Michael Glassman's response

From: Phil Chappell (phil_chappell@access.inet.co.th)
Date: Mon Apr 26 2004 - 02:41:45 PDT

Dear All,
Michael has been trying to post this response, but the gremlins got him
too. I assume this will come through the list okay.
Phil Chappell
-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Glassman
Sent: Sun 4/25/2004 1:30 PM
To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu; xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
Subject: RE: Gredler & Shields vs. Gutierrez & Lemke

I got on the list about a week ago when my name seemed to be mentioned over
and over again. Tried to post something about my article and Grendler and
Shields, but somehow it didn't take. I don't know if this post will take
either, but I thought I wanted to give it a try after Steve's thoughtful
analysis. If this one doesn't work, Phil has graciously offered to let me
channel through him.
Let me say as a general comment I see two differences between my view of
Vygotsky and that of Grendler and Shields (a response will be printed in
May which will go more deeply in to this). The first is that I see Vygotsky
moving towards a transactive analysis of activity in his work, coming
closest in Thinking and Speech. I see Vygotsky's work as being very
dynamic, and that his is struggling with different ideas, which would make
sense for somebody at his stage of theory development. I think the whole
concept of Vygotsky as the Mozart of psychology may not be that beneficial.
And I do believe he was influenced in this move towards transactive by
Dewey (and James and possibly Pierce). It is hard for us to recognize now
the central role that Dewey played in the early 20th century in the
international marketplace of ideas. I don't think it is too much of a
stretch to make the argument that Vygotsky read him and was influenced by
his work. The second difference, which has been discussed in excellent
fashion by Bill Barowy (thank you) is that I see study of Vygotsky more as
a process while Grendler and Shields see it more as an object. They work
from the objective/realist stance that you can "know" Vygotsky and I
assume, because they never really say why it is so important to know
Vygotsky, that by knowing him you can somehow use this knowledge to control
the environment. This is the dominant discourse in our field at the moment
(and has been for most of the last century), and one that will receive the
most sympathy. I have tremendous problems with this approach, I feel it has
had, and continues to have, tremendous human costs. But a lot of people
have built their careers on it and nobody is going to give it up easily.
But I want to concentrate on what I see as the transactive nature of
Vygotsky's work. For any who want a philosophical explanation I would
suggest reading Dewey and Bentley's Knowing and the Known, perhaps the most
underread text in the social sciences. It is very difficult so put some
time aside. I could not do it justice just by trying to paraphrase the
ideas so instead I offer this thought experiment. For anybody who wants to
play here are the rules. I will offer a simple communication. You need to
try and determine what the meaning of the communication is. I will then
offer another step in understanding of the communication, and again you
need to determine the meaning, another step, and again you need to
determine the meaning and so on. Track the way your meaning changes with
each step and you have an idea of what the transactive approach to activity
is. I want to stress that this is not a new idea. I take the approach, if
not the actualy experiment almost wholly from (my interpretation of)
Dewey's article on The Reflex Arc Concept published in 1896. This is an
idea that has been around a very long time and should have been one of the
pillars to all psychological research.
All right,
Step 1
Person 1: Did you eat today?
Person 2: I had some rice today.
What is the meaning of these words. If you are playing you need to do this
after every step and not look ahead.
Step 2
A wife is asking a husband.
Step 3
The conversation is taking place in China
Step 4
The year is 1961, three years into the Great Leap Forward experiment.
Step 5
The conversation is taking place in Fujan province, which has been
extremely hard hit by food shortages.
Step 6
The wife and husband have two children, one of them a baby.
Step 7
The baby is desperate for milk, which is very expensive in the city. The
father has sold his precious books in order to buy some milk for the baby.
Step 8
The father has been out all day going from restaurant to restaurant looking
for milk. He was finally able to get some by ordering a very expensive dish
that contains milk. He had returned home and handed this milk to his wife.
Step 9
The mother has not eaten but given her food to her other child.
Step 10
The father has not eaten today
Step 11
There is a member of the party in the next apartment who sometimes
eavesdrops on their conversations.
Step 12
The central government has said any criticism of the Great Leap Forward
program will be considered as a crime.
Step 13
The mother and father had a chance to leave China. The wife wanted to
leave, but the husband convinced her to stay and be a part of the grand
Step 14
This was an arranged marriage.
