[xmca] Education vs. Eugenics

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Fri Sep 07 2007 - 00:13:18 PDT

Dear Bella:
  Thanks for the picture! I'm using it in a handout for the grads next Monday. But I should say that I'm using it at least partly because it reflects the GRADS point of view. It certainly DOESN'T reflect mine!
  One of the things I found so delighful about the Fichtner article that Mike posted (from Kozulin, I think!) was his defense of general education, what we like to call TENOR in English teaching, that is, Teaching English for No Obvious Reason. Of course LSV was very big on this too. On the one hand, young children should learn foreign languages. On the other hand, he knew that this would not lead to any miraculous proficiency, precisely because classroom language learning requires volition and self-discipline children can be very lacking in this department.
  The apparent contradiction is easily resolved: it is precisely (perversely?) because foreign language learning is so different (so much more volitional) than native language learning that it is important for children: the main "cognitive" benefits are self-regulation and of course the understanding that one's mother tongue, which one thought was the whole world, represents just one fraction of the immense ability of humans to make meanings, a single instance of human semiosis in the same way an arithmetic equation represents a single instance of algebraic relations.
  I think using (native language) words to explain (foreign language) words is an indispensable part of this realization: like reported speech in grammar, explaining foreign language words in the native language involves distancing, framing, comparing, "double voicing". Double voicing means a foreign accent, to be sure. But foreign language learning is not about the hair and toenails of phonology; it's about the heart and mind of semiosis.
  I realize that this goes against the rather utilitarian needs for "accent control" and for functional use of the new language of your learners (many of whom are adults, by the look of the picture!) But I do elementary education, and elementary education is really the child's last shot at education for the hell of it, that is, EENOR.
  Dear Steve (Houston and Gabosch):
  Thanks for all the links and all the suggestions. It will take me a while to work through them, but it's something I definitely want to do. I find that my position is somewhere between that of the chaos/complexity enthusiasts and Andy's: I think that something emerges from child creativity (let us say it is volition, the ability to choose from the millions of possible word combinations that children can generate) and exaptation of that emergent faculty is what makes it possible to make further emergence deliberate, in much the same way that man's evolution gave rise to culture, which then made it possible to master our evolution.
  But I don't think that mastering evolution through eugenics is effiicient. One of the links Steve Houston posted was an argument that the Shoah was "dysgenic", an attempt to stupidify Europeans by destroying their intelligentsia. I wasn't surprised to see that Professor Gald used to teach at my alma mater, University of Chicago.His argument was a little like a Pollack joke that we used to tell in Chicago. "Look what happens to your country when you get rid of your Jews. The Poles are so dumb they want to kill us all and they haven't even noticed that the Germans thought of it already."
  There was a similar argument in China after the "fall of the gang of four", and it was still going on when I arrived in China in the early eighties. A lot of the literature written then was called "Shangheng Wenxue" or "Scar" literature, and it was about the callouses and scars born by the "intelligentsia" (by which was meant anybody born in a city who'd managed to graduate from high school) sent down to the countryside by Chairman Mao. How sensitive they were (unlike the locals), and how they suffered (ditto), and how, deprived of sex, they had foolishly married local girls and how their progeny were now condemned to grow up as peasants and the nation to be deprived of their intelligent genes.
  I rather wished that the nation had been deprived of their literature too. In my experience, ideas are poorly transmitted from father to son. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, just that it's pretty inefficient, like putting computer innovations in hardware, or in an operating system instead of a software application. If a country wants intellectuals, it's really a lot smarter to educate them than to breed them.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National Unversity of Education

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Received on Fri Sep 7 00:16 PDT 2007

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