idea
> in environmental sciences? He talks about Cisco classes (p. 59) and
> colleges but what about how chemistry or environmental sciences fit in
> that
> thinking? His discussion of Charles and whether a teacher should give
> a

See, the thing is that if you take the approach that talking is
thinking, then we have little to go by if he doesn't talk about
chemistry or environmental science; I think in all of this the science
moved a bit into the background, I mean the specific discourses, and
the other aspects concerning interpersonal relations became more

> higher grade than warranted brings up some relations between being a
> student
> with high grades and a student who has control over science ideas and
> practices, but how/if he applies this to himself isn't clear to me.
> Maybe I just don't know enough about fields (p. 51) but the field of
> science
> seems to need to be recognized as barging into identities in science
> classrooms, no?

Here I was wondering about the notion of identities, and how fields may
barge into identities. You can think of the field as the social and
material structures that make a situation and that are resources to
action, both enabling and constraining it. So in this sense, because
identity is a consequence AND resource to action, but social and
material structures also mediate action, you have, as a consequence,
the mediation of identity by the field. I may be a person in power,
powerful, etc. in one field, for example, in an elementary classroom
and school if I am the principal, but I may turn out to be a complete
wimp in the office of the superintendent. So the superintendent who
knows how material structures mediate my actions, will receive me in
his office, sitting behind the desk, me in a chair in front of it. My
wimpishness will be amplified in the situation, but may completely
disappear if the superintendent had given me a chance of sitting at the
fireside with a single malt...

> On p. 68, you attribute to Cristobal "a willingness to
> continually refine the objects of the curriculum" and I think that
> means a
> scientist is picking among and at science so that students can
> appropriate
> from the science field/culture.

It's not just that we attribute, being a co-author, it is also a

> Anyhow I liked what you got me to think and will appreciate any more
> you can
> give me.
> Peg Griffin
> PS: The tool I rely on most for thinking about educational activity
> systems
> is Leontiev's 1981 "Problems in the Development of Mind" especially
> starting
> around the 391 (but the play stuff just before that and the memory
> stuff
> before that so maybe start about 327).

I think that we have to work hard when it comes to the school as
activity system... Who is speaking, who are the actors... who are the
        Students should be the subjects, shouldn't they? But in the way
schooling is organized, the teachers are held responsible for what
happens to students, they are responsible for "churning out students
who know". So students are treated as the objects of teachers'
        How do we go about this contradictory situation: we consider students
as active in the construction of their ideas, and yet the activity
system is explicitly set up (re accountability of teachers) to conceive
of teachers as agents and students as patients (objects....). How do
you analyze the situation?
        Well, we think that even if the administration and the system tries to
turn students into objects, they are subjects in the situation, they
co-produce the enacted curriculum, which is more along the intended
curriculum in middle class neighborhoods, and is very differently
enacted when the cultures clash, like in the urban schools of
        It seems clear to me that educators and educational researchers are
unclear about who is the subject, what is the object. Jean LAVE shows
in various places--and not surprisingly to me, Klaus HOLZKAMP, where I
can find a lot of the same ideas--that the problem of organized
education is that learning itself becomes the object. Why should you
learn for learning's sake?


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