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RE: [xmca] Play and the Owl of Minerva: Skepticism Toward Learning Theory


As a mathematics educator, I enjoyed your anecdote about the
arrangements your created with the 3 grade 6 girls, though I have no
clue as to what was leveraged mathematically through these arrangements.
The fact that the intervention was so energizing and successful points
to a dilemma for pedagogical theory--one that isn't much acknowledged.
Often one finds accounts in the literature of "successful"
interventions--interventions that are dynamic and successful, and that
result in demonstrable quantitative gains beyond some expected norm.
Almost always such interventions are justified by elaborate reference to
theories of learning. However, often the nature of the intervention also
upsets established classroom practices, creating the possibility that
the fine results accrue to dynamics of social location and subject
position within the institutional frame rather than to cognitive aspects
of the curriculum, as assumed by the researchers.

This alternative explanation of the results tends to play out for me as
a general skepticism toward research that provides empirical support for
learning theory based on quantitative improvement of learning through
instruction. I see my skepticism as symptomatic of problems and
divisions within the world of educational scholarship. In my department
(within a College of Education) there is a rather definite split between
those who are dismissive of psychological theory and research,
attributing learning (or its absence) to dynamics of social position and
institutional relatedness, and those who adhere to some form of
cognitive or behavioral explanation. (Fortunately, relations in the
department are friendly.) My own interests do not permit me to be
comfortable on either side of this divide. In fact, I'm downright
uncomfortable with my experience of so much empirical research on
teaching and learning as inconclusive.

I wonder if others on the list struggle with a similar skepticism?


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]
On Behalf Of Larry Purss
Sent: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 10:05 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Play and the Owl of Minerva

I agree with your analysis that play is  an essential part of the lives
of all of us. Society constrains our playful activity by imposing
abstract rules and frames our imagination into serious cultural pursuits
as actors learn their place . Mead points out games is the activity
where we practice taking these positions.  What I'm wondering about is
if we can create institutional structures where the rigid actor
positions are more flexible and novel and game like. 
An example from my work to explain this. The institution is a school and
I'm in a position to structure the frame for activity. I was talking to
3 grade 6 girls. My position was teacher and their position was
student/learner. If we stayed within this structure then it was familiar
and predictable (David's text) their  was no TENSION, no risk no
novelty, and predictable roles. (not playful)
However, the girls took a risk and shared with each other that they did
not know their multiplication tables. They felt safe enough to not focus
on self presentation (Goffman) and risked
 trusting their vulnerability with each other (within an institutional
frame which I helped structure)
I explained that the reason they were struggling to learn their times
tables was because they were trying to learn all the facts at once and
the trick was to learn only the 3x tables before moving onto the 4x
tables (scaffolding) [I'm still operating within traditional
teacher/learner patterns]
My next step was to ask each girl to learn and memorize just 3 facts
(3x3 3x4 3x5 for girl A)  (3x5 3x6 3x7 for girl B) (3x8 3x9 for girl C)
After each girl had mastered her facts I introduced a novel activity.
I wrote the same math division question on the board for each girl to
do. My explicit instructions were to ask if each girl would be willing
to learn from the other two when she got stuck on a math fact. I then
asked if each girl was also willing to be a teacher when one of the
other girls got stuck. This is Mead's notion of play as EXCHANGING
positions (like in peek a boo or hide-and-seek)
Martin, this is where I share your idea that  the division between play
and work is because. of institutional structures and social
representations and not developmental moving beyond play.
The result of my re-framing the possibility for flexible position
exchange was TRANSFORMATIVE. The process took on energy and fluidity as
the girls started tentatively asking each other for help, then became
more animated as they jumped into each others thinking and learning and
teaching in a FLUID PROCESS where the position exchange was rapid
playful,and INTERSUBJECTIVE.  When this process was liberated I was
reminded of the students in the playworld article.
