Re: [xmca] Classrooms as Rock Gardens

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Wed Apr 04 2007 - 19:49:43 PDT

David --

My rock pile comment was actually in response to a combination of your
comment: "I was being conciliatory by changing the subject, Mike. Frankly, I
think the Gopnik piece is a study in projection and consequently
anachronism. I don't think that Voltaire's love of gardening makes him a
conservative bourgeois in his social outlook. In those days, being bourgeois
was not particularly conservative, and had little to do with gardening. "
and Paul's comment, that

I read the article and while it seemed so New Yorker and cutesy (Spiro Agnew
echoing about effete whatevers) I was really dismayed by the entire string
of claims that included (I paraphrase) '' most of us find globalism the
best of all possible worlds" . Is that really the case? Do most of us
(who's that?) believe that global corporate domination <=> globalism is the
best of all possible worlds. How about "small is beautiful", a much more
gardenlike metaphor. Perhaps humanity at the horticultural stage, pre-large
scale crop stuff, was nobler. Probably more enjoyable no matter what the
globalists say about life in the city is pretty.
I simply did not know where to take the conversation in a fruitful way. Had
I read more carefully, perhaps I would have been more creative and

I was (incorrectly and egocentrically) assuming that people were familiar
with my own use of the garden metaphor which some are and some aren't and
some think useful, perhaps,
and others do not. Not a good idea to make such assumptions in such a
diverse group.

Paul, from his position, saw the article I forwarded as being pro
globalization. I, myopically, was interested in the garden metaphor as I
have used it and as it was reflected, interestingly
in my view, in the Gopnik article, but particuarly in the Subbotsky
highlighting. But Paul and Eugene end up, it seems to me, coming to similar
conclusions in so far as they actually engage each other. I need to
reconsider that.

Along with you, I believe that most classrooms in the US are rock piles not
gardens in my sense of the term. I do not work in afterschool settings by

As to the possibility of zones of proximal development under capitalism,
perhaps Lois wishes to comment. The Soviets appeared unable to create them
routinely and those
who championed such ideas were not heavily rewarded for their efforts, if
they were allowed to live at all. There are important issues to be discussed
here, but not, in my
opinion, by dueling with each other, being petulant with each other, nor by
simply ignoring what we disagree with. If the razor's edge cuts, as it does,
so be it. Then lets
look for bandages and alternative routes.

As to attributions of petulance, liberalism, and so on, my own view is that
such attributions are (also?) not productive. I confess that I shy away from
rabid animals. I find them dangerous. Radical or not.

Sorry about my proclivity to promoting open mindedness and graciousness on
this list and I regret when I fail to live up to my own standards. I fear
that some of my comments in
recent weeks regarding the MCA article under discussion were insufficiently
open minded or gracious and that I drove away valued colleagues as a result.
It would not be the first

Lets hear what others have to say, about the interesting issues that you and
Paul and I have raised in the hopes that they have something to say. If not,
then being silent ourselves is almost certainly the best policy.

On 4/4/07, David Kellogg <> wrote:
> 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
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Received on Wed Apr 4 20:51 PDT 2007

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