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Home arrow Psychology arrow Understanding Educational Psychology: A Late Vygotskian, Spinozist Approach
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Schooling and Re/Production

Central to a cultural-historical psychology of education is the question of the relation between education and culture. With the emergence of sociocultural and situa- tive approaches in the early 1990s, awareness of the need to overcome dualisms between person and culture have led to a growing interest in conceptualizing and designing educational activities in terms of learning communities. Here, instruction involves the cultivation not of individual minds but of communities, where the focus is on practices rather than on bits of knowledge. However, implementation of this kind of environment has proven to be a challenging task for educators, who often experience difficulties having to build a genuine community while delivering a preestablished curriculum that transmits bits of knowledge. Contradictions also have emerged in research, where learning communities tend to be defined beginning at either the individual or the collective pole (Roth and Lee 2006), thus missing the dialectics between the two. In one version of activity theory, these dialectics have been captured in a triangular diagram where subjects, communities, and rules are seen as mediated by rules, cultural artifacts, and division of labor (Engestrom 1987). Yet precisely because of its apparent ready-made form of analysis—where the elements (e.g., subject, rules) and relations between elements (e.g. mediationi are given in advance—the dialectical nature of {teaching I learning} phenomena (Chap. 11) tends to be lost and the person-societal context opposition is reified.

In contrast to contemporary approaches that continue to treat culture as external ground against which educational practices can be modeled or assessed, the relation is internal for Vygotsky: there is no gap between culture and persons but rather their unity/identity. As persons participate in social relations, they participate in culture and history, if only because “culture is the product of man’s social life and his public activity” (Vygotsky 1993: 164). Thus, “the very formulation of the question of cultural development takes us directly into the social plane of development” (1993: 164). Individual and culture relate like fiber and thread (or thread and rope). It no longer makes sense to set the individual person against the cultural norms and knowledge, which somehow are transmitted to or internalized by learners as an “outcome” of social (teaching) situations. As we develop in detail in Chaps. 4 and 11,inthe social situation that the Russian term obucenie denotes, there are not two (or more) people, and then a social relation that mediates between the two. Rather, there is one whole {teaching I learning} event that manifests itself on the outside and inside of the person: as inter-intrasubjectivity. In line with the dialectical mate?rialist account of context given above, Vygotsky saw the importance of considering the {person | environment} as a dynamic, developing whole. Accordingly, there are not numbers of individuals that come together and form society by addition. Rather, society, existing in and through social relations, provides for cultural possibilities of individualization. Here, the social context or environment “is the source of development and not its setting” (Vygotsky 1994: 349).

When educational contexts are approached from the dialectical materialist perspective advanced here, that is, as historically determined and determining generative forces, the dualist epistemology that separates subjects from objects is abandoned. In place of the dichotomy we find, in line with the foundations spelled out in Chap. 1, a {subject | object} unit. School, as a learning context, then can be thought as a generative historical force that manifests itself in specific forms of subjectivity and objectivity just as Spinoza’s single substance manifests itself as thinking body and living body. We can then speak of societal contexts as processes of subjectification and objectification. This is so not because our theory decides this to be so but because labor, the production of our life conditions, is at the same time the production of ourselves: “as individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce” (Marx and Engels 1998: 37). Accordingly, to understand learning in a school context we need to understand the processes of objectification and subjectification that characterize it, which will also be an inquiry into the kind of objects and persons that schooling leads to. But, if schooling can be thought as a rope-producing and being constituted by the threads (a) {objective I subjective} facts (objects) and (b) {objective I subjective] persons (subjects)-we may as well ask, “What is the rope of which schooling is a thread?”[1] We address this first question in the following section, by reviewing some of the literature that has examined the historical origins and functions of schooling. This involves the re/production of inequality and hegemonic relations. Whereas such re/production has been noted in other disciplines (e.g. Bourdieu and Passeron 1979), educational psychologists — other than those with critical psychological bents—have not attended to the phenomenon. Even less have they tended to the real transformations required to overcome inequalities—whether they arise along the lines of gender, race, socioeconomic status, or other traditional divides. We then examine the objects and persons that schooling re/produces. We thus approach schooling both as societal product and as means of societal re/production.

  • [1] Such questions also are the consequence of a critical ethnographic take on schools and schooling(e.g. Varenne and McDermott 1998).
 
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