I'm not sure what theories to draw on to explain what happened but it
sure made me wonder about the artificate-ticity of our current
arrangements of work and play.
----- Original Message -----
From: Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>
Date: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 4:37 pmd no r
Subject: Re: [xmca] Play and the Owl of Minerva
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>

> Some years ago Brian Vandenberg was writing about play not as 
> something that only children do, but as an essential part of the 
> lives of all of us. I'm reconstructing a memory from long ago 
> (but Google Scholar shows lots of his writing), but what I 
> recall was his observation that adult society is a system of 
> abstract rules and imaginary situations that we have all 
> forgotten are imaginary and abstract. It often takes children, 
> in fact , to enable us to recognize that 'the coin of the realm" 
> is not "really money," it is in fact merely a piece of metal. 
> Adult play, of course, is less gratuitous difficulty and guile-
> less deceit than it is mandatory toil and sly chicanery, and 
> that's why we have forgotten how not to take it seriously, but 
> as any card-carrying existentialist will tell you, it's all just 
> a game.
> martin
> On Mar 16, 2010, at 6:22 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
> > Andy:
> >  
> > Carol modestly writes to me off line to point out the 
> mysterious fact that when children are offered a way out of 
> "childishness" (e.g. the opportunity to stop playing and instead 
> go and clean up their rooms or help Dad with the dishes or do 
> homework) they not infrequently and sometimes even 
> unceremoniously decline.
> >  
> > She also, even more usefully, points out that in ANY game, the 
> starting motivation is quite different, and even antithetical, 
> to the motivation which has us continue. So for example if an 
> expert backgammon player offers to teach you the game, you do 
> not accept with the expectation that you will win, but winning 
> is a possiblity which emerges as you continue to play.
> >  
> > So too with abstract rules and imaginary situations; that is, 
> with gratuitous difficulty and with guile-less deceit. Last 
> night in my seminar we explored a large number of games (chess, 
> rock-paper-scissors, snakes and ladders, etc.) which not only 
> BEGIN with some kind of war or struggle or epic journey scenario 
> but are STILL actually presented that way (by casting roles and 
> alternating turns and so on). 
> >  
> > One of my grads tried to find the point at which a story 
> definitively passes over into a game, and I said it was a little 
> like trying to find the point where talk definitively passes 
> over into talk. It is there, but we always find texts in talk, 
> and talk in texts, no matter which side of the divide we may 
> find ourselves on. 
> >  
> > Wittgenstein claimed that there is no overt over-arching and 
> external trait between games (e.g. a common functional "motive" 
> or a "goal"). When we read Vygotsky's play lectures, we find TWO 
> common points: viz. gratuitous difficulty and guile-less deceit, 
> the abstract rule and the imaginary situation.
> >  
> > But one is always hidden when the other is abroad. After all, 
> Wittgenstein's argument was only that there is no CLEARLY 
> VISIBLE over-arching trait. And Vygotsky's reply is that if the 
> essence of things were visible on the surface, as overt motive, 
> or aim, or goal, why then no scientific explanation would ever 
> be required for anything. His explanation of play is not an 
> empiricist-functionalist but a historical, genetically, 
> deterministic one, and the owl of Minerva flies only at nightfall.
> >  
> > David Kellogg
> > Seoul National University of Education  
> >  
> > 
> > 
> > --- On Mon, 3/15/10, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
> > 
> > 
> > From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
> > Subject: Re: [xmca] Dialects of Development- Sameroff
> > To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
> > Date: Monday, March 15, 2010, 5:33 PM
> > 
> > 
> > Way out of my depth in discussing play, but here is my take 
> > on "what is the motivation for play?"
> > 
> > I don't think we can or want to ascribe a motivation for 
> > participating in play *in general*. I.e., the question of 
> > "why does a child play?" cannot sensibly be answered by the 
> > child. But this still leaves the question of the motivation 
> > for any particular play activity: what is it that is 
> > motivating a child when they play?
