Re: [xmca] Sumerian school pic

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Thu Dec 11 2008 - 18:50:25 PST

I guess I think that saying that schools and classrooms are just tools for social reproduction and that failure is intrinsic to this process is a little like saying that minds are just tools for social reproduction and that the destruction of minds is intrinsic to this process. Yeah, it's all true. Except for the part that goes "just".
Andy pointed out that even the Chartist movement inscribed compulsory education on its banner, and that it's been part of every single workers movement since Adam wove and Eve delved. Every social revolution worthy of the name has found its future in mass literacy and universal education; my own mother in law's biggest regret in life was that at thirty she was considered too old for middle school.
I think my view of the "germ cell" idea is a little different from yours, or anyway from Davydov's. Davydov uses the "germ cell" to talk about a kind of "inward out" unfolding of a concept, the child's ability to discover the universal in the particular. But I see it as more related to Vygotsky's "unit of analysis" and Marx's "commodity".
The school and the classroom and even the mind are "germ cells" not because they contain within all the horrors of a developed capitalist society to be outwardly unfolded, but rather because each is made of the same materials as the fully developed society that surrounds it (words, voices, concepts). Because they find themselves in an already developed society, minds in classrooms and schools develop from the outside inwards.
I think that development in schools is mostly what Trotsky would call "uneven and combined development", the sort experienced by Russia and China, which developed from outside inwards rather than the sort experienced by England and Germany, which developed their own forms of finance industrial capital before exporting them.
I think a special feature of this uneven and combined development is extreme functional differentiation: certain planes of the mind are more closely aligned with social reproduction, and others with social progress. Still others are rather more subject to volition than a social reproductionist view of education can admit.
That functional differentiation extends well beyond the mind: in my own field, I find that those of us interested in classroom teaching are much less interested in the gestation of failure than my colleagues who do assessment.
Even when I look at dynamic assessment, I find that the view taken of the zone of proximal development in assessment literature is a lot more conservative than my own; it presupposes, as it must, a "right solution" rather than an open ended process.
I'm not saying I'm right and they're wrong; when I first came to Korea I was offered a testing position which I initially refused, and my wife persuaded me to take it with words to the effect that the moment she sat the college entrance exam was the last time in her life she was ever really treated in a nationality, gender and class neutral manner by anyone. It is easy to say that in this she was deluded, but the truth is that she passed, else we never would have met. 
Spolsky points out that the Regents and then the SATs were initially developed to try to keep (Eastern European) Jews out of good schools in the USA. The British, you know, simply banned them, but then they went and set up King's College London and so on. What could Americans do to make sure that those immigrants from the East did not snag all the good spots in school?
Not exactly a total success, was it? The same thing is happening with the use of English proficiency exams (e.g. for international TAships). They are really designed to keep out Asians (and in fact the New Zealand government actually ran a scheme where they allowed Chinese immigrants into the country "on spec" and forced them to pay 20,000 pounds if they couldn't pass a proficiency exam at the end of the year!). With the same kind of success, I'm pleased to say. Maybe even testing is subject to uneven and combined development and functional differentiation. I know that classrooms and minds are.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Thu, 12/11/08, Mike Cole <> wrote:

From: Mike Cole <>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Sumerian school pic
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
Date: Thursday, December 11, 2008, 6:38 AM

Its important to note that ideology of schooling/virtue/intelligence/class
that went with the first schools are ALSO
still with us today.

What school of education in the world studies schooling starting from the
empirical fact that formal schooling since its
origins (in the West at least, perhaps David K can fill us in on China,
Korea, ....) have been modes of state domination,
class exacerbation and exploitation and most crucially, that FAILURE IS A
FORMAL SCHOOLING.... it is not a mistake, negligence, etc.

The, and only then, can a disucssion of school "re-form" that
includes state
re-form and political economic re-form have
a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding. No school of ed i know of starts
from this germ cell.


On Thu, Dec 11, 2008 at 3:35 AM, Peter Smagorinsky <> wrote:

> Great stuff Andy, thanks for sharing. I used the attached picture from my
> Aunt Alice's Brooklyn elementary school classroom on the cover of The
> Discourse of Character Education. From the early 1920s.
> Peter, when I worked as Teaching Space Coordinator at
> Melbourne University, I collected the following set:
> from Sumeria to 1979, and for now:
> Andy
> Peter Smagorinsky wrote:
> > I first saw Mike use the Sumerian classroom slide a few years ago at
> > conference in Miami, and he has been kind enough to share it.
I've used
> it
> > several times to make the point that Mike originally made: that the
> > traditions of schooling run very deep. I used it at ISCAR, and the
> for
> > the talk included the observation that while desks are no longer made
> > stone and rarely are bolted to the floor anymore, they still tend to
> in
> > the same formation as they did 6,000 years ago. The irony: In the
> > classroom in which I gave the talk, the seats were indeed bolted to
> > floor.
> >
> > To give a sense of just how old the Sumerian classroom is, I put
> > the following. It still boggles my mind:
> >
> > In his consideration of the developmental consequences of education,
> > (2005) takes a cross-cultural and historical perspective that leads
> back
> > to the earliest classrooms of Indo-European civilization. Based on
> > arrangement of a Sumerian classroom from roughly 4,000 BCE, he
> that
> > the last 6,000 years have seen great continuity in educational
> in
> a
> > number of regards (see Figure 1.1; reprinted from Cole, 2005, p.
200). As
> > the photograph reveals, students sat in rows-here, fixed in
> stone-possibly
> > chiseling notes in a proto-cuneiform script and undoubtedly facing
> > teacher. This template, in spite of other developments in teaching
> practice,
> > has served to guide instruction in most Western educational settings
> > (at least) the Uruk period of Sumerian civilization through the
> > ________________________
> > Place Figure 1.1 about here
> > ________________________
> > This classroom was built toward the end of the Stone Age, as the
> Neolithic
> > Period was about to give way to the Bronze Age. Students occupied its
> seats
> > 1,400 years before the legendary King Gilgamesh is believed to have
> > the land; 2,300 years before Hammurabi founded the city of Babylon
> wrote
> > the first code of law; and 3,400 years before Nebuchadnezzar II is
> believed
> > to have built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It is as old as the
idea of
> > formal teaching and learning in the history of human social life.
> >
> > (this is from the first draft of a book chapter I'm developing,
so please
> > reference to this message if you borrow the phrasing)
> >
> > Sorry I forgot to attach this to message in response to Paul.
> > The earliest known classroom in the "western" world.
> > mike
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> >
> --
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden
<>+61 3 9380 9435
> Skype andy.blunden
> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
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