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Re: [xmca] MCA Featured Article by Mike Rose
Like Jenna, I am enjoying the thread enormously and like her I am a little perplexed by the way it seems to touch and tangle the other thread without actually joining it.
On the other thread, it turns out that the problematic word in "higher psychic functions" is neither "psychic" nor "functions" but actually "higher". David Kirshner apparently wants us to believe that the distinction between us and our animal cousins is a) imaginary, b) late arising, and c) the product of the formation of the imaginary SELF rather than the formation of societies and cultures.
All three seem completely wrong to me, and I think they are each in their own way expressions of a lack of faith in the power of what social collaboration and cultural ideology can do. This is understandable and perhaps even inevitable, given the current period, in which both appear to have largely collapsed.
It is also inevitable that when people announce that they belong to a certain social community or a certain class by virtue of a particular life experience that the response should carry a certain skepticism, and that that skepticism should be attached to the announcer's personal motives, and even to the announcer's own view of his or her personal motives. Why is this personal information relevant? What is the announcer trying to say?
Jenna--it seems to me that the reasons for skepticism--and the reasons for relevance--and the reasons for the crucial importance of these delicate distinctions (e.g. between higher and lower functions, between developmentally inert skills and revolutionizing forms of knowledge, between voluntary class membership--which is NOT simply self-identification--and involuntary class membership) are one and the same. They have to do with reversibility, with choice, and ultimately with free will.
What is new and novel about the higher functions is not what they do; verbalized perception, for example, just accomplishes in a complex, mediated, roundabout manner what used a farly straightforward naturalistic operation. As Rob says, mathematical skills applied to spot welding simply come up with the same results as manual ones (see, for example, the widespread use of robotics in welding).
A young man, the son of two academics, leaves a high school in Minnesota without graduating and gets a job in a pineapple cannery in Honolulu, for no other reason than it is as far as possible as he can go from home and still get a job. Through legitimate peripheral participation, he becomes a welder. He is structurally, functionally, and even microgenetically (though not ontogenetically) just a welder; no different from all the other welders on the line, and he likes it that way.
What is different is that in each case the "higher" choice is voluntary, precisely becaue there is an alternative, where once there was none. On the face of it, we have a distinction that makes no real difference, and that, plus the reversibility of the higher choice, may make the actual distinction we are talking about seem illusory. It is easy, and even objective, to say that an academic job is not really different from an industrial one, in much the same way as a second language is not really different from a first language.
But a second language really is different from a first language, and it is different precisely because it is freely chosen.There are certainly many distinctions without differences in our culture which are illusory and should be treated with skepticism (e.g. as Mike Rose says, the non-difference beween skilled and semi-skilled labor). This isn't one.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
--- On Tue, 2/14/12, Jenna McWilliams <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Jenna McWilliams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] MCA Featured Article by Mike Rose
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 4:46 AM
I'm loving this conversation thread--and it's directly relevant to my current focus, as I'm using Mike Rose's "The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker" as an anchor text for an undergraduate educational psychology course. Was just prepping to discuss chapter 4, "the vocabulary of carpentry" as I got distracted scrolling through the xmca listserv. In this chapter, he writes: "What testing vocabulary do we have, for example, to discern the making of judgments from the feel of things, or the strategic use of tool and body, or the rhythmic spacing of tasks, or the coordination of effort and material toward the construction of a complex object?"
Certainly the purpose of this book, and of a lot of Mike Rose's work, is not to show how skills developed through welding, for example, or waitressing or carpentry or what-have-you can help you advance beyond a given vocation. In fact, in the introduction to his excellent book, he gently criticizes a discourse that treats working-class activity as romantic because of its physicality. He writes:
"How interesting it is...that our testaments to physical work are so often focused on the values such work exhibits rather than on the thought it requires. It is a subtle but pervasive omission. Yet there is a mind at work in dignity, and values are intimately related to thought and action."
I've also been interested to watch how Mike Rose and other scholars focusing on blue-collar work establish their orientation toward blue-collarness--primarily by establishing credibility by pointing to personal experience with blue-collar work. I do this all the time: I say that I grew up in a working-class household. I say that I am public school-educated all the way from kindergarten to graduate degree(s). I say that before I came to academia I was a groundskeeper, a cashier, a phone operator, blah blah blah. This is designed to, perhaps, "prove" I have access to the exotic world of the blue-collar worker, to "prove" I have cachet.
