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[Xmca-l] Re: Direct link to article for discussion

Jennifer, in response to your 4 questions, as well as Larry’s initial comments, I want to both respond and situate myself so that my response is as transparent as I can at this point make it.  although, this runs the risk of a response being far too long - but i'm still going to plunge forth.

Wertsch writes about “irreducible tensions” in his 1998 “Mind as Action”, which I find to be a problem of practice in all of your questions – that your questions are illustrative of the irreducible tensions within the cultural activities you are questioning.

Also, Larry’s emphasis on the Vygotsky quote – to permeate school environments the school has to penetrate and envelop the life of the child.  

Such a position is highly totalitarian – which really is no surprise considering the larger political project that Vygotsky was involved in – the new soviet man.  On one hand, of course, one wants to move away from the prerevolutionary social construction of a citizen to a new citizen – but already Lenin had reinvigorated the secret police as a tool against the “enemies of the state”.  Remember, in Stanton Wortham’s 2006 “Learning Identity: the joint emergence of social identification and academic learning” where William is identified as the “prototypical unpromising male student” – which I see as a fine example of school penetrating and enveloping the life of the child.

I think that we make the error that Vygotsky’s work is liberatory, whereas his theories can certainly be used to underpin a highly repressive schooling system.  

Irreducible tensions.

And at the same time, again, irreducible tensions for me, I find your paper to be as personally valuable as Gregory Bateson’s work, Steps to an Ecology of the Mind (1972), Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), Jean Lave’s Teaching as Learning in Practice,(1996) V 3, N 3, Mind, Culture and Activity, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925) - which have all been seminal texts for me, amongst others – so now, yes, I want to add Locating Social and Emotional Learning in Schooled Environments: A Vygotskian Perspective on Learning as Unified by Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur and Rebecca J. Collie.

I think that you and Collie are advocating for a more complex holistic approach in education:  “Schools must become places for engaging in unified experiences and, for this to occur, the reunification of learning must be valued by the school and outside community. However, drawing attention to perezhivanie, emotional experience, the unity of child and social environment, as well as the importance of the meanings made by the child through developing word meaning and sense, the unity of speech, thinking, and feeling, and the role of narrative and dialogue in both, the contradictions between Vygotsky’s perspective and the way that schools are currently constructed could not be more blatant.”

For such holistic unities, I am in total agreement.  I also recognize that, contemporary attempts in valuing unity of affect and intellect the have been both problematic and ineffective.  As you two point out, “In broad strokes these reforms (a) overemphasize standardized assessments, what is important in education is what can be measured on specific sorts of assessments under specific conditions, what is countable becomes what counts (Green & Luke, 2006; Ladwig, 2010); (b) marginalize prevention programs and programs that have nonacademic goals, like social and emotional learning (Meier & Wood, 2004); and (c) erase factors that influence students’ performance that are not linked to teaching and are outside of teachers’ control, like the evidence of growing inequalities between groups and communities, the social reasons for early school leaving, and a loss of economic infrastructure in both rural and abandoned urban areas (Sizer, 2004).

But for me, and this is being personally proleptic, I attempt to put into practice singularly within the small community in which I have a full or partial participant (again, Lave & Wenger) those practices within a unity of affect and intellect.

And at the same time I continue to see a world of irreducible tensions.  You and Collie also wrote, “He (Vygotsky) highlighted the potential of education to foster the development of individuals with social, cognitive, and emotional competencies as well as a disposition toward ethical action. One noted goal of education was the development of citizens for an international, and now global, world. At the center of the educational process was the social environment of the school.”

This excerpt reminds me of a bitterly ironic joke from the old soviet bloc:
An internationalist speaks one language.
A nationalist speaks at least two languages.

So, what does this joke mean?  It means that the Russians who described themselves as participating within the international communist soviet union could speak only Russian.  Those individuals, who spoke not only Russian but their own native language, who loudly/quietly protested against the Russian hegemony were branded as nationalist, who failed to recognize the international unity of Russian communism.

