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RE: [xmca] Brains, Computer, and the Future of Education

Larry, Andy, Michael, and Monica.

Sorry for the delay in responding. Let me first address the technology
tie-in, and then turn to the pedagogical question about how to deal with
the multi-paradigmatic theorization of learning.

I'm sympathetic to the perspective that it is "the current technologies
being used and developed which transforms our guiding metaphors [for
learning] and not the internal debates among scholars." If we look at
the whole ball of wax, psychology certainly does seem a chaotic tangle
that may well be led by technological happenstance rather than by
intellectual coherence. But the proliferation of new schools and new
approaches based on technological developments should not obscure the
kinds of processes of development that go within each paradigmatic
school. Certainly, paradigmatic differences are not settled by debate.
As Kuhn pointed out, the competitive process is inescapably sociological
rather than purely intellectual. What about within a paradigm? As
sociohistorical institutions schools of research persist over time
because of mutually shared projects that often are experienced as
intellectually coherent. Certainly technological developments can
influence the basic understandings pursued within a school. For
instance, psychologists moved on from the telephone switchboard metaphor
of cognitive processing to the serial digital computer metaphor which
afforded much more dynamic possibilities for theorization, but with much
basic conceptual continuity. I don't think it's "wrong" to regard intra
paradigmatic development as led by technological developments. However,
I imagine most of the time, for example in thinking about our own
progress as sociocultural or CHAT researchers, we find it useful to view
progress in terms of intellectual coherence. In any case, in my work in
harvesting insights from the diverse branches of psychology for the
purpose of framing a multi-paradigmatic pedagogy, I find it useful to
regard the work within paradigms as progressing through rational debate
(or at least attempting to). 

A Multi-paradigmatic Pedagogical Framework:

How do we advance pedagogical theory taking seriously the
multi-paradigmatic status of learning theory? 

Let me warn that this is a theme I've pursued before on xmca without
much uptake--I think for very good reasons. The path leads to
delegitimization of education as a co-participant with psychology in the
scientific enterprise. Alternatively, it leads to the repudiation by
education of psychology's scientific pretensions. Given how deeply
enmeshed educational and psychological communities are with one another
(e.g., xmca) this is not an easy or appealing path for either party.

The first step on this path is the hardest to take, though it is simple
to articulate. If we accept that learning is diversely conceived across
varied paradigms, and we also regard the purpose of teaching as
promoting learning, then there is only one sensible path to take if one
desires pedagogical theory to be grounded in learning theory: A genres
approach to pedagogical theorizing, with each genre of teaching
addressing learning in a particular paradigmatic sense. To date, a
genres approach has not been advanced. However, there are two
alternative approaches that have been attempted, in each case with
disastrous consequences. One method is to focus on a single paradigm and
deny the legitimacy of any others (e.g., the behaviorist era in
education). The other is to fashion a holistic vision of "good teaching"
that somehow is to address learning in its various interpretations. This
is the current Zeitgeist in educational theorizing, and I'll devote a
couple of paragraphs, below, to explaining its multifaceted ill effects
on education, the most immediate and debilitating of which is systemic
de-intellectualization of pedagogy. For if teaching practice is to be
understood in terms of learning theory, it can only be in terms of a
single theory at a time, given the multi-paradigmatic character of this
branch of knowledge.

I have been teaching an Education doctoral course on the genres approach
for about 15 years, and I've ALMOST NEVER succeeded in making this first
step comprehensible. So entrenched in our discourse are the ideas of
holistic pedagogy--"good teaching" as a set of practices that addresses
learning conceived as a complex and multifaceted whole--that the
language of genres just doesn't register for my students. Typically,
when I present a framework for teaching for Skills, Concepts, and
Dispositions as distinct genres of teaching, this gets assimilated into
a "learning styles" frame in which the different pedagogical approaches
provide different routes to learning conceived as a complex and
multi-faceted whole. Indeed, our discourse typically intermixes these
learning goals as we talk of "understanding the skill," "practicing the
concept," or "inculcating thinking skills." Students almost never come
to grasp the motive of differentiating, rather than integrating, these
notions of learning as a comprehensible agenda.

