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Re: [xmca] Kndergarten Cram: When is play?
Many interesting points, of course, but I am struck by the issue of
social class differences in play&learning and adult attitudes toward
play. As well as cultural differences.
If we make a provisional binary out of creative learning vs. rote
learning, and mean by this to include more playful approaches to
learning (as well as learning from what appears to be, and maybe felt
by kids as, play) on the one side, and all forms of over-structured,
boring, authoritarian, prescribed-all-to-hell teaching (I won't say
learning) on the other, then there has been a long discussion in the
US about the hypothesis that more privileged social sectors favor the
first, while less privileged ones favor the second.
One story about this is that elites learn to play, as their life
privilege entitles them, while the oppressed learn to work without
being in control of what they do. Another is that elites don't need
highly structured learning conditions because their habitus, from home
and family and peers, pre-adapts them to the kinds of "thinking/
discourse" that succeed in school, while more oppressed groups,
lacking that advantage, need very explicit, structured instruction if
they are to be able to master the Master's meaning system at all.
So here is a variation on Ulvi's hypothesis: what we are seeing in the
routinization of middle-class education in the US is a de-skilling
process, part of the gradual erosion of the middle class, pushing
their children down the social scale, making their educations more
like those of the (lower) working class. The _upper_ middle class has
strongly resisted NCLB and its moronic pseudo-testing regimen and over-
prescribed curricula, and the ruling class has just ignored it for the
most part in their elite private schools. There have even been
lawsuits against education departments on behalf of elite schools to
exempt them from a lot of crap on the grounds that what they are
already doing is better than what the "reforms" aim to produce.
The main liiberal support for NCLB came from those like Ted Kennedy
who saw it as a way to put a floor under the worst of the education of
the poor. [NCLB for our lucky non-US readers stands for the idiotic,
rhetorical name given to the US education reform law "No Child Left
Behind" ... which already says it was looking for support from those
favoring the worst-educated students, even through it was drafted by
those looking to subjugate the next generation to authoritarian models
How does this play in other countries/cultures?
PS. In the US, it is only the upper middle class that corresponds to
what is called the middle class in most other places. Our very broad
middle class is really white-collar workers and well-paid blue-collar
workers and their families. The upper middle is quite a distinct
group, professionals and junior to middle managers. All an
oversimplification of course, but my points won't make sense to non-US
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
On May 7, 2009, at 1:42 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
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.
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?
Seoul National University of Education
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