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Re: [xmca] Education as Prosthetic
Page 185 of Kozulin's 1999 translation of states:
"For example, the different steps in learning arithmetic may be of unequal
value for mental development. It often happens that three or four steps in
instrucion add little to the child's understanding of arithmetic, and
then, with the fifth step, something clicks, the child has grasped a
general principle and his developmental curve rises markedly. . .
.Development and instruction have different "rhythms." These two
processes are interconnected, but each of them has its own measure. The
acquisition of the rules of inflections of nouns cannot simply coincide in
time with conscious mastering of one's speech. . . . . .When the child
learns some operation of arithmetic or some scientific concept, the
development of that operation or concept has only begun; the curve of
development does not coincide with the curve of school instruction; by and
large, instruction precedes development."
The formal aspect of the classroom presents a culture unique to the human
experience. The apprentice does not experience this culture if working
side by side with master. I too agree with Mike in theory that schooling
is not the sole culture that can dictate the development of "scientific
concepts." However, if the "everyday concept" evolves into a "scientific
concept" at what level of development does this happen? Does the
"explosive writing" that takes place in a four and five year old when they
learn writing only happen at that age? Does an illiterate 18 year old
ever present "explosive writing" when they finally grasp the concept of
the written language? What prosthetics can be put in place that allow an
explosion of academic production from the 18 year old who has never
presented such an accomplishment? Was Vygotsky right that the study of
the development of the retardate is the window into understanding the
development of humans in general?
David Kellogg <email@example.com>
Sent by: firstname.lastname@example.org
05/28/2009 07:13 PM
Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
To: email@example.com, Culture ActivityeXtended Mind <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Education as Prosthetic
On the first point Mike raises, which I think of as the dispensiblity of
schooling. I agree with Mike in theory, but with Paula in practice.
Concepts MUST be creatable without schooling or new concepts could never
come into existence. The possiblity of creating concepts outside a school
setting is only one of the many byproducts Vygotsky derives from the
It seems to me that science concepts are ONE kind of academic concept
(aesthetic concepts and ethical ones are others), academic concepts are
ONE kind of non-empirical concept (experimental and purely idiosyncratic
concepts are others), and concepts in turn are merely one kind of word
The problem is that the further we get from the classroom, the further we
get from the language that is specific to the classroom, and I don't just
mean the "foreign" language that Carol's talking about. I mean the double
reconstrual that lies at the heart of classrooms: the reconstrual of
complex inter-mental discourse and complex intra-mental grammar, and the
re-reconstrual of complex intra-mental grammar as the complex morphology
that we find in the actual WORDING of most scientific concepts (and most
of the content words in this paragraph).
This double reconstrual isn't a historical accident; it's a generalization
upon a generalization of Vygotsky's genetic law. Of course it happens
outside the classroom sometimes; it happens on every playground where
children learn to reconstrue the complex negotiations of games as game
rules, and the complex discourse of imaginary situation as one-word role
At primary school level, particularly here in Korea, the artificially
engineered zone of proximal development that the classroom represents (or
perhaps I should call it the "next zone of development" as Seve
does) still has some weaknesses compared to the naturally evolved one that
we find on the playground. I think most of these are connected with the
fact that it was exapted from a very exclusive, gate-keeping ritual
invented by the upper classes for very different purposes and still
bears deforming birth defects. Like any bouncing baby with a bad birth
defect, public education is in need of corrective surgery.
Medicine is a pretty good analogy. Like medicine, education DOES take
place outside the insitutional framework. Like medicine, it's an
exaptation of technologies that were often concerned with other purposes
(the obsession with cosmetic surgery here in Korea an with curative rather
than preventative public medicine still shows this). Like medicine, it is
prosthetic; it is about sociocultural adaptation to biological
Like medicine, education is in the process of transforming itself from an
art into a science (and as with medicine this has disadvantages as well as
advantages). It is in dire need of a very serious social reorientation,
and the extant society which is nominally in charage of this reorientation
shows every symptom of making the problem worse rather than better. Hence
Barack Obama's disastrous comments on Korean schools--does he know that
every single public school teacher is tenured for life over here?. But
like medicine, education is absolutely not dispensable.
On the second point, thanks to Paula for trying to straighten out the
confusion that I sowed. The original quote from Vygotsky about leaving
COMPLEXES (not concepts) at the school door may be perused at:
It seems to me that LSV wrote this under political pressure. It's 1934.
His work as a pedologist has been denounced and reviled, and the whole
theory of complexes on which it was based was reviled and denounced with
But LSV is a good strategist as well as a profound thinker (I guess that
comes with the job). What he does is to RENAME complexes as "preconcepts"
(not "potential concepts") and carry on with the reviled and denounced
work under another name. This is actually a profound thought as well as a
good strategic maneuver.
It emphasizes precisely the idea that Mike (and Paula) are pointing to:
that the structures of generalization created in previous eras
(ontogenetic structures such as the complex--oops, sorry, I mean the
preconcept) are not simply binned but build upon, indeed generalized.
So they appear as dependent parts of new structures. On thinking it over,
Paula, I think the metaphor of rising from the ashes is not what we want
at all; today's twigs are tomorrow's branches, and ashes will come only
much much later.
But, Mike, can't we say much the same could be said of the structures of
sociogenesis, to wit, the "naturally" occurring next zone of development
we find on the playground? These are not annulled but incorporated as
dependent parts of the engineered zones of development we find in the
classroom. The net of heaven has wide meshes, as we say over here, but
they let nothing escape.
Seoul National University of Education
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