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Re: [xmca] spontaneous concepts indeed

Thanks for your thoughts, Andy.  I hear a lot of James Gee's concept of
d/Discourse in your take on concepts as nearly but not simply discourse -
and that's intriguing.  Thanks also to Martin - I hope even more mca-ers
take up your suggestion to help answer my question!

-->As a complete and utter aside, what I like especially about Andy's
response is his use of *asterisks*: the following four terms are so marked:
*true concepts* - *institutions* - *adults* - and *Andy Blunden*!  I got a
real kick out of this, and it seems such a presentation of one's name is not
simply decorative.

Back to the topic now...I totally see the ambiguity in my last post, Andy.
I'll try to clarify:

I've been thinking about scientific concepts as particular means for higher
levels of thinking - not so much in that they are tied to
institutional/historical contexts - but rather that they have longer legs --
that they are more likely to 'travel' to new contexts, even imaginative
ones, as they are increasingly decontextualized from the setting(s) of their
initial encounter(s).  No doubt, formal, institutionally-situated learning
circumstances (can) provide deliberate, structured, and purposeful means for
concept analysis, in order to help learners:
extract generalizable features that make it amenable to application in
solving new problems in new contexts that share general properties. This
abstractability often serves as the instructional focus, with the concept
presented initially and illustrations of various applications provided
subsequently." (Peter Smagorinsky, book chapter preview, xmca: April 15).

Here's where I'm a bit hung up, though, especially within this particular
thread on home-/un-schooling.  I know it's a technical question, but what is
the consensus on the following circumstance: *when the decontextualization
of a concept occurs without the aid of formal, institutionalized instruction

   - Is this an illustration of high-level, deliberate spontaneous concepts?
   self-motivated (or self-mentored) scientific concept development?
   - Or, is my search for distinctions counterproductive, or perhaps
   misguided in my fusion of decontextualization with scientific concepts?
   - Might we say that Vygotsky thought that *decontextualization *begins
   pseudoconceptually through spontaneous concepts but needs scientific
   concepts to reach its full use-value (i.e., that decontextualization is the
   *thing* that moves, as concepts develop)?  Concept development as the
   process of decontextualization?

Like my colleague Jody, I've been marinating in these ideas for less than a
year and can say with certainty that all responses are appreciated!