The cost we pay for maintaining an integrative or holistic discourse
about "good teaching" in education is staggeringly high. First, is the
impossibility of articulating pedagogical principles, which, as
discussed above would require that learning be conceived locally,
relative to the independently conceived notions of learning. Because in
the standard discourse "good teaching" is somehow simultaneously to
address learning in its many various senses, we end up instead with
generalities and platitudes, with intractably dense dialectical analyses
attempting to span disparate local theories, and with vignettes that are
meant to illustrate good teaching, but that don't articulate its
principles. In short, we provide almost no usable intellectual resources
that can serve to guide development of teaching practice.

Second is the politicized character of our pedagogical discourse
stemming from the interpenetration of values issues with issues of
efficacy. Given the varied notions of learning that motivate educators,
it is to be expected that values issues will arise as to which sort(s)
of learning ought to be pursued with students. But since our discourse
constructs good teaching as a holistic set of practices, there's no
discursive space for this variation. One's opponent's construction of
good teaching is not just wrong on values, but also misguided about what
is effective practice (e.g., the Reading Wars and the Math Wars). A
discourse framed in genres of teaching would enable values issues to be
separated from issues of efficacy, thereby protecting the professional
integrity of the field of teaching practice.

Finally, with so little to offer professional teaching practice,
learning theory is easily subject to being dismissed as irrelevant. If
Teaching is defined in terms of promoting Learning, then learning theory
ought to be THE theoretical discourse through which teaching practice is
articulated. We see our growing irrelevance in the current prominence of
"brain" perspectives on teaching--which is what started this thread--but
also in other cognitive mechanisms approaches like "learning styles"
research, as well as in pedagogical framings based on critical theory,
values theory, philosophical commitments, or metaphysical or spiritual
bases. In the end what we have is an open-ended pedagogical discourse in
which each new proposal for "good teaching" can create its own universe
of discourse within which it is to be analyzed and evaluated. The
marketplace of pedagogical ideas resembles much more a bazaar than a
professional knowledge base. A genres approach, while featuring a
theoretically heterogeneous set of framings for learning, nonetheless
would enable us to capture the essential interests that motivate the
pedagogical enterprise within a finite and determinate set of
theoretical approaches.

Genres: Why Not?

One excellent reason to dismiss the genres approach is because it is so
obvious. After all, it is immediately apparent that learning is
diversely conceived in varied psychological paradigms. So theorizations
of good teaching that really come to grips with learning theory would
need to be constructed locally, relative to a specific notion of
learning. Surely, if a genres approach had any merit it would have been
adopted, or at least explored, a long time ago. 

The alternative is that there are powerful interests arrayed against
recognizing and dealing with the preparadigmatic status of psychology. I
propose that the genres approach has not previously been advanced
because it is in psychologists' self interest that it not be. 

To understand these interests, we need to delve a bit into how
preparadigmatic science functions. Preparadigmatic science consists of
multiple schools each in competition with the others to the unify the
field under its own banner. However, paradigmatic differences are never
settled by debate. As Kuhn pointed out, the competitive process is
inescapably sociological rather than purely intellectual. Viewed through
divergent paradigmatic lenses, different aspects of observed phenomena
become highlighted as problematic. So one paradigm cannot invalidate the
perspectives of another. Instead, a paradigm succeeds against others by
addressing the concerns of the other paradigms in ways that are
sufficiently appealing and powerful as to attract established
researchers from other schools, and especially new researchers just
entering the field. Like old soldiers, old paradigms never die, they
just fade away.

Viewed in this way, we see that psychologists must lead double lives.
Within their paradigm, the psychologist's life is similar to that of
most other scientists. They are involved in deliberate and careful
elaboration and extension of the basic perspectives that initiated the
school. However, externally, they are hucksters extraordinaire. Claims
are exaggerated. Hoped for/planned developments are presented as faits
accomplis. After all, one wins in the broader game by attracting
researchers, especially neophyte researchers, to your school. 

