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RE: [xmca] Kndergarten Cram: When is play?

And then again, David, perhaps NOT. Here are some countervailing facts to consider, before we leap to conclusions about the malign effects of Confucianism (which, like most truly ancient cultural traditions, has an irrepressibly creative and humanist core) on dysfunctional American education.

a) The old Stevenson studies that first found a massive advantage for Asian schools also discovered that American schools spend FAR more time on "seatwork" than Asian schools do.

b) The 2002 PISA evaluation which found a massive advantage for Korean schools in things like literacy, science, and math ALSO found a massive advantage in creative problems solving (in fact, Korea scored first, whereas it was only second or third in other supposedly stronger areas based on rote learning).

c) The areas where we in Korea do have the MOST cram school involvement (e.g. English) are consistently our WEAKEST areas, not our strongest (we were 19th out of 20 countries in the British Council International English Language Testing Service evaluation).

d) In the sixties, Robert Kaplan, the founder of "Contrastive Rhetoric" attempted to argue that the "eight legged essay" of the imperial examination system (baguwen) was responsible for Chinese students' errors in composition; Mohan and Lo demonstrated that such effects could be found in work of almost ALL foreign students. Most Chinese students could not compose an eight legged essay in Chinese (it's actually a quite artistic form which takes a long time to master). Spoiler alert: Kaplan also believed that Russians and Frenchmen write in zigzags, Arabs in spirals, and the only true linear language was...you guessed it...English.

There's more! This is from Goncu, A. (1999) Children's Engagement in the World: Socicultural Perspectives. CUP.

Farver, J.M. (1999) Activity setting analysis: A model for examining the role of culture in development. pp . 99-127.

p. 116: 'Most European American mothers believed that play was a learning experience and was related to positive developmental outcomes for children, wheres most Korean-American mothers said that play was primarily for the children’s amusement.'

Tudge, J., Hogan, D., Lee, S.-E., Tammeveski, P., Meltsas, M., Kulakova, N., Snezhkova, I and Putnam, S. (1999) Cultural heterogeneity: Parental values and beliefs and heir preschoolers’ activities in the United States, South Korea, Russia, and Estonia. 62-96.

Tudge et al. made 180 observations of each child in the survey and tabulated to what extend they were involved in play, lessons, and work. (p. 87): 'Out data made clear that even if the cross city differences in values and beliefs did not fall into a consistent pattern, the same cannot be said of social class. In terms of both values and beliefs the results were precisely as predicted.'

Interestingly, they found that children in Korea were most involved in play (122/180 observations) and kids in Oninsk the least (86/180). But they find FAR more academic play in middle class kids in Korea than working class kids (nearly three times as much). 

All in all, exactly what Vygotsky would have predicted. There is a profound, inner link between imaginative play and schoolwork, that is, compulsory behavior patterned according to abstract rules. 

That profound inner link is NOT available through rote work and empty verbalism, which despite a superficially "scientist" dressing is actually based on the exercise of the lower psychogical functions. Neither is it available through giving one's involuntary attention span a workout or running around meaninglessly through the "adventure time" provided by popular media. 

(I think THIS is the REAL way in which capitalism insinuates itself into the educational system; and THAT is why capitalist educational ideologues like Thorndike have never accepted the Vygotskyan distinction between lower and higher psychological functions.)

That profound inner link is always and ineluctably bound up with the meaningful word. I think the point about Mike's problem (and the excellent paper by Sfard he sent around after it) concerning the multiplication of two negative numbers or a negative and a positive is that there really IS a link between written language, grammar, and mathematical ability.

"It does not happen that arithmetic develops certain functions in isolation and independently and written speech develops others. Each different subject has in part a common psychological basis. The seizure of conscious awareness and mastery is in the forefront of development in the same way for the learning of grammar as for that of written speech. We find it in the learning of arithmetic as well as at the centre of attention n the learning of scientific concepts. Abstract thinking of the child develops in all of his lessons and his development does not decompose itself in fact into separate courses corresponding to diverse study materials which are divided up as in school learning." (Pensiero e linguaggio, trans. by L. Meccaci, p. 266)

So it passes by way of what Vygotsky delightfully calls "scientific imagination". That this expression strikes us as oxymoronic is yet more testimony to the poverty of our science and the paucity of our imagination, or at least the dysfunctionality of the non-Confucian education that supplied our understanding of both.

"Voluntary attention and logical memory, abstract thinking and scientific imagination develop each other, thanks to a basis which is common to all of the higher psychological functions into a unique complex process; the common basis of all of these higher psychological functions, whose development constitutes the principal neoformation of the school age, is the seizure of conscious awareness and mastery." (p. 268). 

Conscious awareness and mastery! Not the sort of thing you want the sons and daughters of the working classes playing with, is it?

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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