Section 3


Rockefeller University was originally a supportive home for LCHC in so many respects that it was very difficult to think about moving the laboratory to another location. However, there were institutional barriers to LCHC’s development which promoted the thought of moving, if a suitable location could be found.

One barrier was Rockefeller University’s hierarchical laboratory structure that allowed a tenured position to only one member of a unit (laboratory). This structure gave great power to the head of a laboratory and promoted efficiency for a well developed research program in which junior people would come bringing the latest in techniques and leave with prestigious recommendations to take jobs elsewhere. But in LCHC, where researchers had to invent new ways of doing things, not bring with them exciting new techniques to slot into a long standing research program, the hierarchical laboratory structure and revolving door policy for junior faculty undermined our efforts to create a system of distributed, equal collaboration.

It was also a problem for us that Rockefeller was an overwhelmingly male, Anglo Saxon academic community. The minority academic community in New York did not perceive it as friendly. This rendered the position of an Anglo head of a laboratory very problematic in terms of long-term training/research efforts where minorities were supposed to have an important and eventually guiding role. Charges of colonialism could not be effectively countered given these conditions.

These difficulties were compounded in 1978 when Joshua Lederberg became the president of the university. Lederberg made it very clear that the behavioral approach used by LCHC did not accord with his idea of basic research that would answer to medical problems. It is significant that when LCHC left Rockefeller University, Lederberg refused to replace it with another behaviorally oriented laboratory, thereby bringing the behavioral science group below critical mass. The following year, both William Estes and George Miller left the university, and neuroscience replaced behavioral science as an organizing concept. This biologizing trend was, of course, precisely the trend that had been signaled so clearly at the beginning of our work by the social response to Arthur Jensen. The fact that culture is a biological characteristic defining Homo sapiens had no foothold in science. