Re: [xmca] Pre-Textual (Mis)Understandings

From: <ERIC.RAMBERG who-is-at>
Date: Tue Jul 15 2008 - 06:22:17 PDT

As always David a very thoughtful and well written post. I am curious if
you write your posts stream of consciousness or if you labor over them.
Me, personally, I switch between the two. Some posts I will write on word
and will ruminate on them for days before they either get sent or deleted,
others, such as the present, I write stream of consciousness and then hit

That was just an aside. What I really wanted to say was exactly the
thinking you have about the confusion between learning and development when
speaking of the ZPD. I would agree that world of warcraft or any 'video'
game does not constitute a culture and therefore cannot produce a true ZPD.
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about golf the other day
and was commenting about how I hadn't been able to sink any birdie putts my
last round and he states, "just today I scored 7 birdies." My jaw dropped
and I needed to know the specifics. He then states, "It was Cyprus
Pointe." You'll see my surprise when I tell you our conversation took
place in Minnesota and Cyprus Pointe is in California. Then the light bulb
wen off and I said, "that was playstation wasn't it?" He says, "well,
yeah but I still got 7 birdies." We then continued to debate the
difference between the game of golf and video games. He didn't want to
make the distinction because his stance was that I wouldn't be able to
shoot that good of a score. He had learned how to play the game to a high
skill level but that, i don't believe, equates to him developing as a
golfer. Is this along the lines of what you are talking about?

                      David Kellogg
                      <vaughndogblack@ To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
            > cc:
                      Sent by: Subject: [xmca] Pre-Textual (Mis)Understandings
                      07/14/2008 08:39
                      Please respond
                      Please respond
                      to "eXtended
                      Mind, Culture,

A friend of my wife's recently got a job in a laboratory at the University
of Washington. She had been a doctor and a researcher at one of the most
important hospitals in Beijing, and this was a major career step sidewise,
if not down.Her American co-workers were quite conscious of this, and many
of them were mortified by the fact that when they tried to explain the ins
and outs of the cell line work to her, she would answer "I know", even when
they had just explained something that was quite specific to this
particular line of work in this particular laboratory and she could not
have possibly have any previous knowledge of it.

In Chinese there is no real distinction between the phrase "I see" and "I
know"; we say "zhidaole" in both situations and we rely on what Koreans
call "the color of eyes" (that is, empathetic understanding of the
interlocutor's state of information) to disambiguate. Usually, it works
perfectly well, but clearly it's going to work less well in a foreign
language, and not at all if there is some less empathetic understanding
gets in the way  (e.g. that the interlocutor is pretending to know more
than she actually does in order to establish a position commensurate with
her superior training).

Let us call these pre-textual (mis)understandings "pre-texts". I don't mean
to say that they are rationales for deliberate misconstrual of what someone
is saying. I simply mean that they are the portion of context that one
brings to the text before one has actually read or heard any of the text

For example, there are two very powerful "pre-texts" to understanding the
zone of proximal development, both of which appear to me to be serious
distortions and neither of which was a deliberate fabrication. The first is
a pre-textual understanding of the zoped as a zone of proximal LEARNING
which is unrelated to DEVELOPMENT, that is, unrelated to learning whole new
ways of learning that are a) volitional and b) open-ended.

Here's an example, from the extremely interesting paper by Nardi and Harris
on World of Warcraft guilds that Michael Evans kindly circulated this

"Vygotsky spoke of the 'zone of proximal development' in which a learner
advances by being offered a challenge and the appropriate resources to meet
the challenge. The resources are supplied by a teacher or more experienced
peers [31]. The zone is the difference between what the learner can do with
and without the aid of the teacher or more experienced peers. In WoW, the
zone of proximal development is unusually flexible because aid from more
experienced peers is available from so many sources. While it is not
possible here to undertake a detailed comparison to other learning
environments such as traditional classrooms, apprenticeships, or online
tutorials, we cannot think of another context of learning with the access
and flexibility we observed within World of Warcraft and its associated
online resources."

