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Re: [xmca] 1982 paper on schooling

I like this article Mike just posted - Focus on Women's Empowerment in Latin America Maternal Schooling and Health-Related Language and Literacy Skills in Rural Mexico

Here are some extracts that stand out for me. <Bracketed comments> are mine, the rest is quoted from the article. Interesting connections to recent discussions. I find doing this kind of summary helpful for me to absorb this kind of writing, so here goes.

<1. One of the measurements used in this study of rural Mexican women regarding how they responded to health interviews and information was to measure how they defined the meanings of common nouns in a noun definition task.>

Following Snow in her research with schoolchildren, we employed a noun definition task to assess women's decontextualized language skills. Women were asked the meaning of 10 simple nouns such as "knife," "thief," and "dog" with the question, "What is a ?" Their responses are scored on a continuum from highly contextualized to highly decontextualized. A contextualized definition of "thief" would be "One stole my television," while a decontextualized response would refer to abstract properties: "A person who steals from others." A highly contextualized description of "cat" might be to point to a cat in the room, while a decontextualized description would describe it in terms of its superordinate category membership ("a cat is an animal...") and specific properties ("that is domesticated, nocturnal, and has fur and whiskers").

<2. The noun definition task employed in this study is similar to aspects of Luria's study.>

The noun definition is the verbal equivalent of the object classification task that A. R. Luria used when investigating the reasoning strategies of Soviet peasants. Luria found that nonliterates with no schooling were more likely to classify objects according to function rather than superordinate category: a scythe would be grouped with wheat rather than with other tools, for example. Luria proposed that schooling and literacy promote classification systems that are abstracted from everyday life.

<3. Socioeconomic status tends to predict the length of answers to questions in a health interview.>

While the noun definition, listening comprehension, and reading comprehension scores were predicted by length of schooling, adult socioeconomic status is the only variable that predicts how much a woman speaks in an interview. Women with more socioeconomic resources, on average, gave longer responses than women with fewer resources, regardless of education level. We have not found evidence, then, that women learned this skill in school. It should be noted, however, that adult socioeconomic status explains only 25 percent of the variance in this measure, showing that at each level of socioeconomic status considerable variation exists in the length of responses.

<4. Schooling and literacy help women understand oral public health messages.>

The oral language skills effective for local, face-to-face communication, we argue, are not a sufficient foundation for the bureaucratic literacy required to understand public-health messages. In our study, the women able to provide the most decontextualized, impersonal definitions of common words were also, on average, the most skilled at understanding spoken health messages, and those with the greatest listening comprehension skills were best able to understand printed health information.

... we argue that the ability to understand public, bureaucratic language - spoken and written - requires an orientation to language emphasized in schools but not necessarily in other family and community settings.

<5. Women's literacy classes should expand oral language abilities, not just reading skills. This point seems relevant to some of Shirley's remarks the other day.>

... a major goal of women's literacy classes should be to expand oral language abilities. Not only will these skills serve as a foundation for literacy, but they also will give women greater access to the information provided by the increasingly ubiquitous radio and television.

<6. Just as this study relied, in part, on correlating the ability to define nouns in decontextualized ways with the ability to interact with public health systems, the ability to articulate and challenge the definitions of words is important in general, including in feminist consciousness.>

The act of defining words, however, is also a fundamental and powerful way of participating in the public sphere of meaning-making. A formal definition is an assertion that a word has a standardized-or shared- meaning that conveys not only one's own experience but also the experience of a collective, or an implied "we." Definitions are agreements about what words mean, and those agreements can be challenged. It is through the act of redefining words that new meanings can be created in the public sphere, and social change for women occurs, in part, when they successfully challenge the public definitions of words such as "marriage," "motherhood," "home," "work," "economy," "sexuality," "politics," and "equality." A critical feminist consciousness requires an ability to understand the way the world is currently defined and an ability to become an active participant in defining the public world.

- Steve

On Jun 27, 2010, at 3:10 PM, mike cole wrote:

Attached is a paper on years of schooling and the formality of definitions given by Mexican women. Part of a much larger set of papers but directly related to earlier paper by Snow and ulvi's dissertation topic. Not sure
where/how best to respond to Andy's note because i am unsure if people
regard it as peripheral or central to Vygotskian and other theories of
culture and development.

I see this "nouns" test as well as the paper with D'Andrade as relevant, but
also as leaving plenty of room for a study that uses the "everyday/
scientific" distinction and studies it as a function of years of schooling.


On Sat, Jun 26, 2010 at 9:02 AM, ulvi icil <ulvi.icil@gmail.com> wrote:

I am interested on the effect of schooling on concept formation, the
relationswhip between everyday and scientific concetps as a candidate
research topic for my master thesis that I will start to work October 2010
onwards !


2010/6/26, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>:

That article connects to several ongoing threads, Andy. But lets see if
others are interested before I directly comment.

Instead, I think that the cover of the current issue of the New Yorker magazine provides interesting food for thought one concepts and their representations. It is accessible from www.newyorker.com. Try to click
the cover and than use control+ (on a pc) to get a larger and larger
The different layers of meaning appear to move between the syntagmatic and
paradigmatic dimensions of meaning making. Besides,
its clever.

On Sat, Jun 26, 2010 at 6:38 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

I just had a read of Mike's 1982 paper with Roy D'Andrade on the
of schooling on concept formation:


Great paper!

It occurred to me that Luria is in agreement with many others that a hierarchical system of categories, a taxonomy, is the archetype of the
"abstract" concept. Luria's conception of how this relates to prior
forms of
concept (affective and concrete) is the main point of interest in the article, but I would like to question whether this taxonomical idea is
as the archetype of the "true" concept. The article claims that
practices ("true" or not) are archetypal school practices, and this is
interesting and different question.

An interesting counterpoint to this is Hegel's classification of 3
different components which he thinks must *all* be present in the
of a true concept:

The subject is (a) ascribed certain qualities; (b) seen as having having
certain place in a system of social practice; and (c) taken under its
as belonging to a certain living whole.

Further, I think (c) does not actually amount to the kind of Linnaean hierarchical family tree, but could also be interpreted like genre and archetype without the implied underlying totality. Also, there is all
much room for subsuming (c) under (a) as almost all of present-day
philosophy and natural science are wont to do.

Mike, you have done a lot of work on the role of this "taxonomical
activity" in and out of school. Davydov on the other hand, emphasises
(b) as
opposed to (a). It would be interesting to investigate concept- formation
this wider frame.


*Andy Blunden*
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/ <http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy/ ><

Videos: http://vimeo.com/user3478333/videos
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