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Re: [xmca] Two off topic requests for info

I'm not sure if EITHER of these two thoughts is on target, but if not it will at least help me refine my ideas about what the target is.
a) You probably know J.V. Wertsch's book "Voices of Collective Remembering". I found this book rather offensive, actually, because Wertsch BEGINS with the assumption that there is something rather mysterious to explain when the bulk of Russian schoolchildren think that the Second World War consisted mostly of horrendous death and suffering on the Russian front watched more or less idly by the "Allies" until mid-1944, when they finally invaded Continental Europe more to forestall a unilateral Soviet victory than to defeat Hitler. 
I am not a Russian schoolchild and I do not have access to the "collective remembering" that they do, but this has always been my own understanding of World War II, and it is certainly supported by (among other things) the casualty figures and the historical timeline. Contrary to what Barack Obama remembers about his uncle, it was the Soviet Army which liberated Auschwitz (a good friend of mine was there when it happened).
Wertsch is a LOT better when he is on home territory, describing the "Quest for Freedom" meme in American history books. A book I VERY much preferred, though, was James Loewen's book "Lies My Teacher Told Me". There is also a book on the "Invention of Tradition" by Eric Hobsbawm, from which I learned, among other things, that Scottish kilts were actually invented by London tailors.
b) It seems to me that Chapter Six of Thinking and Speech is relevant to your second problem, and that in two ways. Langford (who considers Vygotsky to be the great intellectual fraud of 20th Century psychology) has one thing right: the major rethinking of Vygotsky's work in 1931 (when he appears to abandon the whole mediational triangle and instead becomes very interested in psychological systems) probably took place under intense political pressure. Vygotsky had been, prior to 1931, very closely tied to Krupskaya, Blonsky, the "labor school", "complexes" as curricular units, and the pedologists; in 1931 this was definitively repudiated by decree as being not rigorous enough and not consistent with the ambitious educational goals of the five year plan. 
So he had to reinvent himself. That is why, in Chapter Five of T&S he argues that concepts emerge only during the "transitional period" while in Chapter Six, Section Four he writes this according to the Seve and Meccaci translations:
(Major differences with the Minick translation are in bold, and the box afterwards holds my comments!)
Seve: As we know, in the period when the system of teaching by “complexes”* predominated, we often invoked in support of this system “pedagogical arguments”. We affirmed that it corresponded with peculiarities of the child’s system of thinking. The fundamental error consisted in the manner in which we posed the question, which was false in principle. It flowed from the idea that teaching had to orient to the yesterday of development, to the characteristics of child thinking that were already well formed. The pedagogues (???) prescribed with the aid of the system of complexes to reincforce in the development of the child what the child had just left behind, in entering school. They were oriented towards what the child already knew what to do by himself na dneglected the possibility of going beyond what he knew how to do on to what he does not know what to do. They appreciated the state of development like a stupid gardener, only looking at the
 fruits that were already ripe. They did not take into account the fact that teaching has to make development go forward. They did not take into consideration the next zone of development. They oriented only to the line of least resistance, to the weakness of the child and not to his strength.
Meccaci: As is well known, for a time there was the domination amongst us of a system of school teaching in comlexes, and that pedagogical arguments were furnished in support of this system.** It was said that this system of complexes coresponded to the characteristics of child thinking. The fudamental error lay in the fact that the way in which the problem was posed was wrong in principle. It derived from the idea that teaching had to base itself on development on the characteristics of devleopment of child thinking. The (pedologists)*** prescribed the consolidation, through the system of complexes, the development of what the child should have abandoned at the entrance of school. This oriented to what the child could do thinking on his own, and ignored the possibility of a transition from what he knew to what he did not know how to do. It evaluated the state of development like a stupid gardener: only on the basis of mature fruit. It did not consider
 that teaching could push development forward. It did not consdier the area of proximal development. It oriented to the line of least resistance, towards the weakness of the child and not towards his strength.
Seve notes that the system of complexes was: 
* a system of education applied from 1923 until 1931. it was abolished in September 1931 by a decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Russia (Bolsheviks) “On primary and secondary school”. Ivan Kairov, writing in International Research in the Light of Marxism, says “In the 1920s, there was an attempt to subordinate teaching to work. One considered labor as an axis around which different fragmentary elements were grouped, pulled from different branches of science which were indispensable for the resolution of practical problems posed by work. As we know, these famous ‘complexes’ and these assemblies led to the suppression of systematic study of the basics in science, and had as a consequence the unfortunate lowering of the level of general knowledge.” 
