Re: [xmca] perhaps. . . sensei

From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane (
Date: Thu Dec 21 2006 - 05:43:31 PST

Sensei is a great concept. If you ever trained a martial art -- you
would have seen that a good Sensei usually teaches "in the zone of
proximal development". The notion that each student is in a different
place along the road of development is the norm, and consequently, a
Sensei develops a different approach and set of activities for each student.
There are two thoughts that come to mind with the notion of a Sensei.
First -- Deb, I think that no two individuals are equally traveled --
not in quantity of traveling and not in where they traveled and what
roads they took, even if their destination is seemingly the same
"place". And also, I think that two individuals always forge new paths
together, as a unique new combination of illuminations for each other.
Of course, assuming that they have some relevance for each other. (The
relevance does not have to be emotionally positive).

Second: I will pick up on Martin Heidegger's "the best teacher is the
one who knows best how to learn." The key here is the notion of "know
how". The concept of Sensei as a person further down the road, or
someone who can make roads visible, has this additional accent on
learning as an activity, instead of learning as memorizing "facts". If
knowledge (and development) is conceptualized as a "know how" more than
"know what", then a dynamic aspect of learning activity comes into the


deborah downing-wilson wrote:
> Wow. thanks for the road trip! sensei is certainly a provocative
> concept.
> how can we think about learning relationships where two equally travelled
> individuals forge new paths together? can we have zopeds then?
> deb
> On 12/20/06, Paul Dillon <> wrote:
>> Hi Eric,
>> I've been reading this thread with some interest and I shared Deborah's
>> concern about "scientific concepts" as well as some other terms you
>> used to
>> define the zoped.
>> Drawing from a domain where there is absolutely no question of
>> science, in
>> fact it is the anti-science, Zen Buddhism, I think there is a very
>> useful
>> term that could help shed some light on how one might develop an
>> adequate
>> "concept" (Zen militates against these) of what is a zoped. That
>> term is
>> "sensei", which basically means: someone who is farther down the road
>> than
>> someone else, someone that another can follow down the road.
>> As should be obvious the concept of "down the road" implies that
>> there is
>> a road and in zen it's almost like Machado's verse: "traveller, there
>> is no
>> road, only markers in the sea, traveller there is no road, one makes the
>> road in travelling". But that is zen and returning to something of a
>> Kantian "island in the sea of the unknown", I think that the idea of
>> a path
>> and people on a path, a path that is always developing into the unknown,
>> might be useful.
>> If we think of the idea of boundaries, very much an element of
>> Engestrom's
>> work, or of situation-limits, the concept Freire adopted from Karl
>> Jaspers,
>> we have implicit that notion. Mike mentioned how he and (I believe)
>> Scribner discussed the zoped as a "conversation with a future". I
>> think
>> that's a great description, if not a definition in the strict sense.
>> Now to
>> have a conversation, one needs to be able to talk, and learning to
>> talk is
>> basically at the heart of Vygotsky's work. So one talks, the talk is
>> related to culturally practical domains of activity. Someone farther
>> down
>> the road is someone who has gotten closer to the boundaries where the
>> roads into the unknowns of that specific activity disappear.
>> Someone can
>> show to some people how to get to the point that they have gotten
>> to. The
>> person farther down the road basically creates the zoped by taking
>> care to
>> try to make the road visible, followable. Clearly there are a lot of
>> people
>> farther down the road
>> toward the boundaries where the roads disappear who cannot do this but
>> that's another question: the question of the teacher, something St.
>> Augustine wrote about 1600 years ago and of whom bob dylan had a
>> dream. Martin Heidegger said that the best teacher is the one who knows
>> best how to learn.
>> For a baby everything is basically unknown and a baby grows up among
>> people who have grown up among people (extending into distant and
>> forgotten
>> pasts) who have worked out various ways of dealing with moving through
>> different levels of the unknown. These are roads, there are lots of
>> roads-lots of ways to move toward specific locations or toward the
>> boundaries where the roads disappear, but I think the key to activity
>> theory
>> is that all of them are related to human practices dealing with
>> specific
>> needs that humans experience as incarnated and mortal beings (Marx's
>> Theses
>> on Feuerbach). I don't think a zoped can be defined abstractly
>> except in an
>> abstract way but I don't find it difficult to identify zopeds within
>> specific domains of human practice. I think your example was great, the
>> lecturer knew how to adjust to the people for whom he was farther
>> down the
>> road than they, in fact, he was on a road that they couldn't
>> previously see
>> as being relevant to their specific
>> practical needs and he made it relevant to those needs as a part of
>> creating the zoped.
>> Sensei, nothing more nor less than someone farther down the road, what's
>> the practice and what needs does it relate to? Looking for some
>> absolute
>> concept of zoped seems pointless, trying to define it so that one could
>> identify it in any context on the basis of a Carnapian logical matrix,
>> impossible. The key I think is to look at the practice, identify its
>> road
>> and see how far people are along that road and how they make that road
>> relevant to someone who might not even know the road is there.
>> Expanding
>> is moving beyond the known roads into what was previously unknown.
>> Paul Dillon
>> wrote:
>> Hello Deb:
>> Thank you for your response to my question.
>> When I use "scientific concept" I am using Vygotsky's term. Kozulin
>> describes the idea well in his intro to "Thought and Language" Pg
>> xxxiii,
>> "Scientific concepts originate in the highly structured and specialized
>> activity of classroom instruction and impose on a child a logically
>> defined
>> concept. . ." I believe that there can be a zoped whenever any
>> culturally-historically logically constructed concept is the focus of a
>> culturally based activity that has an attainable goal as the outcome.
>> Play
>> can be a culturally based activity with an attainable goal.
>> maybe?
>> eric
>> "deborah
>> downing-wilson" To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
>> .com> Subject: Re: [xmca] perhaps. . .
>> Sent by:
>> xmca-bounces who-is-at web
>> 12/20/2006 12:44
>> PM
>> Please respond
>> to "eXtended
>> Mind, Culture,
>> Activity"
>> Okay, now I'm really confused. How do we define "scientific concepts"?
>> Can
>> there be no zoped when artistic concepts, painting for example, are in
>> play?
>> deb
>> On 12/20/06, wrote:
>> >
>> >
>> > . . .this may be a better definition of a zoped:
>> >
>> > a culturally based activity that provides an opportunity for
>> individuals
>> > to
>> > apply scientific concepts to everyday experiences via the
>> assistance of
>> > somebody more experienced with the scientific concepts related to the
>> > goals
>> > of the culturally based activity.
>> >
>> > Unfortunately I implied in the prior post there was assistance of
>> someone
>> > with experience. I would also like to emphasize that the question
>> posed
>> > by
>> > the teacher in the room would be a set up to allow the students to ask
>> > questions of the speaker, fulfilling the imitation requirement that
>> > Vygotsky emphasizes in his chapter, "The development of scientific
>> > concepts
>> > in childhood" of his "Thought and Language" tome. Page 188 of the 1999
>> > Kozulin translated edition, "In the child's development. . .imitation
>> and
>> > instruction play a major role. . .what the child can do in cooperation
>> > today he can do alone tomorrow." I believe the example I provided
>> > yesterday would be what Vygotsky is referring to as cooperation.
>> >
>> > eric
>> >
>> >
>> > _______________________________________________
>> > xmca mailing list
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> --
>> Deborah Downing-Wilson
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Ana Marjanovic'-Shane,Ph.D.

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