Yet if I were to tell Ray, the welder in Mike Rose's "rethinking remedial education," about my "working-class credibility," what do you think he would do? Me, standing there, a white, well educated academic who can choose when to enter his classroom and when to leave, whose livelihood both does not depend on whether I can learn today's math lesson and rests on the backs of those learners who are trying to do precisely that?
I think it's far less common for researchers to use their personal backgrounds to "prove" they "understand" research participants who come from more privileged backgrounds--say, students in a gifted and talented program or students completing advanced graduate work. Perhaps researcher credibility does not need to be established in these cases; perhaps its existence is simply understood.
"I used to ______, but now I _________." When we demonstrate our class-ness, when we offer our personal histories, we assume we're confessing our relationship to the phenomena of interest. And certainly that's part of it. But when we say "I used to _______" or "before I came to academia I _______" are we attempting the opposite of "going native"? Are we actually simultaneously feigning distancing ourselves from academia while in fact embracing it fully? We have the best of intentions, but to what extent do our best intentions serve only to further stigmatize and Other our research participants without actually leaving us with any taint of Other?
Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University
On Feb 13, 2012, at 9:59 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
> First of all, thanks for your help with Herbert Spencer Jennings! It seems to me I never thanked you for it, but it was very helpful in sorting out what Vygotsky means when he says "activity system" and why he finds the concept inadequte for explaining man's relation to culture.
> I dutifully went to all the links you posted. It's a part of London I know well, because my mother lives in Lambeth, but I haven't been there in many years, and there have been some amazing changes.
> While I was waiting for all these fabulous pictures to load (on my tiny computer) I was thinking a little ruefully of how Huw AVOIDS actually writing. One way he does this is by posting a labyrinth of links to navigate. Another way is by snipping and commenting things that other people write.
> Of course, he is not just being lazy--he is pointing up the limitations of writing as a means of communicating information. Writing doesn't work well as a substitute for graphics, and in many ways it's not an adequate substitute for dialogue and face to face argumentation either.
> But I think Huw's ability to point up the limitations of writing depends on his mastery of the writing skill first. I don't think his post would have made much sense to me as simply a set of graphics and links.
> I feel the same way about welding, actually. Yes, it was part of some higher activities. For a while, when I was working in a foundry, we used it to create sculptures out of the steel beams that broke on the rollers when too much pressure was applied.
> But it was, as Vygotsky would say, an auxiliary function, that is, a subordinate part of the sculpting process; it was a replaceable skill, both in the sense that we could have used other processes (brazing, actually, produced more spectacular color changes in the crystallized metal) and in the sense that a real sculptor could have hired people very cheaply to do that part of the sculpting work.
> (When the boss discovered what we were doing, all of the sculpture was transferred to the scrap bin. Most of us, including me, were laid off when the foundry was finally shut down. I was in good shape: I was young, and had good language skills, and I landed on my feet. Some of my mates were not so lucky.)
> David Kellogg
> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> --- On Mon, 2/13/12, Huw Lloyd <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> From: Huw Lloyd <email@example.com>
> Subject: Re: [xmca] MCA Featured Article by Mike Rose
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Date: Monday, February 13, 2012, 3:59 AM
> On 13 February 2012 04:38, David Kellogg <email@example.com> wrote:
>> Welding was something I learned through legitimate peripheral
>> participation at the pineapple cannery where I worked when I was sixteen.
>> It didn't require any mathematics, but it did, as Rose says, require a very
>> sensitive "feel" for how hot the metal is, how long your arc is, and how
>> fast you can travel with it.
>> I don't really agree that overhead welding is "something else again". In
>> overhead welding, you have to move the "stinger" (the electrode) quickly
>> enough so that your puddle of liquid metal remains small and cold and
>> doesn't drip in your face (well, on your face mask). One of the parameters
>> of welding (puddle size) is more important than the others, but it ithe
>> same (semi-)skill with the same parameters.
>> And that's the problem I think is worth talking about. Once you learn flat
>> welding and vertical welding, you can "graduate" to overhead, because it's
>> not "something else"; it's manifestly the same skill. And there is a lot
>> you can do with this skill. I worked in a cannery, on a locomotive assembly
>> line, and eventually in a specialized shop which made racing car engines in
>> But (it seems to me) you can't graduate to mathematics, and you can't take
>> the skill from one domain to another: my welding put me into college. But
>> it didn't write the papers for me and I eventually dropped out and went
>> back to welding.