I could go on, but hopefully you sort of get the picture. You cannot
understand the meaning unless you understand the relationship of the
activity to other activities on a number of levels. Isolation of ideas, any
ideas leads to misperceptions and misunderstandings; sometimes this is
purposeful and sometimes it is not. This also speaks to a point Steve made
about scholarship. Contrary to mainstream opinion, again, I do not
necessarily feel quotations are good scholarship. I have seen more damage
than good from the use of quotations in the social sciences, and it really
feeds in to looking at knowledge as an object.

Well, thank you to everybody who read and played along.

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Gabosch [mailto:bebop101@comcast.net]
Sent: Sat 4/24/2004 9:36 PM
To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
Subject: Re: Gredler & Shields vs. Gutierrez & Lemke
Six comments in response to Bill on the Michael Glassman article and the
review of it by Margaret Gredler and Carol Shields.
1. the central question **********
There are a lot of issues to discuss already touched on in this thread. I
believe the central, overriding question is the one that Glassman
originally raises ? how do the education ideas of Dewey and Vygotsky
compare? This is where his 2001 article “Dewey and Vygotsky: Society,
Experience and Inquiry in Educational Practice” starts, and what ties his
article together. I think the key to understanding what he is trying to do
in his article and what Greblen and Shields are criticizing in their review
of it is understanding more deeply the Dewey/Vygotsky discussion that
Glassman, to his credit, initiates.
In my opinion, Glassman?s take on this Dewey/Vygotsky discussion ? or
perhaps better put, debate ? is Deweyist. Glassman is clearly a Deweyist
and not a Vygotskyist. However, in my opinion, Greblen and Shields
themselves may not be Vygotskyist enough in their review of Glassman?s
article. They do not seem to adequately capture the methodological problems
with Glassman?s approach. I believe they head in the right direction but
seem to fall a little short. Their central aim was to correct Glassman
about what Vygotsky really said, and they pack a lot of Vygotsky?s ideas
in a few pages, more than meets the eye in one reading. What they perhaps
needed to do a little more of to balance their review is to criticize
Glassman?s method of reasoning, and not just his sometimes limited
scholarship when he discusses Vygotsky?s ideas.
The essential methodological error Glassman makes, in my opinion, is he
assumes that Vygotsky?s ideas about education can be reduced to a Deweyan
framework. He utilizes a mechanical method of comparing the two educational
theorist?s supposed answers to a Deweyan-framed checklist of questions he
offers the reader (“the role of social history,” “conceptualizations
of experience/culture,” “perspectives on human inquiry,” etc.). In my
opinion, the approach Glassman offers as a way of understanding the
differences between Dewey and Vygotsky is ahistorical and one-dimensional
and does not accomplish its goal of comprehending Vygotsky?s theories. On
the other hand, his explanations of Dewey?s educational philosophy are
quite good, perhaps even exceptional.
Of course, a “Vygotskyist” (Marxist) method of comparing Dewey and
Vygotsky is likely to seem equally unpalatable to a Deweyist. In my
opinion, a good place to begin a Marxist inquiry into comparing the
educational philosophies of Dewey and Vygotsky is the book by George Novack
(which both articles refer to), _Pragmatism Vs. Marxism: An Appraisal of
John Dewey?s Philosophy_ (1975). Another key place I would recommend
going would be Vygotsky?s 1927 article (a book, actually) “The
Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psyschology: A Methodological
Discussion.” I believe a Marxist approach would frame the Dewey/Vygotsky
discussion in terms of history, both in terms of the developments in
society that spawn these kinds of differences in philosophical methodology
(in Marxist jargon, the “class struggle”) and in the history of the
development of ideas (in Marxist jargon, the “dialectic” of ideology).
However, were they to read such an analysis, a reader of Educational
Researcher might wonder why they are being taken over such broad historical
and philosophical terrains, when what they really want are innovative ideas
about what to do in places like the classroom. The 2001 Michael Glassman
article under scrutiny aims well at his audience with an underlying theme,
which he concludes with: “educators forget the power and importance of
everyday activities and social context at their peril.” Whether he has
Vygotsky right or half-right or all wrong, at least he offers something in
his article that educators can think about in their professional activities.
This is certainly a challenge Vygotskyists must address ? and many are ?
but it is one of the themes in the Glassman article that seems to be
missing in the Greblen/Shields review of it. The educator wants to know,
after all the interpretations and debates about Vygotsky?s theories are
done, just what do Vygotsky?s ideas about education mean in practice?
