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[xmca] Dexter et al on schooling

'nother good paper, Mike.

What I gatherered was that modernity is a society of decontextualised communication, and that formal schooling inducts people into this kind of activity.

So reading "Mary threw a stick. Fido chased it," makes no sense to someone who doesn't know anyone called Mary or a dog called Fido, etc., until they have been accustomed to this kind of decontextualised and impersonal communication. Hearing a radio broadcast of "Boiling baby's water kills germs," is an experience of the same kind. It would be unlikely to be trusted or understood by an unschooled person.

So learning to read and write is not just about written speech as opposed to verbal speech. Teacher getting the class to chant a list of food types is just as much decontextualised communication as reading about Mary and Fido. Interestingly the writers say it is "not surprising" that reading ability to not well correlated to schooling, though understanding decpontexualised verbal communication is!

And nor is the development of "conscious awarenss" implied in writing an issue for these writers. It is decontextualised and impersonal communication - an essential skill for living in the modern world, but also a contributor to the ills of modernity.

Very interesting.

mike cole wrote:
Cool summary of the article, Steve.
A variety of issues ensue, but which are of interest to people?


On Sun, Jun 27, 2010 at 4:21 PM, Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch@me.com> wrote:

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

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

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

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,
also as leaving plenty of room for a study that uses the "everyday/
scientific" distinction and studies it as a function of years of


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
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
paradigmatic dimensions of meaning making. Besides,
its clever.

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

 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


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


this wider frame.



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


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