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RE: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act

David, have you published on this (I know you were working on it for publication)?

I'm sorry I haven't had time to follow this thread, but if you've already cited something you have published, I hope you won't be hesitant (over concerns about self-promotion) to repeat the citation.

Also, congratulations on living in the #1 happiest state in the US (according to a study reported in newspaters today)!

On Fri, 18 Dec 2009, David H Kirshner wrote:


Finally, a moment to respond, to you, but also to the many subsequent
posts that have lamented the politically intractable landscape of

I'm reminded of the Math Wars (my own home turf) that has been a scourge
in the U.S. for almost 15 years now. In it, reformers, rallying around
the Curriculum & Evaluation Standards promulgated by the National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics, are pitted against conservatives who
insist on repetitive practice and lecture methods. As expected,
legislatures that have been drawn into the fray (e.g., California) have
tended to side with conservatives. Conservatives, in this dispute,
number among their members a large and vocal cadre of prominent
mathematicians (see the 1999 open letter to the U.S. Secretary of
Education signed by 200 of them denouncing reform curricula:

Reformers have been quick to lament the ideological tenor of the debate.
But it should be kept in mind that mathematicians are not your usual
ideologues. Rather in California (the epicenter of the Math Wars) where
NCTM's Standards were adopted in the early 1990s, mathematicians only
become involved following widespread anecdotal accounts of dysfunctional
learning environments spawned in the name of reform curricula.

I condense my previous points:

1. The universe of pedagogical discourse is framed by 3 distinct
metaphorical notions of learning related to acquisition of skills,
concepts, and dispositions, respectively.*

2. These distinct notions of learning also are guiding intuitions for
the major psychological schools-behavioral/cognitive, developmental, and
sociocultural, respectively.

3. The best possibility for a coherent and accessible pedagogical theory
parses "good teaching" into 3 separate genres related to these 3
intuitive notions of learning.

4. Such a parsing separates out values issues (what sort(s) of learning
should we pursue in educational settings) from efficacy issues (how can
we best support learning).

5. Current pedagogical theorizing is not oriented around genres, but
rather is integrative; the orienting goal is to identify a single set of
practices that constitutes the practices of good teaching.

5i. Good teaching framed in this integrative fashion obscures reference
back to the grounding metaphorical intuitions about learning. As result
such theorizing tends to be intellectually intractable.

5ii. Any particular version of good teaching framed in this integrative
fashion reifies certain learning goals over others. This conflation of
values issues with issues of efficacy makes pedagogical theory
inherently divisive.

6. The tendency toward integrative theorizing in education traces back
to two sociological circumstances: (i) the preparadigmatic status of
psychology; and (ii) the historic subservience of education to

6i. As a preparadigmatic science the historical imperative is to achieve
paradigmatic consensus. Thus each psychological school works outward
from its primary intuitions about learning to try to encompass the
broader concerns of the field. The hegemonic agenda for each is to
present learning as a complex and multifaceted process that eventually
can become an umbrella for the whole field.

6ii. Because education is in a (subservient) partnership with
psychology, educators have come to adopt the psychologists' aspirational
view of learning as unitary or integrative, thereby denying what is
plainly obvious: at this historical juncture learning is diversely
conceived within unreconciled psychological traditions. Indeed,
education plays out as a surrogate field for psychology's competitive

In short, I think we have been less than effective in influencing
education because what we provide for education is a discourse that is
both confusing and divisive.


*Michael, my point isn't that philosophical and ontological analyses of
the sort you referenced aren't important and relevant. Rather, I see
these as background influences on the psychological framings of learning
that orient education.

From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]
On Behalf Of Michael Glassman
Sent: Monday, December 14, 2009 10:02 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act


I think your ideas on the three metaphors are salient in terms of common
sense, but I also think that what is wrong with the Learn Act is that it
doesn't really connect up with any of them.

