Contexts for Learning: Sociocultural Dynamics in Children's Development

By Ellice A. Forman; Norris Minick et al. | Go to book overview

as an equal "I" is to accept a shift from reciprocity to reversibility, an important step toward responsibility.

In the following examples, the 3+-year-old child from an earlier example takes responsibility for his actions and even takes on some of his teacher's functions. Following the exchange above when he collapsed with overassistance, he joined in a game where all sit in a circle with their feet in the center. The teacher acts frightened, exclaiming: "Oh dear, there's a boa constrictor!" She instructs the children to act frightened, whereupon this little boy adds, "We'd better hide!" heightening the atmosphere of mock terror that sets the scene for the actions to follow (Oh no, he's up to my toes; oh gee, he's up to my knees; oh my, he's up to my thighs . . . oh heck, he's up to my neck). In another game, all the children pretend to lie sleeping on the floor while the teacher steals into the rug area as a monster and scares them. After several repetitions, this little boy, pointing to himself, goes outside the rug area to become the teacher-as-monster. Thus he takes over her role in the game, going from reciprocity (the scared one to her scarer) to reversibility (the scarer to her scared one) in their roles. 7


Conclusion

The desire to move beyond participation to responsibility is in itself an act of resistance, a resistance to being dependent and controlled by another. The motivation cannot be mastery of the other's skill but to be the other by means of mastery of the skill. Language plays a crucial role, not just as a social sign system (e.g., shared referent labels and denotative meanings) or as the means to do things (e.g., organize activities, regulate others and oneself), but as a means to be a human subject -- that subject lying hidden in the syntax of cogito ergo sum who has been lost to linguistics and objectified as "experimental subject" in psychology. Only by reinstating subjectivity and its desires into our studies can we fully understand learning as an interactive process in the zone of proximal development. We then come to see how gradual, complex, and conflictual is the task of socially constructing an individual.


Notes

An earlier version of this material appeared in 1990 in The Quarterly Newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition 12( 4), 135-141.

1
"We see this [kind of behavior] in any adult, even in children. . . . It is a basic birthright of the human species . . . [with] adaptive value, . . . directly related neither to the individual's survival nor to reproduction. Instead, its raison d'etre is education, bringing up the young" ( Kaye, 1982, p. 68).
2
The smoothness may have its roots in Hegelian dialectics, albeit reinterpreted

-194-

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