Meccaci adds:
** In the editions of 1956 and 1982, the expression “pedagogical arguments” was put in between quotation marks. In order to understand this editorial intervention, we must refer to the system of instruction by complexes (kompleksnaja sistema obuchenija) which was criticized for its lack of pedagogical foundatoin and abolished by a decree in 1921. This teaching was based on an an internal programme of “complexes” around fundamental interestes (for example, the environment, society, the economy). This method was very widely diffused in Soviet schools during the 1920s.”
*** Meccaci notes that the word “pedologists” was replaced with “pedagogues” in the 1956 and the 1982 editions of the book. 
Some of what Vygotsky writes in the next sections (e.g. 6.6) seems like a call to the kind of educational forced marching you describe. For example:
Seve: We have looked, meticulously and for a long time, for sure criteria which would permit us to characterize the structure of generalization proper to the real meanings of child words and by the same token we have looked for the possibility of a transition, a bridge between experimental concepts and real concepts. Only the establishment of a liaison between the structure of generalization and the relations of generality has given us the key to this problem. If we study the relations of generality in a given concepts, its measure of generality, we obtain the most sure criterion for determining the structure of generalization of real concepts. To be a vehicle of meaning is equivalent to having certain relations of generality with other meanings, that is to say to having a specific measure of generality. In this way it is in the specific relations with other concepts that the nature of a concept is most completely manifest—syncretic formation, complex,
 preconcept. The study of the real concepts o the child, for example, “bourgeois”, “capitalist”, “landlord” and “kulak”, brings us to establish specific relations of generality that dominate at each stage of the concept—from the syncretic formation to the true concept—it has permitted us not only to throw a bridge between the study of experimental concepts and that of real concepts but also to shed light on the essential aspects of the fundamental structures of generalization which in a general manner artificial experimentation does not allow us to study. 
Meccaci: We have sought for a long time to discover a secure index for qualifying the structure of generalization of the real meanings of child words and the possibility of a transition, a bridge between experimental concepts and real ones. Only the foundation of a link between the structure of generalization and the relations of generalization has given us the key for the solution of this problem. If we study the relations of generality of a given concept, its measure of generalization, we obtain a more secure criterion to arrive at the structure of generalization of real concepts. Here is a meaning. This is completely equivalent to being in determined relations of generality with all the other meanings, that is to say, in a specific measure of generality. Thus the nature of the concept—syncretic, complexive, preconceptual—manfests itself in a more complete mode in the specific relations of a given concept with another concept. When we study the
 real concepts of the children, for example bourgeois, capitalist, landlord, kulak, we are made to establish a specific relation of generality which dominates at each stage of the concept, from syncretism to the true concept. This has permitted us not only to put up a bridge between the study of experimental concepts and real concepts but in general it has permitted us to elucidate the essential aspects of the fundamental structures of generalization, which artificial experimentation was not in general in a position to study.
Van der Veer and Valsiner claim (p. 337 in the Vygotsky Reader) that Vygotsky only ONCE referred to the kulaks (in “Fascism and Psychoneurology”), but clearlythe concepts did figure in his work with Shif, and it appears here as well.
What does Vygotsky mean when he says that the child’s response to ‘bourgeois”, “capitalist” (what is the difference?), “kulak” and “landlord” can reflect a structure of generality such as syncretic, complexive, and preconceptual? Perhaps the syncretic is something like "I like dem", the complexive is the division into "bad guys" and "good guys" and the preconceptual is more or less the way these terms were being bandied about by the Soviet bureaucracy.
In his work on the "structure of generalization" Vygotsky is hinting at a relationship similar to what Marx describes for the commodity, that is, a situation where (as in the current economic crisis) the forces of production overtake and overwhelm the relations of production. In Vygotsky's version it is the forces of generalization (e.g. the child's social purview, which provides him with far more things than are dreamt of in his philosophy) which overwhelms the structure of generalization, and forces him to reconstrue his indicative understanding as a nominative one and then reconstruct his naming as signifying (naming things like "price" that do not really exist as concrete objects).
Because Vygotsky is such a RELENTLESS materialist, he sees that the expansion of abstraction enriches the child's worldview rather than impoverishing it: if you have a greater catchment area, as you do with abstraction, then you theoretically have more data and more detail, not less. But taken too far this gives us something very like educational Stakhanovism.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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