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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 <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>
Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
05/28/2009 07:13 PM
Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"

        To:     mcole@weber.ucsd.edu, Culture ActivityeXtended Mind <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
        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 
Sakharov blocks.
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. 
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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