[xmca] Antirecapitulationism

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Wed Apr 02 2008 - 18:36:30 PDT

I've been thinking about these two propositions, as a way of digesting Sasha Surmava's long (and deep!) posts on Vygotsky, historicism, and Martin. As I understand him, Sasha believes:
  a) LSV correctly rejected all forms of recapitulationism, from Hall to Haeckl.
  b) LSV incorrectly rejected the common root of thinking and speech (presumably action or activity or some form of meta-stable self-preserving subjectivity?).
  Because of the way my mind works, I need a fairly specific issue to go any further. And one of the most burning issues in foreign language teaching today is whether:
  a) it is better to have foreign language learning run the "natural" course of several years of oracy first, or
  b) we need to teach literacy from the very inception of foreign language instruction.
  Grads who hold position a) inevitably fall back on some kind of recapitulationism. First language learning is 100% successful. Foreign language learning is less than 5 or even less than one percent successful (depending on how low you want to place the threshold of success). Ergo, foreign language learning must recapitulate first language learning.
  But if you ask the a) grads whether the same thing is true of listening and speaking, that is, does the development of speaking "recapitulate" that of listening, they will admit that this is not possible. And if you ask whether we can learn written language in exactly the same way we learn oral language, only a few answer that we can (the strong Ken Goodman Whole Language position).
  Grads who hold the b) position usually argue in fairly romantic terms, that the classroom walls create insuperable barriers to the imagination that can only be breached by the written word. In this view, the literary imagination and the here and now do not and cannot have a common root, for one is rooted in thinking and the other in speech.
  But if you ask b) grads where thinking comes from without speech, you are liable to get rather "painterly" answers; the child's thinking is rather like the imagery in Luria's mnemonist which failed to add up to even simple stories (or those marvellous paintings in Cathrene's Powerpoint, which also seem largely unconnected to the text!)
  LSV is completely unambiguous throughout Chapters Five and Six of "Thinking and Speech": he sees graphic thinking as being different in kind from symbolic thinking, different in quality, in function, and even in "root", at least where this may be rooted in practical soil. He also thinks (and this is surely no coincidence) that foreign language learning neither can nor should recapitulate first language learning.
  On the contrary, the great cognitive benefits of foreign language learning in the child (which LSV saw first and better than anyone, perhaps because he too was a multilingual child) lie precisely in the fact that the foreign language builds on the most developed (for LSV this was synonymous with volitionally accessible, context-free) meanings of the first language. A recapitulationist strategy simply wastes these precious gains, and condemns the non-native learner to ride the wake of the native speaker for eternity.
  Foreign language literacy AND oracy grow together, out of something that is NEITHER: out of volitional FIRST language semantics (written and spoken). Now, this seems to me to RESEMBLE (not to recapitulate, but to RESEMBLE) the way in which speaking and listening must develop ontogenetically out of something that is neither (namely babbling). That too seems to me to resemble (not recapitulate) the way in which indicative and symbolic language must have developed phylogenetically out of something that was neither (namely gesture).
  That's why LSV rejects "parallels" between ontogeny and phylogeny, but he accepts "analogues" and even "resemblances" (e.g. Volume 3, p. 278; see also Volume 2, p. 192). It's also why he can accept that instruction and development are independent processes, even though both sometimes (r)evolve together, like the wheels of a cart.
  Instruction and development emerge from something that is neither, namely learning. Even when they DO move in parallel, they stand on opposite sides of interaction. It's this that makes it possible to speak of different roots. Perhaps different hubs might be a more accurate metaphor: even when the wheels are turning in different directions or at different speeds, there's always a common axle.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Wed Apr 2 18:38 PDT 2008

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