> > 
> > It seems to me that every action a child takes can be 
> > explicable in terms of its being part of a project, and the 
> > "Why are you doing that?" question gets the same kind of 
> > answer as it would for an adult at work.
> > 
> > A different kind of explanation is required for why a child 
> > is drawn to participate in what is after all an "imaginary" 
> > project, then gun does not fire bullets, the money is not 
> > coin of the realm, etc. I think in answering the question at 
> > that level we look at problems the child faces in being 
> > exlcuded from the real world and their attempts to overcome 
> > that. I don't know. But from the beginning a child it trying 
> > to extricate themselves from the trap of childishness.
> > 
> > Andy
> > 
> > mike cole wrote:
> >> Your helixes/helices seemed appropriate to the discussion, Martin.
> >> XXX-history is cultural-historical genesis. And, as Steve 
> suggested,>> the twisted rope of many strands may be at the end 
> of the rainbow of
> >> promises.
> >> 
> >> I have been pondering David Ke's question about the
> >> object/objective/motivation for play. It came together in my 
> thinking with
> >> Yrjo's metaphor of being always "just over the horizon" and 
> its dual
> >> material and ideal nature, most recently mentioned by Wolf-
> Michael. Might it
> >> be the dream of being coordinated with a world entirely 
> consistent with
> >> one's own dreams? A world, extending, as Leslie White put it, 
> that extends
> >> from infinity to infinity, in both directions?
> >> 
> >> probably not, just wondering.
> >> mike
> >> 
> >> 
> >> On Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 2:55 PM, Martin Packer 
> <packer@duq.edu> wrote:
> >> 
> >>> Larry,
> >>> 
> >>> I didn't mean to detract from the discussion with my playful 
> helices. I
> >>> haven't found time yet to read Sameroff's article, so I 
> don't know if he is
> >>> proposing that there is an antimony between nature and 
> nurture in human
> >>> development, or in our *conceptions* of development. I took 
> Mike to be
> >>> suggesting, in his recent message, that when we pay 
> attention to culture we
> >>> can transcend that antimony, since culture is a 'second 
> nature' that
> >>> provides nurture, and since culture is the medium in which 
> human brains and
> >>> bodies grow, and since all nurture offered to the growing 
> child is mediated
> >>> by culture, and since culture has been transforming human 
> nature throughout
> >>> anthropogenesis through its selective evolutionary pressures.
> >>> 
> >>> Eric, yes, I should have added phylogenesis, not just 
> biological evolution.
> >>> What then is the "XX-genesis" term for history?
> >>> 
> >>> Martin
> >>> 
> >>> On Mar 14, 2010, at 9:55 PM, Larry Purss wrote:
> >>> 
> >>>> It seems the double or triple helix is a significant way of 
> trying to
> >>> configure dynamic processes.  However, what the 
> particular specific double
> >>> helix referred to in the article is pointing to is a very 
> specific tension
> >>> BETWEEN two specific constructs "Nature" and 
> "nurture".  The current debates
> >>> raging about neuroscience on the one side and the tension 
> with relational
> >>> notions of development on the other hand (ie the
> >>> self-other-object/representation triangle) suggest a 
> dialectical tension
> >>> which the article says may be INHERENT to development.  
> To me this is asking
> >>> a question about how the mind constructs significant social 
> representations.>>>   What is specific about this 
> particular double helix is the HISTORICAL
> >>> salience of this SPECIFIC ANTIMONY through centuries of 
> dialogue and theory.
> >>> My question is "Is there significance to the extended 
> duration of this
> >>> specific antimony through centuries. Does this historical 
> engagement with
> >>> the specific notions of nature and nurture have relevance 
> for CHAT
> >>> discussions.  This is not to say other double or triple 
> helix models may not
> >>> have more explanatory power but that is not the specific 
> question asked in
> >>> the article. The question being asked specifically is if 
> this specific
> >>> nature/nurture antinomy is inherent to the notion of 
> development? Other
> >>> double or triple helix's could be conceptualized within the 
> nature/nurture>>> antinomy but the question I believe is being 
> asked is how relevant a
> >>> dialectical (or alternatively dialogically) nature/nurture 
> antinomy is to
> >>> our primary (ontological??) notions of Development as a social
> >>> representation.