One could castigate psychologists for being duplicitous or dishonest,
but I think this freights individual psychology too heavily. What we
have is best viewed not as individual misrepresentation, but a
discursive form reflecting the sociological imperative of
preparadigmatic science to achieve paradigmatic consensus. The ironic
result is that across the broad diversity of psychology, there is only
one tenet espoused by learning theorists of every persuasion: a single
perspective (eventually) encompasses all of the relevant phenomena of
learning. Thus a genres approach to pedagogy, building on discrete
accomplishments across paradigmatic divisions, would subvert
psychologists' active self-interest in promoting the problem of
paradigmatic division as (imminently) solved.

But what about educators? If psychologists prefer to deny the
preparadigmatic status of their field, why is it that educators haven't
pressed on with a genres approach on their own? Again, a sociological
perspective can help, this time explaining the client status of
Education with respect to Psychology. One of the first preoccupations of
Psychology, dating back to its emergence as a scientific enterprise, was
investigation of the transfer of training assumptions of faculty
psychology (e.g., Thorndike & Woodworth, 1901). These early studies
found the prevailing belief in broad transfer of learning to be
unwarranted. Through preceding centuries, the classical (Aristotelian)
theory of faculty psychology, and its associated theory of
mental-disciplines, had served as the basis for pedagogical thought. So,
psychology's attack upon transfer of training effectively dislodged the
existing foundations for educational practice. As a result, education
attached itself to the new science, not as a separate and independent
field of inquiry, but as a client discipline, dependent upon psychology
for our legitimacy and intellectual authority. In that role, we have
tended to see the world as the psychologists do. We have not construed
psychology independently, as we would need to do to adopt a genres

Marshalling Preparadigmatic Psychology for Educational Purposes:

I'm going to conclude this post with a description of how psychological
theory gets appropriated and reworked in genres scholarship. (This
really is where the psychologists get mad.) I mentioned, above, that
"Within their paradigm, the psychologist's life is similar to that of
most other scientists." Similar, but not identical. I want to argue that
paradigmatic science develops more organically based on insights that
bubble up from within the paradigm, in comparison with preparadigmatic
science that is more teleologically driven by a felt need to address
concerns that have emerged in other schools. For instance, cognitivists
exploring the computational metaphor might eventually have decided, on
their own, to extend from decontextualized problem solving to encompass
social and cultural context. But the need to be positioned as
competitive with sociogenetic approaches like sociocultural psychology
forced this development earlier. In this respect, we can see a
trajectory of preparadigmatic science that is not quite parallel with
paradigmatic science. Preparadigmatic schools tends to evolve from
simple and powerful, but local, initial insights toward complex and
opaque interpretations intended to bridge disparate intuitions. And then
again, some preparadigmatic schools--e.g., social constructivism and
perhaps situated cognition theory, in psychology--initially are formed
as a synthesis of diverse perspectives precisely in order to be
competitive players in the preparadigmatic game, but without a clear and
simple local insight. The result is that use of psychology to inform a
genres approach must be highly selective, calling only on those theories
that most effectively highlight a single metaphorical notion of
learning, often relying on earlier, more narrow, versions of the theory
over contemporary forms.

