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[xmca] Artificial Complexes and Other Wolves
Here is an exchange from a lesson designed to pilot an English immersion programme. the (Korean) teacher is teaching a social studies lesson in English, not Korean. The curriculum is about the demographic transition our country is going through, with young people abandoning the extended family for the nuclear family. So the teacher has to teach the concept of the nuclear family.
She has done this by drawing her own family tree and using it to describe "generations" and describes her own family a a three-generations (sic) family. Then she turns to a girl and asks.
T: Na-yeon, What kind of family do you have?
S: Two … family.
T: Two generations family? (sic)
S: Ah! Two generations family.
T: We can say a two generations (sic) family as a nuclear family (sic).
T: Yes. Nuclear. Do you know “nuclear”?
T: What does it mean.
Ss: Haek (Nuclear). Terran.
T: Ah, from Starcraft you learned it.
T: When do you say the word in the game?
T: You can use Korean.
S: Sseu ta keu rae peu teu taeran yiyo. (It's the Terrans in Starcraft.)
So I dutifully look up how the word "nuclear" is used in on-line role playing version of the computer game Starcraft and I learn that it is the prerogative of the human like "Terran" species. Because of an incident where there entire population of many millions of people were wiped out in a nuclear attack, the Terrans are quite keen on nuclear weapons (??), but for unexplained reasons they limit themselves to tactical nukes (nevertheless capable of killing hundreds of thousands of enemies) which must be guided by a "ghost" (???), and there are elaborate instructions for how to launch nuclear attacks on your enemies without having your ghost killed (????)
At this point I decide that "nuclear" is NOT an artificial concept (e.g. bik, mur, lag, or civ). At the very most, it might be an artificial associative complex (e.g. "terran" or "sai-yi-da" or "immersion" the way that it is used in America, where it apparently means something like the Dunkin' in Dunkin Donuts). Most likely it is an artificial syncretic rubbish heap, a putrid pile of puerile affect that just says, kill all my enemies and let God sort them out.
I know that "immersion" in Korea really doesn't work the way that it works in other countries, but then I also know that we do not really know how it works in other countries; how the child seems to be able to get something for nothing, and two languages for the price of one.
It seems to me that the best explanation is what Vygotsky says about the scientific concept in section 6 of Chapter 6:
"The child forms a new structure of generalization from certain concepts, very often those which have been recently acquired, for example in the process of learning. When he is in possession of the new structure, it is in virtue of this that he reorganizes and transforms the structure of all the preceding concepts. In this way the preceding work of thinking is not lost; the concepts are not re-elaborated at each new level, not every isolated meaning must replicate the whole work of reorganizing its structure. It is realized, as is every structural operation of thinking, through the mastery of a new principle, through which a few concepts are extended and transformed through the laws of structuration to the whole sphere of concepts in its totality. We saw that the new structure of generalization, to which the child comes in the course of instruction, creates possibility for its thought to pass into the new and higher plan of logical operations. Old
concepts, being implicated in these operations, which are of highest type thinking in comparison with the previous, change in structure all by themselves." (Our translation based on my triangulation of Meccaci, Seve, and a machine translation)
Immersion really works the same way that foreign language learning works generally; the (native language) concept is ready when the (foreign language word) is, and the child simply extends the new version of the concept (the foreign language word meaning) to the native language concept. New concept formation is not required on a case by case basis; the child's entire system of concepts can be transfigured in one fell swoop.
But this miraculous process of apparently automatic reconstruction of a whole system of concepts really is limited to classroom systems of concepts: they have to be concepts, and they have to be systematized. For example, the process happens on a much more fragmented, everyday-concept basis throughout the Korean language, because of all the loan words we have. The Korean acquires a concept (e.g. "peopyum", or "perfume" and can immediately use it to restructure the rather archaic "hyangsu", or "fragrant water").
This happens only on a case by case basis because a lot of these loan words, as you can see, are NOT part of systems of scientific concepts, and therefore there are very strong barriers to their ability to restructure the system of concepts. And of course the use of "nuclear" in Starcraft is positively destructuring; it is what Carol in her excellent critique of traditional "barking at text" education describes, tragically, as "the loss of meaning".
Of course I am not arguing for strict realism in children's computer games or in children's literature. I know perfectly well that the UNREALITY of children's literature is what makes it possible for it to exorcise, for example, the fear of losing parents, the experience of hunger, and sickness and even death. It is true, as Vygotsky says, that no child prefers an imaginary apple to a real one. But it is equally true that all children prefer imaginary schools to real ones, and for that very reason they prefer Hogwarts to high school.
What I am arguing for is some kind of children's realism. For children's literature to be good, it has to be good for something. As we know from LSV's chapter on aesthetic education (an his chapter on ethical education), it can't be good for moral education, or science education, or history, or even aesthetics; the child will always need real morals, real science, real history and real pleasures more. But precisely BECAUSE it is unreal, it CAN serve the vital function of mediating lower level emotions (pain, anger, and above all ennui) into higher, more volitional ones (stoicism, a sense of fairness, and above all attentional control). But it can ONLY play this mediating role if it has at least a farflung border outpost on the frontier of the child's experience.
Seoul National University of Education
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