Learning in schools: a dialectical materialistic, cultural- historical activity- theoretic perspective
The individual chapter contributions to this book specifically – and therefore this book as a whole – deal with knowing, learning and teaching in science and mathematics classrooms. The major threads include: (a) the construction of knowledge; (b) guidance in classrooms; (c) dialogue and argumentation; and (d) methods for studying key components of knowing and learning in (science, mathematics) classrooms. Some of the additional specific theoretical concepts used include meaning, activity, intersubjectivity, actions, and the temporal scales of development (microgenetic, ontogenetic and sociogenetic). This rapid overview already provides an indication of the complexity and breadth of educational research on knowing and learning in schools in general and in science and mathematics more specifically. The studies assembled in the foregoing chapters cover considerable terrain, often from competing perspectives, which makes it somewhat impossible to integrate them into one consistent statement. The purpose of this chapter is to survey – from a dialectical-materialist, cultural-historical activitytheoretical perspective and in a necessarily sketchy way – some of the terrain covered by the contributors and some of the blind spots that have been left uncovered. In so doing, I am aware that I myself am subject to taking a position, which, coming with its dispositions, suppositions, and presuppositions, comes with its particular perspective, blind spots, and propositions. Doing a critical, integrative review of a diverse set of chapters is no small feat indeed. Because all observation is theory-laden, any honest review articulates the theoretical underpinnings or describes (by way of example) its way(s) of viewing the world. For it is one of the great dangers in, of and for educational research to use unarticulated knowledge and familiarity with the school situation in the interpretation of data sources. This unarticulated knowledge, as all knowledge, is ideological and cannot be separated from its societal-hierarchical relations (Bakhtine 1977). The opening quotation is especially relevant: (a) All human activity is mediated by its place and function in society, and (b) heretofore education and educational research has focused on structural rather than cultural (agential) aspects. Omitting societal mediation and focusing on structural aspects of
learning comes with pitfalls: it leaves out essential moments – i.e. constitutive and irreducible components – of cognition. Thus, to address the danger of using unarticulated knowledge in the interpretation of data, I like to make explicit what allows me to hear and see events that I have no other information about than the videotape or transcript. I focus on conversations because independent of their particular topic, the chapters either analyse language or presuppose that language is used to make available such things as concepts, ideas or positions. As analyst, everything that I can support claiming therefore has to be available in the data sources themselves, or I do not allow myself to use it in explaining what is happening. Taking nothing for granted is an approach that leads us to first principles, for example, of the very possibility to ‘have’ conceptions (Tiberghien, Hoppe, Asterhan, Saxe), misconceptions (e.g., Michaels, Asterhan), preconceptions (Howe), or ‘mathematically correct conception’ (Nathan).