In my own "crossdisciplinary"* effort to found a genres approach for
education that builds on insights from diverse psychological schools,
I've found it convenient to identify the metaphors for learning that I
see as framing education's diverse interests, and then to hunt around
for psychological approaches that help to fill out that metaphorical
interpretation. In this approach, I am guided by the perspective that
psychology often draws from our culturally shared metaphors for its
basic images and intuitions (Fletcher, 1995; Leary, 1994; Olson &
Bruner, 1996; Sternberg, 1997). For instance, my "habituation" metaphor
for learning-as-skill-attainment draws somewhat on behaviorist
psychology, but also on a branch of cognitive theory known as "implicit
learning theory." My "construction" metaphor for
learning-as-concept-attainment draws somewhat on the Piagetian based
radical constructivist, but also on the conceptual change literature. My
"enculturation" metaphor for learning-as-disposition-attainment draws
partly on sociocultural theory, but also on social psychology. For
although sociocultural theory is predominantly sociogenetic Vygotsky,
along with those who have undertaken to extend his legacy, resisted the
complete social determinism that I see as needed to articulate a
coherent "enculturation pedagogy." As Penuel and Wertsch (1995) put it:
"Sociocultural processes on the one hand and individual functioning on
the other [exist] in a dynamic, irreducible tension rather than a static
notion of social determination. A sociocultural approach ... considers
these poles of sociocultural processes and individual functioning as
interacting moments in human action, rather than as static processes
that exist in isolation from one another" (p. 84). (Emphasizing social
determinism, my prototypical exemplar of enculturational learning is
"proxemics" drawn from social psychology, the study of how individual
comes to embody the "personal body space" conventions of their national

I think this serves to establish how psychological science is marshaled
within a genres agenda. Resisting what is everywhere present in
psychology--the attempt to develop a comprehensive account of learning
that suffices for all purposes--the genres approach seeks after partial
accounts that correspond with what I see as coherently forming the
discrete interest of educators in teaching skills, concepts, and
dispositions. It's not "wrong" for socioculturalists to agree, as did
Larry a couple of posts ago, "that we must account for processes at the
neurological level from a CHAT perspective." Indeed, such initiatives
are vital to enable CHAT/sociocultural psychology to remain viable, and
perhaps eventually prevail, within the competitive game of
preparadigmatic psychology. But the broader designs of the various
schools will not help us, today, to support educational practice. The
psychology of TODAY is a preparadigmatic psychology, and that reality
must be embraced in order to discern and support the discrete agendas
for learning that motivate education. 

*I use the term crossdisciplinary in contrast with interdisciplinary to
signal the coordination, rather than integration, of existing
theoretical frameworks. 


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]
On Behalf Of Larry Purss
Sent: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 7:35 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Brains, Computer, and the Future of Education

Another quick thought on the competing models of learning and how these
models become common sense or taken for granted folk psychological ways
orienting to the world. The  power of metaphors to conventionalize a
cultural imaginary seems to be  central to this transformative process
develops various cognitive models at the implicit or tacit level.  Andy
points to the historical processes that lead to a particular metaphor
structuring our cognition [the zeitgeist]. As I read his comments
he suggests it is the current technologies being used and developed
transforms our guiding metaphors and not the internal debates among
scholars.  If technological transformation  "constitutes"  metaphorical
transformation [stronger term than influences] then how do we
engage with these transformative technological processes to influence
zeitgeist [as a dialogue among models] ? At the level of common sense
psychological metaphors of learning are university debates leading the
or charting where the technology has taken us?
The underlying question is, How do we get teachers to incorporate
alternative models of learning and cognition which run counter to common


On Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 4:37 AM, Michael Glassman