>> So it seems to me that PART of the problem this article raises has to do
>> with the subject matter itself: welding is really the kind of lower level
>> psychological function that Vygotsky talks about: typing, swimming, and
>> playing golf. It's the kind of work which necessarily and
>> always--regardless of the way we teach it--will keep workers in their
>> place, and it will do this no matter how we teach it.
> I would have thought that it is the exchange value that keeps them in their
> place, and that thereby there are fewer mainstream opportunities to apply
> these skills to more "interesting" circumstances.
> These garden "fences" are down the road from where I live:
> The website for all the work done on this property is here:
> I think you have some valid points here, David. Although your demarcation
> of what is and what isn't welding is a little arbitrary. From your usage,
> it seems, you're slipping into the notion that wider skills cannot be
> realised through welding activity, and yet you immediately account for the
> widening of the welding skill in its outset.
>> Because it does NOT generalize to things like mathematics, it does not (as
>> far as I can see) lead workers any further than overhead welding. Because
>> it does NOT involve language it doesn't really change your word meanings or
>> your concepts (I learned welding through legitimate peripheral
>> participation from workers who spoke dozens of different languages that I
>> could not speak--but neither of us learned any actual word meanings from
>> each other). And because it does NOT involve formal discipline it cannot
>> really develop higher psychological functions.
>> Writing is different. Writing skills DO generalize to a vast domain of
>> knowledge, including reading and thinking. Writing skills DO involve
>> language and they are cumulative and recursive in a way that welding is
>> not. Above all, writing DOES involve formal discipline, and it is in itself
>> the external "line of developent" of cross cultural and even cross
>> generational communication.
>> I often wonder if legitimate peripheral participation is really a
>> legitimate way of communicating development, or if it is simply a method of
>> skill learning. In my own experience, it works really well for semi-skilled
>> labor like welding.
>> But I rather doubt it can take you further than that. Perhaps Mike
>> Rose senses that, and perhaps he even means it, but he doesn't express it.
>> Curiously, I think the reason is that although he is an excellent writer,
>> he is not a welder.
>> David Kellogg
>> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies .
>> --- On Sat, 2/11/12, Robert Lake <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>> From: Robert Lake <email@example.com>
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] MCA Featured Article by Mike Rose
>> To: firstname.lastname@example.org, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <
>> Date: Saturday, February 11, 2012, 5:21 AM
>> I am so glad you published this Andy.
>> The topic if crucial in any discussion about educating for social justice
>> in a culture that
>> relegates vocational education to the "loser track". My son is a member of
>> the IBEW and a lineman for Georgia Power Co.
>> and he sent this link to me to share with my colleagues in education.
>> Robert Lake
>> On Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 11:49 PM, Andy Blunden <email@example.com> wrote:
>>> The issue of MCA 19(1) about to be published has a Featured Article by
>>> Mike Rose: "Rethinking Remedial Education and the Academic-Vocational
>>> Divide." If all goes as promised, Taylor & Francis should be offering it
>>> for free download as of today. But a PDF is attached just in case! The
>>> issue also contains commentaries on Mike Rose's article by Norton Grubb,
>>> Kris Gutierrez, Sara Goldrick-Rab.
>>> The article is a scathing criticism of the US public education system,
>>> one which makes very specific suggestions for improvement based on a life
>>> time of experience. It is also written in popularly accessible language
>>> rather than the usual academic genre. Rather than the usual practice of
>>> putting to a vote the article for discussion on xmca, it seemed crazy not
>>> to simply nominate this one. So please see attachment.
>>> *Andy Blunden*
>>> Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/**toc/hmca20/18/1<
>>> Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
>>> Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.**aspx?partid=227&pid=34857<
>>> xmca mailing list
>> *Robert Lake Ed.D.
>> *Assistant Professor
>> Social Foundations of Education
>> Dept. of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading
>> Georgia Southern University
>> P. O. Box 8144
>> Phone: (912) 478-5125
>> Fax: (912) 478-5382
>> Statesboro, GA 30460
>> *Democracy must be born anew in every generation, and education is its
>> *-*John Dewey.
>> xmca mailing list
>> xmca mailing list
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