Re: Michael Glassman's response

From: Adam Lefstein (
Date: Mon Apr 26 2004 - 08:02:33 PDT

Thanks for the recommendations. The Dewey and Bentley article is no longer
hard to find:
-- Adam

----- Original Message -----
From: "Cunningham, Donald J." <>
To: <>
Sent: Monday, April 26, 2004 3:08 PM
Subject: RE: Michael Glassman's response

> I would like to enthusiastically endorse Michael’s recommendation of
Dewey and Bentley’s _Knowing and the Known_. It is long out of print and
hard to find but well worth the effort. Jim Garrison published a piece in
MCA a few years ago that did a splendid job of looking at the links between
CHAT and Dewey’s concept of transaction.......djc
> Don Cunningham
> Indiana University
> ________________________________________
> From: Phil Chappell []
> Sent: Monday, April 26, 2004 4:42 AM
> To: XMCA
> Subject: Michael Glassman's response
> 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:;
> Cc:
> 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
> 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.
> Michael
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Steve Gabosch []
> Sent: Sat 4/24/2004 9:36 PM
> To:
> Cc:
> 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
> 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 â€
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 â€
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
> 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 â€
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
> 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 â€
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,
> 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.
> Best,
> - Steve

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