> >>>> When I read the article, it seemed to capture the tension 
> we are
> >>> exploring about the place of neuroscience in our theories of 
> development.>>> For some scholars one side or the other side is 
> in ascendence and
> >>> historically one side or the other is in ascendence. What 
> the article is
> >>> asking is if we must "INTEGRATE" what is often seen as in 
> opposition and
> >>> realize nature/nurture is in a figure/ground type of 
> relational pattern
> >>> (like the ying/yang visual representation) and the movement 
> BETWEEN the two
> >>> positions is basic to development.
> >>>> Do others have thoughts on the specific question Arnie has 
> asked in his
> >>> article about the historical dynamic of the nature/nurture 
> antinomy in
> >>> developmental theories as well as in ontological and 
> cultural historical
> >>> development. This question speaks to me about the possible 
> relevance of
> >>> Moscovici's theory of social representations.
> >>>> One alternative answer is to generate other double or 
> triple helix models
> >>> which may become social representations over time as they 
> are debated in a
> >>> community of inquiry but the article as written is pointing 
> to a very
> >>> salient social representation within our Western tradition. 
> Does that
> >>> recognition of its historical roots change how we view this 
> particular>>> antinomy?
> >>>> Larry
> >>>> 
> >>>> ----- Original Message -----
> >>>> From: Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>
> >>>> Date: Sunday, March 14, 2010 4:59 pm
> >>>> Subject: Re: [xmca] Dialects of Development- Sameroff
> >>>> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
> >>>> 
> >>>>> That's right, Steve, though I'm pretty sure I didn't see this
> >>>>> title until after I made the diagram. And of course 
> Lewontin is
> >>>>> referring to different factors. And, also, of course, collagen
> >>>>> actually does have a triple-helix structure, which Francis Crick
> >>>>> thought was more interesting than the double helix of DNA, but
> >>>>> which got very little attention.
> >>>>> 
> >>>>> Martin
> >>>>> 
> >>>>> 
> >>>>> On Mar 14, 2010, at 7:53 PM, Steve Gabosch wrote:
> >>>>> 
> >>>>>> On the triple helix metaphor:  Richard Lewontin used it
> >>>>> in the title of his 1998/2000 collection of essays _The Triple
> >>>>> Helix: Gene, Organism and Environment_.  His core theme
> >>>>> regarding biological development is that solely 
> considering the
> >>>>> interaction between gene and organism makes for bad
> >>>>> biology.   The environment has decisive 
> influence as well.
> >>>>>> - Steve
> >>>>>> 
> >>>>>> 
> >>>>>> On Mar 14, 2010, at 10:20 AM, Martin Packer wrote:
> >>>>>> 
> >>>>>>> On Mar 14, 2010, at 1:04 PM, Larry Purss wrote:
> >>>>>>> 
> >>>>>>>> What do others think of the double helix (and/or the other
> >>>>> visual images in the article). How central is the double helix
> >>>>> (either as an "is Like" or "IS" objectification) to your notions
> >>>>> of the human sciences?
> >>>>>>>> Larry
> >>>>>>>> 
> >>>>>>> ...and I am pretty sure I stole, I mean appropriated, this
> >>>>> from someone; I've forgotten who...
> >>>>>>> <PastedGraphic-2.pdf>
> >>>>>>> _______________________________________________
> >>>>>>> xmca mailing list
> >>>>>>> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
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> >>>>>> _______________________________________________
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> > 
> > -- 
> > ---------------------------------------------------------------
> ---------
> > Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
> > Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, 
> > Ilyenkov $20 ea
> > 
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