[xmca] The Strange Situation

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Sun Oct 19 2008 - 16:16:55 PDT

Dear Paula:
I got it! We watched your DVD over dinner and discussed it at some length (although we're not up to Chapter Five of Thinking and Speech in our translation). It's a very clear presentation of Sakharov's work, and made it thoroughly comprehensible, for which copious thanks from afar.
Here's what still bugs me. LSV says the experiment is a hypothetical: the purpose is to tell us how children would reason in the absence of adult intervention. So presumably kids would begin by heaping, and then look at measuring, and measure by comparing, and then start chaining. That's what they would do WITHOUT adult intervention.
But of course there IS adult intervention, and in fact the intervention takes the shape that MOST adult intervention does: in the design of artefacts for the child's use rather than in direct instruction in how to use them. What Vygotsky's experiment really shows us is that this form of intervention is logically primary: designed artefacts are quite useful in solving the problem without direct instruction, but direct instruction would be utterly useless without the designed artefacts.
Vico points out (somewhere!) that we find it easier to understand our social environment than our natural one because it's recognizeably made of the same stuff that we're made of. (The natural environment is too, but it's pretty hard to see that.) This is, certainly, an important part of learning to understand a foreign language; it's why the idea that people can somehow learn languages through "input" only hasn't worked, and why the truth seems to be much closer to what Cazden's argued: performance comes to us before competence does, and we understand input by making output, and we learn to understand the potential through the real.
The child tackles the problem with that general strategy in mind; I can understand what I make. And sure enough as long as the kid is making stuff with the blocks, he's understands what's going on very well. The only problem comes when he has to master what the adult has made out of them. 
But this too happens through what LSV would call "imitation": invoking triangles, circles, colors, etc.. This is what LSV calls "imitation in the broad sense", which (LSV reminds us) includes the child at home solving a homework problem that he has received in school, without the teacher standing over his or her shoulder. This is STILL imitation.
At one point you say that the child cannot hold two different features of the blocks in his mind at the same time. But the child has the concept of circles and triangles, which he uses to name and indicate the objects to great effect. The child also knows the names, which are (to him) as yet only another feature. And colors. And positions. Isn't it really a problem of TOO MANY features and not TOO FEW?
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education __________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around http://mail.yahoo.com
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Received on Sun Oct 19 16:17:59 2008

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