[xmca] Elements and Units

From: David Kellogg (vaughndogblack@yahoo.com)
Date: Tue Jan 30 2007 - 09:39:50 PST

Dear Eric:
  I spoke to what little I understood, as I usually do. I'm sorry if my reply in some way disappointed you. I admit, though, that my argument was poorly expressed. Let me try again (and this time I will try using power bullet points, as is the fashion).
  a) When you say that the outcome of the analysis is a bigger question than the unit of analysis, you appear (to me) to ignore the possibility that unit of analysis and outcome of analysis might be two ways of phrasing the same question. The neck of the bottle is not a bigger bottle than the belly; it's the same bottle.
  b) The "outcome" of analyses based on words (words as pre-defined, in a dictionary, or a spell-checker or a grammar checker; words as defined on the page) appears to be that middle class kids get more (varieties of and quantities of words). This linguistic explanation is being offered as an analysis of school failure.
  c) There is no reason to think that this linguistic analysis of school failure is any less self-serving and tendentious than overtly racist analyses of school failure offered up in the last century and the previous one. There are reasons to think that it is, in fact, almost the same analysis.
  d) There are also empirical reasons to doubt that the linguistic analysis succeeds in explaining school failure, viz. Gordon Wells' work, the fact that high school kids tend to talk like their peers rather than their parents, and what I see as a big contradiction in the Bernsteinian prediction: middle class parents actually offer more weakly framed and more weakly classified speech genres at home, while what schools demand is more strongly framed and more strongly classified ones (if you think a minute you may see that this is not unrelated to the goal-oriented mediated context you were talking about).
  e) In addition, taking the utterance (that is, the turn of talk) as a unit of analysis offers a developmental dimension, because it is clearly from utterances that words develop in the minds of children. Having a developmental dimension is important, because the point is not merely to understand, but some day to influence, the process.
  I guess I should add that I really suspect that the reason why class differences reproduce themselves no matter how much racial mixing and no matter how much linguistic mixing takes place is that language, like racial discrimination, is an effect rather than simply a cause, or even (as is fashionable to declaim) a factor "which both constructs and is constructed by" class.
  But it IS possible to use the "restricted code" to express consciously and explicitly the ideas that are inherent and implicit in the "elaborated code" (which is a complex way of saying that it is possible to express complex ideas in simple language). So it SHOULD BE possible to offer at least some working class kids a leg up.
  Vygotsky the primary school teacher knows all this. But people like me need to understand better how complex words (the intra-mental complexity of the elaborated code) arises in complex grammar (the inter-mental complexity of the elaborated code) and how this in turn has its roots in complex discourse (which I think is just as much a part of the restricted as the elaborated code).
  I doubt if you will be happier with the argument in this form, and I find myself a good deal unhappier with it. But perhaps I must be reconciled to the fact that you will not always enjoy reading my posts!
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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