RE: [xmca] my new questions/Martin's article

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Sat Feb 16 2008 - 20:44:19 PST

Dear Carrie:
  Yes, I agree; imitation can be (re)creative. But creativity is dynamic, and what is creative at one age is not particularly creative at another.
  By "rote" and "repetition" I really mean SELF-imitation. Here are some examples that are NOT self-imitation:
> Minsu: Can you fly?
> Mina: No, I can't.
> Minsu: How old are you?
> Mina: I'm ten.
> Minsu: What day is it today?
> Mina: Tuesday.

  All of this is imitation. Lesson Seven in our textbook is called "Can you swim?" and the first "Listen and Repeat" Dialogue goes like this:
  Tony: Can you fly?
  Minsu: No, I can't.
  "How old are you?" is the title of Lesson Four, and Tony is ten years old. "What day is it today?" is a lesson in the fifth grade book. Let us call this "other imitation", because it is (exact) imitation of a model presented in the textbook.
  But these examples are NOT other-imitation.
> Minsu: Put on your cap.
> Mina: Too big.
> Minsu: Put on your sweater.
> Mina: Too small.
> Minsu (holding beautiful scarf): Put on your scarf.

  This is not exact imitation, because "Put on your cap" doesn't occur in the textbook (although "Put on your gloves" does occur). Instead it's a kind of "item-based combination". Tomasello (2004) calles these "item based combinations" constructional "islands", because only ONE node is really volitionally controlled (the child does NOT say "I put on my cap" or "Take off your cap" or "he puts on his cap").
  Similarly, "too big" is a variation on the textbook, which says "Too small". But "Put on your sweater" is actually a variation not on the textbook but on "Put on your cap". Similarly, "Too small" is probably a variation on "Too big" rather than a memory of the textbook lesson.
  As you can see, the children are applying TO THEIR OWN UTTERANCES the same techniques of variation that they applied to the textbook utterances. This means that they can keep repeating and varying indefinitely. But it means something even more important.
  Self-imitation seems to me a step towards self-regulation. So I would say that self-imitation and self-variation represent something a little more internalized. For that very reason, I would say that it is more developed but less developmental (because development must come from the social environment of learning and not from the self).
  On the one hand, it's more creative (because it creates something from the child's internal resources and depends to a certain degree on independence from the environment). On the other, it's less cutting edge (because one can only repeat and vary what one already knows).
  This is what I would expect; our ability to learn from ourselves must always lag behind our ability to learn from others (because of the "surplus of seeing" that others enjoy). Repetition (whether self-imitation or other-imitation) is also inherently CONSERVATIVE.
  It's really VARIATION, not repetition, which creates utterances that have never been heard before. The only way we can hope to use a very finite number of utterances (such as the set of utterances we teach in the classroom) fit an infinite number of situations is through variation, not repetition.
  And the only way this can really happen is if the means of development itself develops. When children are able to create new SOURCES OF UTTERANCES, and not simply new utterances, we have a qualitative step forward. And those new sources of utterances are roles, not rote repetition.
  For older children, I think that rule-based games provide a new revolutionary development in the means of development; rules (including grammar rules) create new sources of roles and not simply new roles. This too is not simply learning; it is a revolutionary development.
  So I think that role formation is (at a certain age) not only developmental but revolutionary; it has to do with the restructuring of the relationship between utterances and volition, and it leads in a fairly clear way to the actual formation of volition in children who previously didn't have volition (roles are "imaginary selves" which have real consequences, and that is as good a definition of volition as I have gotten to so far).
  I don't know if you've read Martin's article yet, but I think it's relevant, not least because although it DOES argue (very eloquently) for the relevance of words like "Marxism" and even "history", the word "revolution" and "revolutionary" is not much in evidence.
  Of course I agree a thousand percent with Helena's comments, illustrated (as usual) with a very moving anecdote from a worker for whom late working life is a desperate race for either a pension or a disability payment.
  I think that Marxism is in many ways the MOST relevant part of the whole package for those of us who live and work under capitalism, and I can't really understand the logic of people who say that because the Soviets cut a deal and failed the whole of Marxism is irrelevant (Stalin cut a deal and failed too, but only card-carrying Nazis drew the conclusion that Hitler had been right all the long).
  I'm much less sure about Martin's critique of David Bakhurst. As you can probably tell, I think that LSV really DID get his method (that is, his actual analytical technique, though not the actual unit of analysis) from Capital. I think that word meaning really IS his unit of analysis for consciousness, and that rote, role, and rule are the equivalent of commodities that are things in themselves, commodities that are things for others (exchange values) and commodities that are things for us (use values).
  I think of it like this:
  rote: action = meaning (there is no separation of acts from meanings; e.g. playing with your food or babbling or scribbling. Words are basically irrelevant here.)
  role: action/meaning (meaning arises from and is separate from meaning, e.g. playing "house" or "horsie", gesturing, deictic words like "I" and "you" and "this" and "that" where the object actually has to be present for the word to have any meaning)
  rule: meaning/action (meaning exists BEFORE there is any action at all, e.g. playing games with rules, thinking of a word without the actual presence of the object)
  But this means I share with Bakhurst a certain stress on SEMIOSIS rather than ACTIVITY. I get the feeling that Martin's stress is on activity and not word meaning.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Sat Feb 16 20:46 PST 2008

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