Irreducible tensions.

From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Vadeboncoeur, Jennifer [j.vadeboncoeur@ubc.ca]
Sent: Friday, September 13, 2013 10:50 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Direct link to article for discussion

Dear Larry, and anyone interested in this discussion, :) ,

I often feel like I have been struggling with the same ideas for years, sometimes they gel.  But more often I get hung up on ideas that I feel like I may just sort through eventually, but haven't yet. Thanks for reminding me of the piece I wrote 10 years ago now. It feels like 10 years or more, and there's proof that it has been at least that long! I'm not sure if I'm making any progress sorting things out, but these are issues that become even more compelling as I watch my daughters grow and begin formal schooling.

>From the beginning, the piece tried to cover, perhaps, too much ground, and we carved it in several different ways as we revised it. The first section was much longer initially, but it was reduced so that we could get at explicating and extending some ideas a bit. I'll share a couple thoughts here in relation to what you've written, Larry, and see what, if anything is interesting to folks to discuss.

1) In Vancouver, where I live, there is currently lots of attention to social and emotional learning, and many of my colleagues are ecstatic, but it is very much as an add on, very much about skill sets, and 8 week programs. Larry, what you've noted below about developing "dispositions" through "shared ideals" that "permeate" the culture of the school sits easily with Vygotsky's ideas, but for some reason, for many reasons, it is almost impossible for some people to imagine. Why is this? Is it because of our cultural values regarding individualism? Is it because we are concerned about talking about shared ideals? Is it because we are quite happy to dichotomize thinking and feeling, there are some benefits to doing so? What other reasons are influencing this situation?

2) This is the place where I begin to get stuck: what can we do differently, what can we do to challenge fragmenting learning and development and reducing social and emotional learning to skill sets? I have colleagues that tell me that social and emotional learning is undertheorized, that their work is largely atheoretical, and this in part motivated the work on this piece. Here is a theory that could ground social and emotional learning and development and ground it in a way that doesn't simply carve another type of learning and development from whole children and adults. I wonder, what are the possibilities of Vygotsky's ideas for rethinking how we teach, how we engage, how we do things in schools? Who will take up these ideas?

3) Another place where I get stuck: what happens if we as a society don't really want to change things in schools? What happens if part of the "way schools work" is that they fragment learning and children? The children who can sort out how to survive in spite of the social environment move forward, so this fragmentation of whole children is functional as a sorting function, rather than disfunctional.

4) And this leads to the central issue of ethics, and I'm still stuck: A final concept that both fascinates and troubles me is linked with prolepsis. It fascinates because of the potential, the possibilities, and it troubles me because of the responsibility.

If we can see possible futures in a child's present, in the lived experiences and living conditions within which that child grows, what is our responsibility for acting in ways that improve the range of or conditions for possible futures? Who decides and how do we decide on actions? Are there ways in which to tease out issues around cultural differences and "what ought to be done for/with this particular child"?

I'll come back to this tomorrow with a fresh set of eyes, so many interconnected issues - best to all - jen

On 2013-09-13, at 7:53 AM, Larry Purss wrote:

> Jennifer, Rachael,
> Focusing on 3 words that carry relational meanings as *spirit* or *ideal* I
> want to foreground  three words used by Vygotsky in a quote on page 203:
> to *PERMEATE*  school environments
> The school has to *PENETRATE* and *ENVELOP* THE LIFE OF THE CHILD .
> These three words, to permeate, penetrate, and envelop as KEYSTONE IDEALS
> which lead to dispositions developing moral character within the intimate
> and friendly interpsychological plane of school environments.
> THIS is a radicalization of the purposes of learning leading develop and is
> clarifying a radical shift or turn in re-purposing school environments.
> I appreciate your opening the article with this particular Vygotskian quote
> to focus the theme of the paper.
> Larry