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[Xmca-l] So Why Play?



One of the most interesting "moments" (that is, instances) of the
conference in Quebec happened the day before the conference, at the CHACDOC
session of the preconference institute. Mariane Hedegaard presented the
case for the ZPD as an age specific proximal zone of development, using the
rather algebraic slogan "children as explorers" (which, since "exploration"
can describe different things, can be applied infancy and to adolescence).
Barbara Rogoff and her students, in contrast, contributed a session on
"Learning by Observing and Pitching In" (LOPI), which instead stressed play
as a form of legitimate peripheral participation.

In good ISCAR fashion, both strands strove to make the other's case
plausible and to include it as a working part of their own strand, and the
result was--at least to my mind--a completely workable synthesis. But then
I work with the idea that verbal art and verbal science, which I take to be
the future of these two respective visions of play, are linked by their
verbality.

Last Saturday, we worked on Chapter Three of Vygotsky's "Pedology of the
Adolescent". You can be as sententious as you want about translating words
exactly when you are working with poetry, but when you are translating many
books (this is our ninth volume) what you really need is
consistency--focusing on the relationships between words like "play" and
"development" and not losing their development through random variations.

So Vygotsky first discusses whether age periods are characterizable by a
single activity: embryonic life by vegetative activity, infancy by animal
activity, early childhood by walking/talking, preschool by play, school age
by study, adolescence by fantasy, etc. He notes that if we consider "pure
play" as something opposed to study or to labor, then it is absolutely
wrong to consider preschool as an age of play, but if we take play to be a
complex activity which includes the grandcestors of study and of labor as
well, it has a certain truth.

And then he lays bare what I think must be one of the hidden sources of the
Zoped, and also what I think must be the real answer to the compatibility
of CHACDOC and LOP in Quebec. Groos is presenting play as a form of
legitimate peripheral participation (rather than as exploration), but Groos
does remark that it has the effect of "raising" rudimentary and undeveloped
instincts (e.g. the hunting instinct in kittens) to the level where they
can compete with complete and developed ones (e.g. fear of injury).

Vygotsky has just presented the idea that play is a kind of естественным
дополнением, естественной школой или самовоспитанием, that is, "a natural
annex", "a natural school", or a "natural auto-didactics". So play does for
the human child what it does for the kitten, only in the human child what
needs to be raised is not instincts, but habits. And that is what makes it
possible for peripheral participation to become mastery and conscious
awareness and for the simple act of looking for something to open out onto
the sea of exploration.

David Kellogg