Thanks for reading,


On Tue, Apr 26, 2011 at 9:29 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> Temple, there is a little ambiguity in your question. When you talk about
> "concepts developing" can I presume you mean "can a person learn/master a
> scientific concept ...". I presume you are not actually asking about the
> formation of concepts, i.e., their creation, as opposed to their
> transmission.
> I think Vygotsky took a scientific concept as an archetype (or paragon) of
> the true concept, and in the context of the early Soviet Union, most people
> would have taken the two as synonymous. But in general, *true concepts*
> arise in *institutions* of some kind. As I said to Anna Sfard, in my opinion
> a trrue concept is nearly synonymous to a discourse. (Not quite, because in
> my opinion, concept also includes the forms of social practice other than
> discourse.)
> So for example, "the Holy Trinity" is a true concept and obviously neither
> scientific nor spontaneous, and it arises through instruction in a Church
> institution.
> I think *adults *can acquire concepts in all sorts of activity, whether
> playing computer game or reading books, so long as their acquisition of the
> word is connected to participation in the relevant social practices. After
> all, I learnt everything I know about CHAT participating in xmca and
> reading.
> that's how I see it.
> Andy
> Martin Packer wrote:
>> Anthony, and Temple,
>> Mind, Culture and Activity has a special issue in preparation, guest
>> edited by Yrjö Engestrom and Annalisa Sannino, titled 'Concept formation in
>> the wild.' I know that some of the people who have sent in abstracts for
>> manuscripts to be considered for that issue are xmca members. Perhaps they
>> would like to take a shot at answering your question.
>> Martin
>> On Apr 26, 2011, at 6:24 AM, Temple wrote:
>>> I realize some time's gone by, but the question Jody's (Joanne's) post
>>> from last week raises for me is this:
>>> Can scientific concepts develop in non-structured learning settings?  I
>>> mean those other than schooling, team play, church, work, etc.  How about
>>> from being online a lot - just surfing, playing games, or reading blogs - or
>>> from spending one's time at the library or bookstore alone?
>>> It seems to me that such scenarios blur the lines between spontaneous and
>>> scientific situations, so to speak.  That is, they are natural, everyday
>>> activities that lend themselves to repetition and reflective thinking and
>>> naming, where the structure of the activity itself (as opposed to a more
>>> experienced mentor) spurs on one's reflection, generalization, and
>>> "scientification" of knowledge.
>>> The following statement from Jody's (post sent my thoughts in this
>>> direction:
>>>> In home schooling described by Holt, certain scientific concepts could
>>>> be learned by a child at home, driven by their loves and needs.
>>> Could someone point me specifically towards a richer discussion of the
>>> development of scientific concepts during one's everyday "alone time"?
>>> Thx,
>>> Anthony
>>> Sent from my iPhone
>>> On Apr 22, 2011, at 7:32 AM, Joanne Hyatt <jody.hyatt@gmail.com> wrote:
>>>> I'm only a grad student, but I'll risk a spontaneous response.
>>>> In 1991 I had no background in education other than my own experiences.
>>>> However, compelled by circumstance, I home schooled my fourth grader. My
>>>> main thought at the time was, "Even if he only reads at home for a year,
>>>> he'll be better off than attending the school he is destined to be
>>>> bussed
>>>> to." My pedagogy was inspired by John Holt's magazine "Unschooling", a
>>>> publication edited by Holt and filled with inspiring stories from
>>>> families
>>>> following Holt's theories.
>>>> I loved overseeing school at home, and my son and later my daughter
>>>> thrived
>>>> there. However, try as I might, it was exceptionally hard to shift or
>>>> impact
>>>> the approach my children took to schooling. They were already hopelessly
>>>> brainwashed by their few years of traditional schooling. While I hoped
>>>> they'd want to build a ham radio and communicate with 10-year-olds in
>>>> Australia, they'd see a workbook in the supermarket and ask me to buy it
>>>> for
>>>> them. Also, years later, when I became a 4th grade teacher, I found it
>>>> impossible to create at school the environment I strove to create in my
>>>> home.
>>>> Clark Aldrich, in the link Peter supplied, is a breath of fresh air, a
>>>> more
>>>> modern and insightful 'Holt'. He is spot on in his diagnosis of
>>>> traditional
>>>> schooling's failings and offers compelling reasons try a new approach at
>>>> home. However, to unschool properly, in my opinion, required a
>>>> tremendous
>>>> amount of work on the part of parents. Today, in my community, more and
>>>> more
>>>> parents are choosing to home school, mostly out of desperation and
>>>> frustration with the school systems, but they lack the time and energy
>>>> to
>>>> follow up on Aldrich's compelling implications of what might compromise
>>>> unschooling.
>>>> I just finished reading Vygotsky's Thinking and Speech. Admittedly a
>>>> novice,
>>>> as I read, I kept looking for more references to a child's learning from
>>>> their own experiences. Vygotsky's notion of scientific and everyday
>>>> concepts
>>>> seemed defined more by an instructional pedagogy than by content. He
>>>> seemed
>>>> to discount the idea that a child could develop an interest and pursue
>>>> it
>>>> successfully on their own.  He refers to formal schooling, as he knows
>>>> it,
>>>> as a given, an unchanging institution, and the trick is to figure out
>>>> how
>>>> children are developing there. The concept that many children might
>>>> learn
>>>> outside of such an institution in different ways was absent.  "Schools
>>>> are
>>>> teaching too many children too many things that don’t excite them and
>>>> have
>>>> no relevance to what they need or love... says Aldrich." In home
>>>> schooling
>>>> described by Holt, certain scientific concepts could be learned by a
>>>> child
>>>> at home, driven by their loves and needs.
>>>> It seems that today we are trying to reinvent the institution of formal
>>>> schooling; how would that affect both Vygotsky's teacher or expert in
>>>> the
>>>> ZPD as well as his distinction between scientific and everyday concepts?
>>>> On Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 6:04 AM, Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu>
>>>> wrote:
>>>>> http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2011/04/22/unschooling-homeschooling-
>>>>> without-the-school/?cxntfid=blogs_get_schooled_blog
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> --
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *Andy Blunden*
> Joint Editor MCA:
> http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g932564744
> Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
> Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
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