Re: [xmca] Dynamics of Learning and Development

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Mon Nov 26 2007 - 17:38:52 PST

Hi David:
  I guess I glossed, or unitized what you wrote. I spent a lot of time studying the critiques of "vulgar marxism"; ie, mechanist, infrrastructuure-determines-superstructure, and just transposed -- beside the fact that I do need new glasses. But it seems like the same distinction.
  Your post presents examples of different types of teacher-student interaction but I'm not sure why you need the word materialist, it would seem that you're criticizing mechanistic explanations in general. LSV vs. Pavlov; not S-R, but S-[T]-R, where a tool or sign mediates the relationship between stimulus and response. To me expllanations of social or psychological patterns based on single of even multiple (path analyzed, factor analyzed, or whatever) dependent variables, have never seemed useful for the liberation of human potential. And I totally agree that this kind of thinking is not dead, rather the people who think that way are, even the ones who haven't been buried or cremated.
  When you present your examples you state that you want your grads to understand something about the "INTERNAL unit-ness" of the way students reproduce the material that can't be memorized . The idea of how the reproductions display an internal structure or their own, one that shouldn't be reduced to external categories, what Ilyenkov called "abstract universals", seems perfectly correct to me as well.
  But I don't see how the examples you provide illuminate the process of arriving at the internal structure (or as Ilyenkov might say, the concrete universal). For one thing, you described the prompt in the first case, but not so in the second where you say the teacher plays doctor and then patient. I couldn't visualize exactly what was going on in the latter case.
  I also couldnt understand how you were explaining what you called "mutant". Mutant from what? Similarly, what was the mechanical explanation for the kid goofing around about stomach operations. It's all very unclear to me. Exactly what knee, what little hammer and what jerk?
  So, forgive my transformation of "materialist" into "marxist". It seemed that you were criticizing the same thing and my post about the etymology of "vulgar" arose on the background memory of Mick Jagger drinking to the "salt of the earth". My frame of reference on the question of mechanical explanations of the socio-historical inhabits the space of E.P. Thompson's critique of Althusser who at least tried to loosen things up without losing some notion of CAUSALITY. Where does LSV stand on CAUSALITY?
  What do you think?
David Kellogg <> wrote:
  Dear Paul:

I think what I wrote was "vulgar materialists" rather than "vulgar Marxists". Here's what I really had in mind:

"When the question is posed as to how the basis determines ideology, the answer given is: causally; which is true enough but far too general and therefore ambiguous. If what is meant by causality is mechanical causality (as causality has been an still is understood and defined by the positivistic representatives of natural scientific thought), then this answer wold be essentially incorrect and contradictory to the very fundaments of dialectal materialism." (Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language: 1972: 17)

LSV really IS talking about this kind of mechanical causality; behaviorism, of course, but also the penchant of people like Zalkind and Blonsky to posit a "proletarian psychology" largely determined by the income of the parents, the number of books in a house, the presence or absence of running water, the number of times a child changes his or her underwear, years spent in a classroom, etc. In other words, a sociology mechanically (in many cases linearly) projected onto the mind.

This kind of thinking is not dead, even though the positivistic representatives of natural scientific thought that Volosinov is talking about are all dead now. When you read Byrne on how chaos complexity theory might apply to the social sciences, you get essentially the same answer: the social science survey. In his defense, Byrne is not trying to be a psychologist, and in fact the things he's talking about (public health in the sense of preventative medicine) are susceptible to this kind of treatment even if they are not exhausted by it.

Last night we were looking at some wonderful data from a "dictogloss". This is an exercise in the "Teach = Cheat" mode, where you put the kids in groups and dictate a fairly complicated poem or dialogue to them once, at speed. They cannot write it down. You then give them a division of labor, for example, one child writes down ONLY the words of the boy, another writes down ONLY the responses of the girl, the third a parent, etc. They then cooperate to reconstruct the whole text, and find that their ability to remember record and reproduce it increases manyfold.

I was trying to show the grads that there is a kind of INTERNAL unit-ness to data, where it comes apart the way you pull apart an orange (line by line or exchange by exchange analysis is often like this) and there is a kind of purely EXTERNAL unit-y where it comes apart the way you cut a very runny pumpkin pie (if you analyze it according to topic, the boundaries are fairly arbitrary in this way).

But if you analyze the data according to some larger socio-interactional criterion such as Teacher Monologue (Teacher to Teacher, or T-T), Teacher-Student, Student-Teacher, Student-Student, or Whole Class Listening, Whole Class dialoguing with Teacher, Group dialogue, or "Establishing the Situation and Context", "Establishing the Text", "Recording it", "Reproducing it", "Re-enacting it", you got unit boundaries that were recognizably similar.

It's a little like pulling apart a well-cooked chicken: the place you tug and the way you yank will make some difference in how it comes apart, but the resulting units will have recognizeable joints and boundaries. I really think this is what LSV means when he rejects a single method for periodizing child development but says that if we combine the methods, we get acceptable and recognizeable periods.

The PROOF, as far as I'm concerned, is that this way of analyzing our data produced noticeably different versions of the key grammatical structure, in this case "I'm sick. I have a cold". The first version, presented in teacher monologue (T-T), was "She's sick. She has a cold" (the teacher was trying to use the experience of one absent student to contextualize the dialogue). This then appeared in the dialogue as "I'm sick. I have a cold." and repeated word for word by the kids in T-S "Listen and Repeat". But as soon as the dialogue became a "Listen and Answer" activity (T-S, with the teacher as doctor and then as patient) we saw a plethora of creative forms ("I'm hot", "I'm a sick", "I'm have a fever", "I'm head", "I'm headache", "I have a sick", "Where is sick" etc.)

The interesting thing is that these mutant forms (many obviously caused by random marriages between "I'm sick" and "I have a cold", and others by INTERNATIONAL marriages between Korean expressions and English ones) then competed during the reconstruction of the dictation and the performance of the dialogue. Gradually the law of the survival of the fittest reasserted itself, and by the end of the period we had "I'm sick" and "I have a ...." where the following noun was almost anything but a cold (one group did a hilarious performance where a patient came in with a toothache and the doctor insisted on a stomach operation, but the patient was saved by a nurse who told the patient to but her clothes back on, go home, drink orange juice and brush her teeth).

Of course it's POSSIBLE to explain the evolution by saying that the children threw up various mutations and these were rigorously compared to the text and selected with the help of the teacher. In fact, some "scaffolding" interpretations of the zone of proximal development suggest precisely this process, with the adult reducing the consequences of error ("Good try! Try it again?") or reducing the probability of error ("Are you sure? Is it 'I'm a sick' or 'I'm sick'?") or simply giving the right answer.

But these mechanical explanations of how the outside becomes inside do not explain the creativity we see in the data, nor will they explain why certain creative structures occur in some socio-interactional formats (e.g. "Listen and Answer" where teacher mediation is in force) but not in others (e.g. the dictogloss, where it is peer mediation that rules). I think that only an organic explanation, one that is more attuned to how the PROCESS OF SELECTION ITSELF moves from outside the child to inside the child, can explain the creativity of the data. That's what I meant.

(But thanks for keeping an eye on my diction! I noticed, in re-reading, at least one glaring stupidity--yesterday I said that ALL neoformations disappear, and what I meant to say is that the neoformations of the CRISIS disappear!)

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Mon Nov 26 17:40 PST 2007

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