Wednesday, September 28, 2005

back to the individual mind

Reading Strauss and Quinn was a soothing experience to my mind because in the past readings I had been „tortured“ by the assertions that what is going on in the individual mind does not matter much. I can very well relate Strauss’ and Quinn’s central arguments both to my background in psychology and my personal experiences - meanings have a psychological dimension, motivation and emotions are part of and influence the individual’s schemas and interpretation plays a key role in cultural understanding.

When I first came to the United States in 1998, I certainly developed in idea of “what America is like” by interacting with my host family, teachers, friends and by watching TV and participating in a variety of activities from athletics to church. In Strauss’ and Quinn’s term one might say that my schemas were structured by the extrapersonal culture I was encountering. But my mind was not completely empty when I arrived in the United States. I compared (consciously or unconsciously) these experiences with the image I had of this country and also with life in my home country. By the end of the year, I had developed a rich picture of what I thought “America is like” and also, my interpretations of some behaviors observable in my country had changed. Seven years later and finally being back to live here, the situation is very different for me. My image of the United States has changed over the past six years and I also have different views about my own country. What I experience now is that the schemas I have in my mind impact my experiences. When e.g. I visited my host family two weeks ago and we went to my high school’s football game and the national anthem was played, I experienced this very differently from what I had experienced it six years ago – although the external culture in this case was to some extent the same. These and similar experiences make Strauss’ and Quinn’s theory so intuitively plausible to me: The meaning of culture I make is an individual one. At the football field, I did not share everybody’s experience as I had years ago, but also I did not communicate this difference. It seems to me that this existed in me only, shaped by my past experiences, my exposure to different cultural schemas, my values, goals and momentary thoughts.

The approach stimulated me to think about culturally responsive teaching (an issue that we will discuss in the class I have later on today). Assuming Strauss’ and Quinn’s position it would be very important to address these issues in multicultural classrooms. Students from different countries or different cultural backgrounds, even if born in the United States, might not have the same understanding of certain behaviors, objects or even beliefs and goals (although this is often assumed). This can lead to dysfunctional styles of communication in the classroom and might explain some of the tensions between students and between students and the teacher. Addressing this issue and sharing the different meanings students and teachers make, might create a more integrating classroom environment that fosters motivation and thus learning.

What very much irritated me about the book, however, was the emphasis that was placed on rewards and punishment in chapter 4. This to me seemed a step back to the age of behaviorism, but leaving out cognitivism in between. I have a very hard time to match these assertions with the more modern ideas of connectionism and the to me intuitively clear (as I wrote above) assumption that meaning exists in the individual mind. Was anybody else also irritated by this?


Blogger Alison said...

In reference to your last comment about chapter 4. Something about connectionism bothered me also but I haven't really been able to pinpoint it except that it just seems to be an oversimplification. How ironic is it that human minds create computers/technology, based on the human mind through theories about how the human mind works and then those in the social sciences borrow the ideas back to be applied to describing human learning? If this were an arguement...wouldn't it be a little too circular? Maybe it just goes back to the conditioning and borrowing in thought collectives? Anyone else have thoughts on this?

9:25 AM  
Blogger jmj said...

IB and Alison:

One thought I had while reading the text is the place of less inclusive theories in this field. It seems like each new theory we encounter requires a larger and larger "unit of measurement." Is it possible to still apply older theories if the researcher notes that they are not all inclusive or complete but can answer very particular questions?

10:43 AM  
Blogger gfp said...

I enjoyed your comments. I agree that I appreciated how S&Q "situated" individual response within a larger social context. I do think past experience can ask as motivation in the extent to which schemas get acted upon, but I also wonder about the simplicity of their discussion of motivation.

I was wondering, in Fleck's approach, would there be room for individual difference within the thought collective, and he was just focusing on the overarching schemas that prevailed? Probably not.

3:03 PM  

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