Re: [xmca] Gardeners and Tram Drivers

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Sun Apr 01 2007 - 09:07:11 PDT

Gopnik and Voltaire were considering the garden metaphor in a different
context, David. Involving both the (contemporary social) ecology and process
of promoting development with the garden walls.
But the direction you are taking is certainly interesting and relevant as

Yes, LSV didn't like to reduce humans to botany. And in this I totally
agree. I also hear a strong echo of Luria concerning the impossibility of
person exerting sans mediating instrument than a shadow carrying stones. I
think my use of the metaphor in my own work would pass their scrutiny, but
perhaps not. Certainly the focus is on environmental organization, not
on acting directly on the kids exclusively. (Although, a la the basic
mediational triangle, I think that there is always a double orientation, to
the environment and the child-ren).

I certainly feel the tension you discuss in my own work organizing
afterschool activities. And its so rare and satisfying when just the right
coordinations emerge, transforming the object of activity in a manner that
induces co-positive-emotions.

Thanks for the citations of Educational Psychology which I have paid
insufficient attention to.

On 4/1/07, David Kellogg <> wrote:
> Mike:
> I've always wondered about that quote from Educational Psychology (p.
> 319):
> "For the educator to exert a direct influence on the formation of
> character is just as incongruous and ridiculous as a gardener would be who
> takes it into his head to promote the growth of a tree by pulling on it."
> There are very similar idioms in Chinese and Korean, to the effect that
> you can't make beansprouts grow by pulling on them. For this reason, I use
> this on the cover of my (in house) methodology book.
> But I have always felt slightly guilty about using it, because elsewhere
> (e.g. beginning of Vol. 6, p. 3) LSV laments botanical metaphors. Still,
> LSV liked it enough to use it again in Thought and Language someplace.
> I think it's the ECOLOGY of the metaphor that LSV accepts. To me, it is
> parallel to one of my very favorite quotes, which he also revives from
> Educational Psychology.
> Vygotsky's been talking about how the relationship between "motor power"
> and management is different in the labor of the the rickshaw puller and the
> tram driver. He points out how the rickshaw puller has to provide his own
> horsepower and gives relatively little attention to direction, while the
> tram driver, on the other hand, is mainly concerned with direction and what
> little physical labor he expends is devoted to that end. Because of this, of
> course, the tram driver is able to manage the environment of the tram (I
> guess we have to remind ourselves that trams were really cutting edge
> technology in Vygotsky's day):
> "The teacher's labor, although it is not subject to the technical
> perfection which moves and pushes it from the rickshaw to the tram-driver,
> has nevertheless the same two aspects (...) (W)ith some exaggeration it may
> be said that the whole reform of contemporary pedagogics revolves around
> this theme: how to reduce the role of teacher when he, just like the
> rickshaw-puller, plays the role of the engine and part of his own
> pedagogical machine as closely to possible to zero, and how to base
> everything on his other role--the role of organizer of the social
> environment? (Volume 3: 160)"
> I would have this quotation tattooed if it weren't quite so long. To me
> it contains the whole secret of Vygotsky's polemic with Tolstoy in Chapter
> Six of Thought and Language, where he first says that Tolstoy is completely
> right about the inability of teachers to directly teach concepts, and then
> appears to take it all back by criticizing Tolstoy for discounting the
> possibility of teacher intervention (pp. 170-171).
> The teacher DOES intervene, but that intervention is not direct; it is
> directed to the social environment of learning and not to the child him or
> herself. It is the intervention of a tram driver and not a rickshaw puller.
> Or maybe a gardener.
> On Friday I was teaching a group of Physical Education majors to do
> "Listen and Do" (that is, TPR, or "Total Physical Response") with their
> kids, and we were having a lot of fun with the Physical Education textbook
> (which is in many ways a much better book for teaching English than the
> actual English textbook).
> The original idea is pretty simple: the child is a kind of robot. The
> input is English and the output is action. That way the kids don't have to
> actually talk.The way it appears in our ENGLISH teachers' books is pretty
> awful: "Stand up!" "Sit down!" and then the teacher has to try to come up
> with commands that are both understandable and executable. Pretty soon the
> teacher has nothing to say, and by fifth grade the kids really loathe it.
> So we do various things, like Ally Bally Bee and simple role plays (e.g.
> designer and model, photographer and friends, passenger and taxi driver)
> which involve one party talking and the other obeying.
> But setting these up invariably involves the problem Tolstoy raises,
> where you try to replace the word "impression" with an "easier" word, but
> since the "easier" word is more removed from context, it actually ends up
> being more difficult.
> This is the "belly button problem" that teacher run into when they try
> to ask comprehension questions about a simple text--the metalanguage is much
> more difficult than the language itself (that is, to use a Korean proverb,
> the belly-button turns out to be bigger than the belly).
> Solving the "belly button problem" involves turning "Listen and Do" into
> a form of "Look and Listen", where the teacher does the activity and the
> chldren look on. But of course this introduces a new problem, because the
> children will then look (at each other, if need be) rather than listen.
> One can only REALLY solve this problem by handing over to the children,
> that is, by having THEM work in different pairs at different speeds. (Say
> "Follow the Leader" or "Listen and Race") And of course doing this
> successfully involves either creating ROLES (e.g. "You are the GENERAL,
> and you are a SOLDIER") or RULES (e.g. "Last one who points to his nose
> has to stand up and give the next command").
> Notice the GRAMMAR of that command: "The last one who points to his
> nose" is a SUBJECT! There is simply no way to see this as the agent of a
> physical action, Dr. Pinker! Yet children DO construct this rule with great
> ease, after they've seen a few examples. All we have to do is to create the
> environment, and the children supply the abstract rule automatically.
> Similarly, we find that the exercises in the Physical Education textbook
> ("The World of Insects", where the kids work in groups of three to make six
> legged animals, and "The Fan Dance", where they stage a traditional Korean
> fan dance, or "Moonwalk" where they go walking around in reduced gravity by
> having two partners remove five sixths of their weight) work really well as
> "Listen and Do" exercises. This should not be, because the contexts are
> incredibly hard to explain in English.
> Of course, we don't. That would be rickshaw pulling. We just do it, and
> then the children create their own environment of learning on the basis of
> what we do. Il faut cultiver notre jardin.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> ---------------------------------
> Get your own web address.
> Have a HUGE year through Yahoo! Small Business.
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Apr 1 10:09 PDT 2007

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Mar 21 2008 - 16:41:48 PDT