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[Xmca-l] Re: Culture, nature, and children
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- Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Culture, nature, and children
- From: David Kellogg <email@example.com>
- Date: Wed, 5 Feb 2014 17:14:11 -0800
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(It works, Vera! The previous thread on Boal and Brecht was the one
that Haydi reposted. The letter I posted to Professor Goncu was the
only other thing I wrote.)
As we all know, Rousseau was a great champion of nature and not so big
on culture. But the other thing we all know about Rousseau is that he
wrote that a child is not a miniature adult. It has always seemed to
me that these two things are essentially in contradiction, since the
idea of a qualitatively different period called childhood is not
particularly natural and certainly doesn't exist amongst animals.
So I have been re-reading Emile. I haven't found the exact quote where
Rousseau talks about the miniature adult, but I have found enough to
make me think that Rousseau didn't have in mind what we have in mind
when we quote him.
"The man must be considered in the man, and the child in the child.
To assign each his place and settle him in it, to order the human
passions according to man's consitutition is all that we can do for
his well-being." p. 80.
This sounds very child-centred, doesn't it. It's anything but!
Rousseau is arguing against John Locke, who was the main proponent of
what would be called child centred education today. Locke famously
believed that the child was a tabula rasa, a blank slate, and that
educating the child was largely a matter of reasoning with the child,
so that laws of reason would be written on that blank slate.
Rousseau considers this folly: we only need reason when we are strong
enough to fend for ourselves. But the child is, and should be, weak
and dependent. Rousseau says:
"Nature wants children to be children before being men. If we want to
pervert this order, we shall produce precocious fruits which will be
immature and insipid and will not be long in rotting. We shall have
young doctors (that is, "young Ph.D.s"--DK) and old children. Childhood
has its ways of seeing, thinking and feeling which are proper to it.
Nothing is less sensible than to want to substitute ours for theirs,
and I would like as little to insist that a ten-year-old be five feet
tall as that he possess judgement. Actually, what would reason do for
him at that age? It is the bridle of strength, and the child does not
need this bridle." p. 90
What bridle does the child need? Well, says Rousseau, the child needs
to obey. But what the child must obey is not AUTHORITY--because
authority is not a natural law. What the child needs to obey is FORCE.
"Let him know only that he is weak and you are strong, that by his
condition and yours he is necessarily at your mercy. Let him know it,
learn it, feel it. Let his haughty head at an early date feel the
harsh yoke which nature imposes on man, the heavey yoke of necessity
under which every finite being must bend." p. 91.
Rousseau's point is that the child must understand the power of adults
as a completely natural power and not as one based in social law or
human reason. As you can see, this is not what we would call
child-centred education today!
Rousseau does have a kind of merciless consistency though. His
argument for making education pleasant for children goes something
like this. Over half of the children we are now teaching will never
grow up (because of the very high infant mortality rates and the low
life expectancy in eighteenth century Europe). So we need to make
education valuable and interesting year by year, in case they die
before they actually get a job.
This is the argument called "surrender value" by Michael West when he
realized that most fourth graders in Bengal at the turn of the
nineteenth century would never make it to eight grade, and he used it
to promote READING, since this was a practical skill that would make a
difference to Bengali farmers and conversation was not. It seems to me
that this explains why nature needs to be sentimentalized by culture.
The hard truth, of which Rousseau is fully aware, is that nature is a
child abuser (and it rather explains why he was so willing to donate
his own children to a foundling asylum!).
When I was a kid, we had a little ditty that went like this:
Don't worry if your job is small
And your rewards are few
Remember that the mighty oak
Was once a nut like you!
Being kids, we thought this was hilarious--that it was a very clever
way indeed of calling your best friend crazy. We were blissfully
unaware of the "surrender value" idea--we saw education as a long term
investment and not as a quick 'in and out" speculation.
So of course the joke was on us; very few of us managed to get big
jobs or substantial rewards, and none of us are mighty spreading oaks
today. Most of us are not actually dead yet though!
Hankuk University of Education
Rousseau, J.-J. (1762/1978). Emile, or, On Education. New York: Harper Collins.
On 5 February 2014 16:45, Vera John-Steiner <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Perhaps you have solved the problem and you could resend your message.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: email@example.com
> [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
> Sent: Wednesday, February 05, 2014 12:08 AM
> To: Haydi Zulfei; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Culture, nature, and children
> (Haydi--thanks for the offer. I think, but I am not sure, that I solved the
> problem--with much generous help from Andy. If you don't see this on the
> list, we can try reposting again. For any other who are having this problem,
> what you have to do is to use some email provider that allows you the option
> of sending naked HTML text--e.g.
> "plain text" in gmail. My previous web-based Korean provider made this
> Dear Professor Goncu:
> I just finished writing a book which is about one third fables, and while I
> was proofreading it I was struck by Vygotsky's distinction between lyrical
> treatments of nature and proverbial ones.
> To connect this with a concurrent thread, the late Jacob Bronowski, referred
> to by David Preiss, once wrote a poem (part of a Socratic
> dialogue) that goes like this (if I can remember it rightly):
> The force that makes the winter grow
> Its feathered hexagons of snow
> And drives the bee to match at home
> Their calculated honeycomb
> Is abacus and rose combined
> Their icy sweetness fills my mind
> Reminded that in thing and wing
> Lie taut yet living, coiled, a spring
> The abacus is science--concerned with nature. The rose is human values--that
> is, human art. But of course an abacus is a man made object, and a rose is a
> natural one (as Bronowski points out).
> Vygotsky finds something similar in the fable--the "lyrical" ones may be
> naturalistic in content, but they are formally not so much concerned with
> nature as with human artifice. The proverbial ones are formally "natural"
> (in the sense that they are evolved rather than designed in their grammar
> and their phonology). But in their content they are not simply concerned
> with human values but also with getting along with nature.
> To give a single example, in Korea the lyrical meaning of a tiger is a
> rather stupid, brutal animal, something like a jackass with claws, and the
> obvious analogy (for most Koreans) is a minor official, a village bully or a
> particularly thuggish and thick headed policeman. But proverbially, (that
> is, in proverbs, particularly in proverbs of Chinese origin) the tiger is a
> totem of natural strength, grace, beauty, and bravery.
> Here's an example from my own, anglophone, culture. In English we say "the
> early bird gets the worm", is almost a fable: the bird is not a bird and the
> worm is not a word. But we also say: "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a
> man healthy, wealthy, and wise". This is less fabulous and more proverbial,
> more prosaic: the man is a man, and "early to bed" really means go to bed.
> Halliday, as usual, has an explanation. With "forest" cultures, folk wisdom
> tends to the quite literal: when you talk about catching worms, it's
> probably in the context of eating them or using them to fish.
> With "farming" cultures, the animals take on a much more human guise, and
> the proverbs become much more like fables. It is only with our own,
> "factory" culture that nature becomes something to drive your American made
> automobile through.
> David Kellogg
> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> On 4 February 2014 22:32, Haydi Zulfei <email@example.com> wrote:
>> Hi David
>> Mine still blank ! You can act as before ; send to my personal address ;
> it will be ok ; In any case I like and have to read it ; then what remains
> to be worried about if I take just a second to resend it .
>> From: kellogg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
>> Sent: Tuesday, 4 February 2014, 9:50:19
>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Culture, nature, and children