Both these articles in the Educational Researcher, despite their
limitations, help advance the important discussion of the differences
between Deweyist and Vygotskyist educational philosophy and practices. This
debate is going to be around for a while and I suspect that it will get
more interesting. It is good we are educating ourselves about it here on xmca.
2. questions of discourse modes **********
Other general questions that have been discussed include: appropriate
discourse modes in reviews of academic articles, appropriate titles for
research articles, and scholarship methods. I like the way Bill has brought
in ideas from Kris and Jay, such as “third space” and “dominant
script” to help shed light.
After reading the Glassman article, I can see that some of the complaints
raised in the Greblen/Shields review about certain scholarship methods
employed by Glassman in that article actually have merit. There really are
instances of the use of “unsupported inferences” and
“misstatements” about Vygotsky?s writings in the Glassman article. We
should discuss these on their merits.
However, I don?t think these kinds of problems should be the axis of this
discussion. I believe the bigger issue is the way, as Greblen and Shields
put it in their introductory abstract, “Glassman attempted to force
Vygotsky?s goals into a Deweyan framework.” The interpretations of
Vygotsky from a Deweyist perspective - and the converse, the
interpretations of Dewey from a Vygotskyist (Marxist) point of view - are
difficult but necessary features this kind of debate. To get involved in
such a discussion one must learn in how to sort out the conflicting claims
for themselves. This is part of the job of scholars and scientists and any
thinking person. Complaints from opposing sides of a debate about how the
other side selects, portrays and interprets writings cannot be avoided. The
only choice is for everyone interested in such a discussion to keep going
back to these texts and refining their understandings as the debate proceeds.
The title of the Greblen/Shields review has been commented on quite a bit
now. This title does not strike me, however, as coming from a position of
dominance and hegemony- from a “dominant script” - but rather, as
coming more from a place of some exasperation. (I suspect some of the
frustration it reveals may have stemmed from the reviewers trying to track
down some of Glassman?s unsupported statements about Vygotsky?s ideas ?
Glassman?s article does create difficulties for a critical reviewer). The
authors believe that Vygotsky is generally misconstrued, and that the
Glassman article is a clear example of this problem. It would appear they
were trying to get some attention drawn to their concern by using a
provocative title. (Kind of worked a little, didn?t it?) :-))
3. the dialectic ********
Another question that has emerged is the concept of the dialectic ?
essentially, the Marxist concept of development. It has been wittily
suggested that the dialectic, like Linus?s Great Pumpkin in the Charles
Schulz comic strip, only exists for those that believe in it, and even at
that, only appears on occasion, if ever. (Now I have this image of Hegel
lurking at night in autumn pumpkin patches waiting for the great Absolute
Pumpkin ) . :-))
Since the concept of development and its theoretical expression in
dialectical materialism was not part of either the Glassman paper or the
Greblen-Shields review, I suggest we start a different thread on this if
people want. I for one would be happy to participate. The Ilyenkov chapter
that Victor recommends, “The Method of Ascent From the Abstract to the
Concrete in Marx?s ‘Capital?” could be a very good choice to
discuss. To include other xmca?ers that are interested but might not have
time to study this material, perhaps one of us “Ilyenkovites” could
write up a readable review of the chapter for the rest to look at.
An appropriate title for such a thread might be “Dialectical Pumpkins.”
Or maybe, even better, “Does No One Read Ilyenkov?s Words?” Okay, now
I am being silly :-)). But an xmca discussion on “the dialectic” (still
a highly technical and foreboding word and topic) could be productive.
4. The book Mind and Society and the ZPD ************
Bill touches on several specific questions, such as the lack of reference
in the Gredler/Shields review to specific theories by Vygotsky, and the
specific meaning of their title. I?ll say something about TL and MS
brings up.
Bill makes a point of mentioning that _Thought and Language_ (TL) and _Mind
and Society_ (MS) are not (substantially) referenced by Greblen and Shields.
The fact that TL is not mentioned in Glassman?s article could be one
explanation for why it does not figure in the review.
