[xmca] Classrooms as Rock Gardens

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Wed Apr 04 2007 - 16:47:34 PDT

Actually, I liked reading Gopnik on Voltaire (though I did wonder about the yellow bits!). I hope that Mike's rather petulant remark about rock-breaking really means that he has finally cracked open his copy of "Hongloumeng" and he's enjoying the chapter on building "Grand View Garden". But you never know with MIke, he might just be trying to teach the rabid radicals on the list to be gracious and open-minded and...well, liberal.
  I want to get back to being off topic, Mike! I think one of the best things about the garden metaphor is that it exposes some of the WEAKNESSES of classrooms and their textual tool kits. Our third and fourth grade (English) textbooks feature the following cast of characters:
  Minsu and Mina (Korean)
  Julie and Tony (White, of indeterminate nationality)
  Lisa and Thomas (Black, of indeterminate nationality)
  In Korea, you can often tell who is the sibling of whom by noticing that they have a shared "middle" name, called a "dullimja" in Korean. (Similarly, in "hongloumeng", all the characters that have "bao" in their names are in the same generation, including Bao-chai who Bao-yu eventually marries.) So sure enough, Minsu is Mina's younger brother. Similarly Tony is Julie's eight-year-old younger brother. It is never explicitly stated, but it is strongly implied, that Lisa and Thomas are also related.
  The cast of characters for the fifth and sixth year books are very different. Mina has been replaced by a palindrome (in Korean, which is syllable based), namely Nami, who has a younger brother Namsu. But all of the other characters are in Nami's fifth and then sixth grade class, which means they are not related.
  Of course, there's a good reason for this change: it is a fact, deplored by our moral education department but nevertheless true, that in these years the interests of and influences on the child shift from siblings to peers. So it is right that our fifth and sixth grade books should reflect this change.
  But when you think about it as children and "primitives" do, it's a very strange (and very modern) idea to take a child out of children out of the family and place them in an environment where everybody is exactly the same chronological age. Just as gardens destroy a natural site and then attempt, rather inefficiently, to reconstruct it around less original and more artificial lines, we destroy the natural zone of proximal development provided by children playing with older siblings, and attempt rather inefficiently to reconstruct it around the model of a shepherd and a fold of sheep. The result is rather more like a rock garden, or Trianon, than a working farmer's field.
  I don't mean to sound Rousseau-esque (although if Rousseau and Voltaire are the only contenders, I will certainly plump for the former). I believe in the child's future, and I believe in the tram-driving teacher, even if that means transforming flocks of happy siblings into folds of sheep and even factory workshops. But even if I didn't, I believe that the peer loyalties of fith graders and sixth graders need to be treated with the same respect we accorded the familial sympathies of third and fourth graders.
  I am FOR literacy, not against it! But I'm not so sure about the modern classroom. Two of my former colleagues have made an absolute fortune selling beautifully printed OUP textbooks to China, where the market is apparently bottomless. Illiteracy, in the meantime, has gone up by thirty million children since 2005. The two are not directly connected, but they are surely connected.
  I think that one of the reasons why we've never managed to operationalize the zone of proximal development on this list is related to the reason why teachers find it so difficult to reconcile their pastoral gate-keeping, sheep-tending role with their teaching, learning, and tram driving one. As long is our business is the reproduction of literate wage labour, there is going to be a fundamental contradiction between other-regulation and self-regulation.
  As Newman and Holzman suggest, the zone of proximal development is fundamentally unrealizable under capitalism. That is why the only true models we have of it (sibling relationships, the playground) date from a pre-capitalist epoch. And that's my rabble-rousing radical speech for the day!
  But we must tend our fields. One of the interesting things that happens in our elementary school textbooks is that while the YOUNGER siblings are the main characters is third and fourth grade books, the main character of the fifth and sixth year book is an OLDER sibling.
  This is a smart move: by putting the child in the role of the older sibling, we encourage the child to learn self-regulation by regulating others (not unrelated to Brown and Palincsar and reciprocal teaching, when you think about it). Another reason why rock gardens are not always an improvement on the real thing.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

It's here! Your new message!
Get new email alerts with the free Yahoo! Toolbar.
xmca mailing list
Received on Wed Apr 4 17:49 PDT 2007

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