> Hi David,
> I sort of feel like the human relationship with information has
changed in
> very fundemental ways over the last ten years.  Phenomena like the
> Google, FaceBook, the Open Source movement have moved incredibly
>  Some academic urban legends are rising up, such as the idea that the
> computer in some way changes the structure of wiring of the brain
> (absolutely no evidence, or even proto-evidence for this I can.)  But
> think it is a combination of fear and confusion.  You have first
> lawyers like Floyd Abrams arguing against free speech on the Internet.
> have brutal authoritarians like Putin signing executive orders making
> Russian government completely Open Source by 2015 (my guess is he has
> idea what Open Source actually is).  The whole thing is mind boggling.
> I think of cognitivist, behaviorists socio cultural theorists, etc,
> arguing over who bats next, not realizing that the rules of the game
> completely changing.  Changing in ways we don't even have a vocabulary
> talk about yet.
> Michael
> ________________________________
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of David H Kirshner
> Sent: Tue 1/11/2011 10:45 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: RE: [xmca] Brains, Computer, and the Future of Education
> Larry,
> Here's my sociology of science account of the rise of brain studies as
> substitute for learning theory.
> 1. In Kuhnian terms, psychology is a preparadigmatic science. For
> instance, learning is variously studied in behavioral, cognitive,
> developmental, and sociocultural schools that conceive of learning in
> fundamentally distinct ways.
> 2. The grand motive of preparadigmatic science is establishment of
> paradigmatic consensus. Each school is in competition with the others
> unify the field under its umbrella by coming to accommodate the
> interests of the other schools while still preserving the essence of
> own unique perspective. Most often this competition is implicit, but
> periodically it leads to open conflict as in Chomsky's repudiation of
> Skinner's effort to account for "Verbal Behavior," or in the flare up
> the late '90s between James Greeno and John Anderson and company over
> cognitivist efforts to account for the situated character of learning.
> 3. The dominant paradigm in any period always is the one to most
> strenuously pursue hegemonic designs on the field. The cognitivists'
> embracing of the rhetoric of situativity has cost them dearly: they no
> longer can forefront the technical machinery of information processing
> theory and artificial intelligence computer simulation as their
> technical method and theoretical thrust. This is really a crisis point
> for cognitivists. They gained prominence through the Information
> Processing approach, and are coasting along on their reputation.
> Embracing brain science enables them to maintain the surface features
> dynamic "science," while providing a convenient disguise for the fact
> that there's no longer a central metaphor for learning that is being
> elaborated and developed by that community.
> 4. Projecting this forward a decade or so, we have the likelihood of
> diminishment of the importance of the cognitivist umbrella, and
> opportunity for the other schools to push toward the front of the
> ...should be lots of fun.
> David
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]
> On Behalf Of Larry Purss
> Sent: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 7:37 AM
> To: lchcmike@gmail.com; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Brains, Computer, and the Future of Education
> Mike,
> The band wagon may not be a strong enough metaphor.  The image of a
> steam
> roller seems more accurate.  I mentioned earlier that the term ZPD is
> now a
> recognized term in many school settings [as scaffolding].  However
> alternative metaphor of mind as computer or mind  as brain is a far
> powerful metaphor in schools. Often school staffs are fascinated with
> these
> explanations and believe that neuroscience is finally getting to the
> "heart"
> of the matter [couldn't resist the contradictary metaphor]. Brain
> science as
> an explanation of learning is becoming   the dominant narrative in
> many school debates.  I was wondering if there are any "simplified'
> articles
> for a general audience that engage with these neuro/brain metaphors
> would lead to school staffs possibly having a dialogue [by introducing
> dought]  I have shared a few articles with interested staff who love
> ideas
> but they were too "theoretical" for a staff discussion.
> With this steam roller comes the call for justifying your practice in
> schools by using "best practices" which are "evidence based".  This
> evidence often is dominated by evidence from neuroscience
>  I have attempted to introduce sociocultural perspectives into the
> debate in
>  response to the neuro/brain social representations of learning but I
> would
> appreciate an  article for a general audience that I could hand out to
> start
> a dialogue among school staffs.
> Mike, I believe this frame of reference is not a "fad" or a "band
> but is developing into a "conventionalized" metaphor which most
> educators
> may use to explain "learning" in  schools.  Fad indicates a transitory
> phenomena and neuroscience seems a longer lasting  phenomena.
> I am looking for an article that does not refute or contradict the
> neuroscience explanations but rather LINKS the  ideas to sociocultural
> concepts.
> One of the principals in a school I work in is attending this
> conference,
> and principals do have influence in school cultures.  I hope to
> influence
> her.
> Larry
> On Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 8:07 PM, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:
> > The bandwagon is visible coming over the horizon!
> > Check it out at http://www.learningandthebrain.com/brain28.html.
> > Join for just the price of a click and a clack.
> > mike
> > __________________________________________
> > _____
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> > xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> > http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
> >
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