THE PROVERB MOVES THE MIND: ABSTRACTION AND METAPHOR IN CHILDREN SIX-NINE
PASAMANICK, JUDITH R.
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This dissertation explores the development of abstract and metaphoric reasoning in 48 children, aged 6-9, engaged in informal discussions of proverbs. The single most important idea of this work is its methodology, a discursive form of social interaction which enables children to apply events in their own lives to the proverbs' base meanings, and thus to abstract them more effectively than traditional proverb tests allow.;The purposes of the study are to show that: (1) working-class black and middle-class white children can reason abstractly and metaphorically, comprehend and coin proverbs at an age earlier than reported in the literature; (2) this finding is methodologically-dependent, and (3) the discursive method has important implications for teaching, diagnosis, and evaluation.;Investigator-child interchange was analyzed to determine relationships between specific teaching strategies and child responses. Seven abstraction strategies and six abstractive processes were identified as the central forms of these responses. Guided theoretically by Vygotsky's views of dialectical development, pivotal stimulants to abstractive thought processes were described and coded.;The dialogues, studded with social and ethical issues evoked by proverbs, serve as both a reactive arena for streetwise children challenged by life-sized themes, and as a rehearsal ground for abstracting them. Methodological efforts are thus geared to demonstrating that speech and thinking happen socially and need to be dealt with ethnographically as social phenomena, not as data abstracted from real life.;The study finds: (1) 6- to 9-year-olds can reason abstractly and analogically, comprehend and generate metaphor by interpreting proverbs and using them appropriately when given ample opportunity to rehearse their ideas in stimulating interactional settings; (2) these settings encourage a dialectical exchange among concrete and abstract thinkers to the benefit of both, and sociolinguistic usage of a rich body of social knowledge; (3) peer-generated thought is a powerful stimulant to abstraction. In conjunction with the more cognitively complex teaching strategies, it produces the most abstractions and stimulates the most innovative forms of divergent thinking and "practical reasoning.".;The data and implications for teaching, diagnosis, and evaluation are discussed in light of previous negative findings which underestimate the competence of this population and from which the present study differs sharply in its theoretical and methodological postures.