Gredler and Shields do, however, make a critical assessment of the other
book, MS, _Mind in Society_, in footnote 6. (FN 6 first appears on page 22,
beginning of the section on ZPD). They suggest _Mind in Society_ originated
an erroneous view of the ZPD, that of being "constituted by tasks solved in
collaboration". They point out that Glassman "draws" from this book to
"support his interpretations." Gredler and Shields go on to support their
alternative interpretation of Vygotsky and the ZPD position with passages
from a number of other publications of and about Vygotsky?s work. This
would seem to explain why they do not reference to _Mind in Society_.
Here is the text of FN 6: “The erroneous view that the ZPD is constituted
by tasks solved in collaboration seems to originate in _Mind in Society_,
an early interpretation of Vygotsky in which the editors admit they have
taken “significant liberties” with his work (Cole, John-Steiner,
Scribner & Souberman, 1978, p. x.) Glassman (2001) draws from _Mind in
Society_ to support his interpretations (p. 11).”
It would be interesting to hear more from Gredler and Shields about their
critique of _Mind in Society_.
5. Bakhtin et al and the ZPD *****************
Bill points to the claim made by Gredler and Shields that “Vygotsky did
not include the assistance of another in his definition of ZPD” (p. 22).
Bill then makes an inference from this that seems problematic. Referring to
Gredler and Shields, he remarks “they, it would seem, would preclude
constructive integration of the the work of Bakhtin and Vygotsky (as well
as Dewey and Vygotsky).” My question is, how would one know from G&S?s
review what the beliefs of these authors are on this - what ideas and
writers they think can be “constructively integrated”? The main point
of their review, as I see it, was that, in general, and in this Glassman
article in particular, Vygotsky is often misconstrued. Unless Bill or
someone sees something I missed, their review did not address what ideas
they think can be integrated between Bakhtin, Dewey and Vygotsky, or say
anything one could make such inferences about.
It seems to me that what needs attention is the argument Gredler and
Shields make about what Vygotsky meant by the ZPD. They reject the
“current portrayals of the ZPD as those tasks that a learner can complete
with the assistance of an adult.” Glassman codifies this interpretation
of the ZPD as a “mentor” approach (which he contrasts with a
"facilitator" approach). Gredler and Shields argue that this is not a
correct interpretation of the ZPD. As Bill points out, they say “Vygotsky
did not include the assistance of another in his definition of ZPD” (p. 22).
Instead, they argue that Vygotsky held the point of view that the ZPD
represents the psychological functions in the child that are in the process
of maturing. They argue that Vygotsky believed that the psychologist and
educator must include in their analyses the ZPD, which they explain that
Vygotsky saw as the not-yet mature functions. According to their argument,
Vygotsky believed that psychologists and educators must not limit their
attention to those psychological functions that have already matured.
Rather, they must devote attention to functions that are currently in the
process of development, and this is what Vygostsky called the zone of
proximal development.
This is leads to some questions for Vygotskyists to ponder: What is correct
and not correct about this interpretation of Vygotsky?s theory of the
zone of proximal development offered by Gredler and Shields? What did
Vygotsky really mean by the ZPD?
6. Glassman?s approach to Vygotsky?s words on the ZPD *********
In my reading, Glassman, for his part, does not generally reference to
Vygotsky?s actual words about the ZPD (I see one exception, on page 11, a
quote from Mind in Society, page 86 ? BTW, this is not germane, but it
appears that this citation was inadvertently left out of the References
list for those that might look for it). In general, Glassman?s article
only references the reader on this topic to entire books and articles by
Vygotsky ? usually not even page numbers (a practice I see too often in
social science journals). In addition to his generally unsupported
(speaking quote-wise) interpretations of Vygotsky theory of the ZPD,
Glassman does refer the reader to studies relevant to the ZPD by
Vygotsky-influenced researchers (Saxe et al, Rogoff et al), and to books
interpreting Vygotsky?s theory of the ZPD (Wertsch and Rogoff, Berk and
Winsler, etc.).
Glassman reveals a part of his methodology on page 4 (half-way down, first
column) when he says “The zone of proximal development, especially as it
has been interpreted in the West, focuses on the role of the adult as
social interlocutor who is also a representative of society.” (my
emphasis). His qualifier “especially as it has been interpreted in the
West” may perhaps reveal what Glassman is truly concerned with - not so
much exactly what Vygotsky said or what his theories really were ? but
rather how his ideas are put into useful practice. In doing so, it may be
that Glassman is consciously following a key tenet of Deweyist pragmatism,
which evaluates truth in terms of its usefulness, and not its historical
and ideological context and development.
- Steve

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