You can see that the "pre-texts" here are: a) that World of Warcraft really
DOES constitute a culture, b) that internalizing this culture constitutes
development, and  c) that this is chiefly a matter of being offered various
types of resources. All three of these pretexts seem highly questionable to

First of all, I think that part of the play-like attraction of  WoW lies
precisely in its lack of a coherent culture of its own and its long-term
disconnect with the surrounding culture from which it takes its (extremely
diverse) names and its (utterly monolithic) operating language. Secondly, I
don't see that mastering WoW will help me learn a new open-ended way of
learning that is capable of restructuring all of my previous learning.
Finally, if merely providing resources for problem solving is the essence
of the zone of proximal development, I don't think we can say that
LSV originated or discovered anything at all.

The second very powerful but not necessarily very helpful pretextual
understanding we bring to the zoped is something that Mike pointed out to
me the day before yesterday. We often consider that the learning which must
lead development in the zone of proximal development can be considered
quite independent of teaching. It is, after all, learning and not teaching,
and just as we can consider shopping as an act of buying quite independent
form the activity of selling, we should be able to consider learning on its
own. At most, the difference between learning and teaching is merely a
shift of point of view, like the difference in classical economics between
use value and exchange value that Wolff-Michael Roth points to in his
editorial in the current issue of MCA.

But the Russian word Vygotsky uses in many of his writings on the zoped
(and especially the key passages of Thinking and Speech 194-197) apparently
CANNOT be so considered; just as the Arabic word for "study" means "recite"
and the Chinese word for "study" means "read", the Russian word apprently
INCLUDES the idea of teaching, and that's why the Minick translation of
Thinking and Speech, which is often has the rather stilted flavor of an
overliteral reading, uses the word "instruction" instead of "learning".

Goodman and Goodman, for example, seize on LSV's study of play in Chapter
Seven of Mind in Society to argue that teachers can neither create nor
control the zone of proximal development. Similarly, Mercer and Mercer and
Fisher, and many other writers have argued that group zones of proximal
development are quite impossible. According to Mike's (re)reading, what
really needs to be explained is not the group zone of proximal development,
but the so-called "individual" one.

Wertsch has a very EARLY article called "From Social Interaction to Higher
Psychological Processes A Clarification and Application of Vygotsky's
Theory" in Human Development 2008;51:66?79 (Reprint of Human
Development1979;22:1?22). In it, he argues that the translation of
"Thinking and Speech" as "Thought and Language" reflects a similar
pretextual misunderstanding, because (he says) the latter title reflects an
interest in language as a system rather than as an activity or a "language

If we conceive of "Thinking and Speech" as being chiefly concerned with
language systems, we will only look at the growth of grammar and
vocabulary. Wertsch actually veers pretty close to this position when he
tries to use Ervin-Tripp's categories of directives to establish a "second
level" of intra-psychological regulation. No wonder he finds his second
level not very satisfactory!

(Actually, I don't know of ANY applied linguists who have tried to read
"Thought and Language" as a book about linguistic systems. On the contrary,
the view of mainstream applied linguists such as Mitchell and Myles and
Larsen-Freeman is that sociocultural theory is ONLY a theory of learning
and has essentially NO theory of language at all! This bizarre and
completely unsupportable opinion is the outcome of the very bad habit that
applied linguists have of considering theories of language and theories of
learning as being two entirely separable things that are only united when
we design a particular "method" of instruction.)

But then Wertsch shows that what grows in the child's mind is really a way
of understanding the specific language game we call (in Korean classrooms)
"Listen and Do". Since we are talking about two to four year olds, this
ability to respond to directives really is providing more than learning, it
is providing a new way to learn and to relearn what has already been
learnt. It is, in a word, re-structuring; it really does have an unlimited
potential that is of undoubted relevance to the child's participation in
and eventual contribution to a real culture. The simple game of "Listen and
Do" has revolutionary potential that the world of WoW does not (not least
of which is the ability of the child to clearly see in whose hands the
directive power lies and how to get that directive power into their own

Even here, outside the classroom (Wertsch's work discusses child-mother
interactions), we can see the relevance of the concept of instruction. For
most of human history, this is probably what instruction meant. Only in the
early nineteenth century (say, with the work of Von Humboldt) do we see a
deliberate attempt to create public, group zones of proximal development
supervised by professional instructors as part of universal enculturation.
And only in the early twentieth century (say, with the work of LSV and his
colleagues) can we find attempts to make that group zone of proximal
development socially as well as personally restructuring and open-ended
with respect to the future of the individual and at least potentially with
respect to the future of culture itself.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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