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Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality

Something else I am working on brought me to the following material from
Greenfield and Bruner that seems relevant to the conversation. This is from
1966 article on culture and cognitive growth.
Moreover, Vygotsky was recruited as an ally by others engaged in
cross-cultural work in a deficit-oriented manner that particularly
concerned us. For example, Greenfield and Bruner (1966), interpreted their
results on the failure of unschooled Senegalese youth and adults to solve
Piagetian and other cognitive tasks in terms that explicitly evoked
Vygotsky and Luria:

*We may hazard a guess that school is operating on grouping operations
through the training embodied in the written language. But there is
something more here as well. The written language, as Vygotsky (1961)
points out, virtually forces remoteness of reference on the language user,
Consequently, he cannot use pointing as an aid, nor can he count on simply
labeling that depends upon the present context to make clear what one's
labor refers to. Writing, then, is training in the use of linguistic
contexts as independent of immediate reference. Thus, the embedding of a
label in a sentence structure indicates that it is less tied to its
situational context and more related to its linguistic context. The
implications of this fact for manipulability are great; linguistic contexts
can be turned upside down more easily than real ones; this linguistic,
independence of context produced by certain grammatical modes may favor
the' development of the more context-independent superordinate structure
manifested by the school children.* (1966, p.103-104)

They conclude their article as follows:

*It is here that the difference comes. If that intellectual training is not
forthcoming, if language is not freely employed in its pragmatic function
of guiding thought and action, then one finds forms of intellectual
functioning that are adequate for concrete tasks, but not so for matters
involving abstract conception. As Werner (1948) points out, “Development
among primitive people is characterized on the one hand by precocity and,
on the other, by a relatively early arrest of the process of intellectual
growth" (p. 27). The formulation is telling with respect to the difference
between school children and those who have not been to school. The latter
stabilize earlier and do not go on to new levels of operation. The same
"early arrest" characterizes the differences between "culturally deprived"
and other American children, (e.g. Deutsch, 1965).*

*In short, in this view, some environments " push" cognitive growth better,
earlier, and longer than others. What does not seem to happen is that
different cultures produce completely divergent and unrelated modes of
thought. The reason for this must be the constraint of our biological
heritages. That heritage makes it possible for man to reach a form of
intellectual maturity that is capable of elaborating a highly technical
society. Less demanding societies, less demanding intellectually, do not
produce so much symbolic imbedding and elaboration of first ways of looking
and thinking. Whether one wishes to " judge" these differences on some
universal human scale as favoring an intellectually more evolved man is a
matter of one's values. But however one judges, let it be clear that a
decision not to aid the intellectual maturation of those who live in less
technically developed societies can not be premised on the careless claim
that it makes little difference. If this article shows anything, it is that
it makes a huge difference to the intellectual life of a child simply that
he was in school.*
On Mon, Jul 2, 2012 at 12:28 PM, Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu> wrote:

> Martin, I think that your view on Olson is consistent with Nystrand's and
> Cazden's critiques. I have referenced Nystrand on this point many times,
> especially his 1986 book but also a shorter article version, whose abstract
> is available at http://wcx.sagepub.com/content/6/1/66.abstract. p
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
> Behalf Of Martin Packer
> Sent: Monday, July 02, 2012 3:15 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality
> Two thoughts about Olson's work. First, the research he reports that
> explored at what age children begin to differentiate what is *said* from
> what is *meant* is open, isn't it, to the classic objection that he has
> confounded age with years of schooling. Does anyone know of similar
> research with non-schooled kids?
> Second, Olson says that writing makes possible the separation between
> what's said (what's written) and what's meant, and this leads to a new
> level of consciousness. Seems to me that writing presents kids with the
> *problem* that these two levels become separated (where in speech they
> coincide), and that what schools can provide is the intellectual tools (the
> meta-vocabulary) to help solve this problem. The texts don't do it alone;
> what's necessary is adults helping kids figure out the texts.
> Martin
> On Jul 2, 2012, at 12:12 PM, Michael Glassman wrote:
> > Hmmm, I do love chapter six.  And as Peter suggests this is one of the
> biggest questions in the US right now, and Vygotsky has always seemed
> extraordinarily prescient to me - almost an avatar (not the video game
> avatar, the Hindu avatar). So this is an important issue.
> >
> > Michael
> >
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