Near as I can tell (and perhaps somebody can set me straight here) this
idea that children should learn knowledge in preschool of basic letters,
numbers, vocabulary so they can be ready to learn immediately (and if
they are not doing this something is wrong) is a sort of mash up of
nativism (the idea that humans are programmed to recognize certain types
of information and once they are exposed to it they will integrate it
into their thinking), cognitive architectures (the idea that you should
build specific types of architectures in the brain early which will
allow children to make connections with new more complex information
later), the efficacy of direct instruction (see nativist), and a realist
perspective (that there is specific type of information in the world
that the child needs to know that will make them more successful - once
they are able to recognize and process this information they will be
able to use it to their own and society's advantage).  Underlying these
assumptions is the idea that the child is basically a passive learner,
and that once the mind recognizes important information it will take
over.  I find the arguments confusing and circular, and in some ways
dangerous (suggesting that there is a specific type of knowledge that is
valuable and should take precedence, and that this knowledge can be used
to control nature).  It is also opposite of what early chilhood
educators such as Friedrich Frobel, Maria Montessori, the people who
have been working in Piagetian, Deweyan, and Vygotskian paradigms have
been doing for over a century.  All of that work has simply been swept
aside for this new - it isn't even a paradigm.  I don't know what it is.

I don't think there is any strong logical argument that can be made for
this position.  And I think there is really no empirical evidence that
suggests this leads to better learners (unless some great breakthrough
occurred while I was asleep).  And yet over the last couple of decades
it seems to have become gospel in some very important circles
(especially in the government).  The only answer I can think of is that
it fills some social and/or economic need.



From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of David H Kirshner
Sent: Mon 12/14/2009 2:26 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act


I think our discourse fails to sway politicians because it fails to
connect up with our cultural commonsense about learning.

Broadly speaking I see our cultural commonsense involving 3 main
metaphors of learning corresponding to 3 major kinds of learning goals
informed by 3 major theoretical thrusts in psychology:

Habituation             Skills            Behaviorism/some cognitive
Construction             Concepts         Developmental / Piagetian
Enculturation            Dispositions      Sociocultural

The problems arise from the sociological imperative of psychology to
become a paradigmatic science. Rather than elaborate these alternative
notions of learning in a way that highlights their distinct conceptual
foundations, psychologists of all stripes are bent upon extending
outward from their basic intuition about learning so as to incorporate
the interests and concerns of the other camps. In this way, eventually,
one school succeeds in capturing the field and paradigmatic psychology
is achieved.

In the meantime, (1) theories of learning become intractably complex
even as the intuitive underpinning of each psychological thrust becomes
increasingly opaque, and (2) values decisions about which form(s) of
learning should be pursued in education become absorbed into theoretical
discourses about learning.

The legacy for education is a pedagogical discourse that is
simultaneously confused and conflicted. The real alternatives that COULD
be framed for pedagogical practice toward diverse goals become
homogenized within a shapeless, integrative discourse. Sloganeering
substitutes in for intellectual foundation; competing camps attest to
the strength (i.e., influence) of the psychological schools whose
theories have inspired the slogans.


From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]
On Behalf Of Michael Glassman
Sent: Sunday, December 13, 2009 11:05 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act

I really think that this legislation is, among other things,
historically insensitive.  Do people really think, given our society's
history with assessment tests, that these tests are not going to be
geared towards middle class values?  Do people really think that these
tests are not going to be used to label and differentiate groups?  Do
people really think that these assessments are not going to be used to
in some way reinforce a deficit model for children who don't do well on
the tests?  The fact that these tests are being conducted at such a
young age makes these ideas even more painful.

These senators Brown and Franken and Murray have their hearts in the
right place, but our discourse on education in the United States has
become so convoluted and narrow and so dominated by a faux realist
perspective (actually an unholy combination of realist and idealist)
that even legislators who mean well are I think making thoughtless
mistakes.  It still pains me that Ted Kennedy and George Miller were
major forces behind NCLB.  There are many reasons for this I think, not
the least of which is control of public discourse by a relatively small
group of educators - but just because you are giving money towards
education initiatives does not mean that you are helping the cause of
universal education.



From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of cconnery@ithaca.edu
Sent: Sun 12/13/2009 10:10 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act

Hi Peg and others:

Here is the specific language under section 9, e,1,c of the LEARN Act:


(1) IN GENERAL.-An eligible entity that receives a subgrant under this
section shall use the subgrant funds consistent with the plan proposed
in subsection (c) to carry out the following activities:
(C) SCREENING ASSESSMENTS AND MEASURES.-Acquiring, providing training
for, and implementing screening assessments or other appropriate
measures to determine whether children from birth through kindergarten
entry are developing appropriate early language and literacy skills.

The question is, "WHO will determine what is appropriate and HOW will
they assess it?" This goes to the heart of Vygotsky's work.


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Tony Whitson
UD School of Education
NEWARK  DE  19716


"those who fail to reread
 are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                  -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
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