Re: Michael Glassman's response

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Tue Apr 27 2004 - 03:01:55 PDT

Michael, Phil, Bill, Steve etc.

Finally found some time to read both Glassman's and Grendler and Shields's articles. First, a few comments on their contents:


A reading of Glassman certainly does confirm Grendler and Shields's critique that Glassman comparison of Dewey and Vygotsky is like evaluating a pair of automobiles according to the engine and body construction of one and the number and sex of the passengers in the other (Grendler and Shields "Does No One Read Vygotsky's Words? Commentary on Glassman" Educational Researcher, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 21, ß 4) . The fundamental difference between Dewey and Vygotsky's interest in education is encapsulated in Glassman's casual reference to the distinctly different primary researchcarried out by the two theorists:

 "It is true that Dewey is not a developmentalist in the same way that Vygotsky is." (Glassman 2001 "Dewey and Vygotsky: Society, Experience, and Inquiry in Educational Practice," Educational Researcher, Vol. 30. No. 4, pp. 3, ß 1)

Vygotsky's whole approach to the educational process is dominated by the importance of transmitting the basic tools of thought as they are manifested in the means of production that have developed and are developing in the course of collective human activity. While these tools are essential for the developing human's effective participation in collective human activity, they must be learned and this learning must be acquired from the child's interaction with those others who are experienced in using tools and transmitting the theories and practice of their use to others. The identification of the ZPD and its exploitation refers basically to the process of transmission. Dewey, on the other hand, more or less takes the process of tool acquisition for granted and focuses on what I would call the "play aspects" of tool use. He's concerned, and rightly so I might add, with the encouragement of student's experimentation and evaluation of creative work, which is a very different kind of problem from that addressed in Vygotsky's work.


A second observation that may be of relevance here:

Glassman appears to be building a case for Dewey; the representative of American enterprise and freedom, as opposed to Vygotsky; the representative of Soviet Socialist Ideological dogmatism. As written above, his attempt to consider Vygotsky's theory of the ZPD as an analogue to Dewey's emphasis on independent experimentation is misplaced. In addition to this, Glassman follows both G H Mead and Dewey in a mystical regard for the origins of and motivations for experimentation and creativity. In short, he has no theory of experimentation and creativity. In truth, Vygotsky doesn't have much of a theory of creativity either but this could well be explained by his primary research focus and the very real political dangers of advocating free experimentation in the mobilized political atmosphere of post-revolutionary USSR. On the other hand, Vygotsky's dialectical approach to the development of human practices (Blunden 19?? Vygotsky and the Dialectical Method - its somewhere in the MIA) and his general commitment to material historical theory are a firm basis for the identification of the Zones of Creative Experimentation (ZCE anyone?) and for the development of an educational doctrine for encouragement of constructive creativity. I'm thinking here, of course, of the critical method of identifying basic contradictions in human practices, the current handling of these by communities of interest; e.g. the school, the local community, and so on) and the search for alternative ways of treating them. It should be emphasized that while contradictions in human practices are often - in a superficial imitation of Marx - interpreted as characterizing social relations, the principles of contradictory practices refer to virtually every aspect of man's relation to the world, so education for critical creativity includes all human experience in its ken.



Also, read with interest M. Glassman's response to the debate. It reminds me more of the revisions of Vygotsky (and G H Mead and Dewey for that matter) by Schotter and Gergen, than anything even remotely related to the works of Ilyenkov, Leontiev and EngestrŲm.


Is this the final stage of the Americanization of Action Theory?

Addressing Glassman's two differences between his view of Vygotsky and that of Grendler and Shields:

  1.. "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."
Of course it was dynamic. Unfortunately for us all Vygotsky has died and that dynamism is now history. We will never really know whether or not he would have become a post-modern transactionist, though considering his work environment this would have been unlikely. Considering the intellectual atmosphere of Stalinist USSR its most likely that Vygotsky would - the best case scenario - have ended up researching the arts of potato peeling and figuring out how to keep warm in an unheated cabin somewhere in the Siberian hinterlands. Peace.


  2.. "I see study of Vygotsky more as a process while Grendler and Shields see it more as an object."
I well remember my first reactions to Marx's Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. As an undergraduate student well indoctrinated in Symbolic Interactionism by the good Dr Clark McPhail and as well being pretty well versed in the 1st volume of Capital; Marx's youthful theories of the alienation produced by objectification seemed to border on the ridiculous if not silly. After all, without objectification; the assignment of material properties to ideation, ideations can only remain private affairs - which, as Wittgenstein points out, are no affairs at all.


Anyway, if we are to discuss Vygotsky's work we must first identify the subject of our shared concern we must do so through an array of collectively generated objects and practices (also objects after a fashion) that we've mostly both learned. When this condition is satisfied we can transact to our heart's content.


Highest regards,


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Phil Chappell
  To: XMCA
  Sent: Monday, April 26, 2004 11:41 AM
  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
  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 experiment.
  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 []
  Sent: Sat 4/24/2004 9:36 PM
  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 ‚?oDewey and Vygotsky: Society, Experience and Inquiry in Educational Practice‚?Ě 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 (‚?othe role of social history,‚?Ě ‚?oconceptualizations of experience/culture,‚?Ě ‚?operspectives on human inquiry,‚?Ě 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 ‚?oVygotskyist‚?Ě (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) ‚?oThe Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psyschology: A Methodological Discussion.‚?Ě 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 ‚?oclass struggle‚?Ě) and in the history of the development of ideas (in Marxist jargon, the ‚?odialectic‚?Ě 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: ‚?oeducators forget the power and importance of everyday activities and social context at their peril.‚?Ě 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 ‚?othird space‚?Ě and ‚?odominant script‚?Ě 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 ‚?ounsupported inferences‚?Ě and ‚?omisstatements‚?Ě 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, ‚?oGlassman attempted to force Vygotsky‚??s goals into a Deweyan framework.‚?Ě 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 ‚?odominant script‚?Ě - 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, ‚?oThe Method of Ascent From the Abstract to the Concrete in Marx‚??s ‚?~Capital‚??‚?Ě 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 ‚?oIlyenkovites‚?Ě could write up a readable review of the chapter for the rest to look at.
  An appropriate title for such a thread might be ‚?oDialectical Pumpkins.‚?Ě Or maybe, even better, ‚?oDoes No One Read Ilyenkov‚??s Words?‚?Ě Okay, now I am being silly :-)). But an xmca discussion on ‚?othe dialectic‚?Ě (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: ‚?oThe 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 ‚?osignificant liberties‚?Ě with his work (Cole, John-Steiner, Scribner & Souberman, 1978, p. x.) Glassman (2001) draws from _Mind in Society_ to support his interpretations (p. 11).‚?Ě
  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 ‚?oVygotsky did not include the assistance of another in his definition of ZPD‚?Ě (p. 22).
  Bill then makes an inference from this that seems problematic. Referring to Gredler and Shields, he remarks ‚?othey, it would seem, would preclude constructive integration of the the work of Bakhtin and Vygotsky (as well as Dewey and Vygotsky).‚?Ě 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 ‚?oconstructively integrated‚?Ě? 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 ‚?ocurrent portrayals of the ZPD as those tasks that a learner can complete with the assistance of an adult.‚?Ě Glassman codifies this interpretation of the ZPD as a ‚?omentor‚?Ě 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 ‚?oVygotsky did not include the assistance of another in his definition of ZPD‚?Ě (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 ‚?oThe 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.‚?Ě (my emphasis). His qualifier ‚?oespecially as it has been interpreted in the West‚?Ě 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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