On March 16 I had the pleasure of attending a symposium at which four Japanese colleagues presented their work. They were visiting the East Side Institute and All Stars Project to learn more, after having participated in a workshop I led months earlier in Kobe Japan. On their last day of activities, they presented their ongoing research, which had as tool(-and-result) the Vygotskian-Newman-Holzman methodology of human development.
There were three student presentations. Natsumi Gunji shared her doctoral thesis research on sex education lessons in a high school setting psychology course. Masayoshi Shinhara’s topic was music education, particularly music outreach in kindergartens. Yuta Hori introduced the suicide prevention program he takes part in. Then came Professor Norifumi Arimoto’s “What and How Is the Development, Anyway? — Toward The Space For Obuchenie.” (His son, Keach Arimoto, was videographer and observer.)
Professor Arimoto’s presentation reported on a case study of rock band activity in a middle school. He began, however, with an excerpt (translated from the Japanese) from his review of my book, Vygotsky at Work and Play, that will appear in Cognitive Science, a publication of the Japanese Cognitive Science Society. I think what he says—about himself, his work, the “cognitive revolutions” he has lived through—and the questions the book raises for him are very thoughtful and important. And so I share his words with you.
From the end of 70s to the beginning of 80s, when I was a school boy I went in for the boom of microcomputers. A view of “human being as the information processing” came to the fore at the time. The perspective gave me the expectation and excitement and I remembered that I felt “HUMAN BEINGS CAN BE SIMULATED.” At my high school, I used to write various programs for a heavy-weight programmable calculator, consuming lots of silver rolls of a piezo-electric printer. I remember that I was fascinated by writing the program of the conditioning of an imaginary dog in the calculator that learn to give his pow for my feeding. This very perspective, “HUMAN MIND IS DATA PROCESSING.” was the first cognitive revolution to me.
The latter half of 80s, I was a junior in Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. I became a member of a lab by the merest chance and I unexpectedly read Luria and Vygotsky there. Not intentionally, but Prof. Tajima forced us to read them every week. Prof. Tajima introduced me to up-and-coming young researchers, and one of them was Dr. Moro at his 30’s, and I came in touch with new ideas called the Situation Theory. This perspective, “HUMAN MIND IS SITUATED IN SOCIO-CULTURAL-HISTORICAL ENVIRONMENT.” was the second cognitive revolution to me. I was charmed and addicted to do Epoche, suspending judgments about the existence, and re-interpret the world.
This book “Vygotsky at work and play” is the third cognitive revolution to me and might be to us all after a long time. This book and this cognitive revolution are characterized by the performance. This is not just for the understanding of the world but to change the relation between us and the world.
This book is not a tool to interpret the world. Rather, this is a guidebook to play with the world around us. Psychology has long been interpreting the world and human beings, however a goal of the studies should not be to describe it ,but to change it. With this book you will come to want to perform who you are not, within the very environments that create our growth. Finish losing courage at the school or work where you have to behave alone against the estimations that say “LOOK AT YOU! YOU FAILED TO DO SUCH A THING!” Remember we can create the developmental environment where people discover how to do what they do not know how to do. Those spaces might be filled with those words, “LOOK AT YOU! YOU DID IT!”
I have been interpreting but haven’t been performing. In these years I have left my lab and started to go to sites where people learn something and I try to perform with them. At classrooms, or activities after school, or some workshops for social education, these experiences make me understand that performing something together is creating something new collectively.
We have been supporting kids’ rock band at the middle school located in the remote small island of Kyushu. I had found that we were not just teaching them how to play instruments but creating our music play together. We supporters and children all were absorbed in playing with their very first instruments and making big sounds and tones of rock music. We supporters knew how to play guitars, keyboards and drums but NO ONE knew the right way to make them play rock musics. This was not the place for “teaching-for-learning”, but the environment for the collective activity of “teaching-and-learning”; obuchenie in Russian.
This book is best for reading with performing. Bring it inside of you, then you can try out with others. This would be a great guidebook to bring with you for your dialectical journey of performing and experiencing the world. Not just for researchers only but also fits best for practitioners. For example, Dr. Holzman’s workshop in Kobe is taking effects slowly but steadily and changing me and my lecture. I know a change is coming. Students and I could perform the psychological theory as two-minute play in the educational psychology lecture. We all were surprised to discover that we can perform we don’ t know how to do. Room 6201 has been changed to be a theater, a social place for creation. Students, future teachers, have come to understand the importance of creating and designing the environment for the collective activity. They may understand that teachers’ job to do is not just teaching but building the community of obuchenie (teaching-and-learning) which leads development for both children and teachers too.
I am closing this article by asking you these two big questions on this book.
Question one: What is the development?: “A head taller” implies the metaphor of the vertical development and learners’ observable change. The vertical development and the observable change are both what we are imposed in the school and what makes us feel so stifled. If the environment which we create for children was stifling, it is inconsistent with this concept. Then we should know what the development is. Should we develop? Should we become who we are not? Then how?
Question two: Is Teaching imposing existing values on learners?: The education, teaching and any kind of instructions impose existing cultural values on learners. For example, sex education places emphasis on safer sex practices. We know we have to make learners understand those values to live their lives safer and happier. However there might be a gap in the sense of values caused by a difference in generation and culture. Does the education impose values on learners? How can we share values not by force nor deceiving?