Many thanks to everybody who responded so quickly and fulsomely (especially to Armando). I'm ashamed to say I've never read Ferreiro, but I ordered "Literacy Before Schooling" and it's on the way.
I too was very struck by Wagner's comments (Wagner--is that a surname or a given name? Should we call you Luiz?). According to the article Armando sent around, Ferreiro was just as much a political refugee as Freire himself, and the two actually appear to have worked together at one point. Of course, the Videla dictatorship used her work, but the same thing was true of Freire's. So why would she be blamed for Brazilian functionial illiteracy?
Just on the basis of Armando's article, I can think of three reasons why this might happen, but they all amount to accusing her of being a researcher. The first is that unlike Freire she doesn't appear to be directly interested in teacher training. For reasons I don't understand, researchers are very reluctant to "do the teacher's job for her", as Ferreiro puts it, although very few of us get coy, shy or "too busy" when the government or when some commericial corporation wants to learn about how our work might be applied. I don't understand this, because while bitter experience has taught me to be very suspicious when governments and corporations want me to do a job for them, I have found working more directly with teachers immensely rewarding (I understand Freire felt pretty much the same way and I know Mike does).
The second is that although Ferreiro doesn't believe that phonemes are psychologically real (it's very hard to find language researchers who still do) she is very interested in how drawing and spelling are distinct, in the moment when the child understands that drawing is a synchronic tracing of the graphic contours of an object while spelling is diachronic and not based on on a graphic-visual representation at all. Her experiments on three-letter 'words' in English and Spanish remind me more of Piaget's interest in conservation experiments and also his early clinical work asking questions like "Why does the moon stay up in the sky?" where the child cannot really bring any personal experience to bear in the answer. I think that BOTH Vygotsky and Freire would reply that drawing and spelling cannot be mechanically separated in that way, which is why so much of the child's early literacy is concerned with cartoons and comics. As Freire would say there has to be some way to get the world into the word.
The third, though, is the issue that Wagner (Luiz Schmit?) raises: this focus on decontextualized three letter words (consonants in English and in the Semitic languages but VOWELS in Spanish--I bet Japanese is like Spanish) is invariably going to lead in the direction of phonics education, and of course phonics education has been, rightly or wrongly, accused with producing precisely the state of affairs that Wagner describes: people who can decode phonemes but remain functionally illiterate. It's interesting, though, that Wagner says Ferreiro advocates using small mnemonic pictures to teach letter-sound correspondances; this is approach that French researchers on dyslexia have taken, and of course it's the basis of many Chinese characters (and China remains lowest in the world in certain types of dyslexia).
Notice that Ferreiro uses the SAME experiment that Luria uses--trying to get children to write before they know how--in her Little Red Riding Hood studies. But Luria is mostly interested in memory, while Ferreiro is trying to get a narrative.Vygotsky does talk about a "graphic" basis to many word meanings (he is trying to demonstrate that language is not a legal contract; that there is a 'natural history' to signs that precludes the Saussurean approach that his structuralist colleagues are insisting on, which Piaget then greatly developed). But he really is talking about WORD or even TEXT meanings: he's talking about the way, for example, "The early bird catches the worm" conjures up more of drawable (and cartoonable) image than "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise".
I think Vygotsky sees the same layers of semiohistory that Halliday does (in the plenary talk I posted here some time ago). That is, man passes through epochs in his productive life, and so his literary products pass through typical genres. The format which is typical of forest life is literal, the proverb. The format which is more typical of farming life is figurative, the fable. But when we arrive at factory life, we need systems of great abstraction and precision--and this explains why proverbs and fables are subsumed as epics, and then as romances and eventually novels. And it is really only with modern life that the distinction Piaget between diachronic narrative and synchronic dialogue becomes essential. Hence the importance of two forms of literary "prehistory" that have no obvious relationship to phonemes at all: play and drawing.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
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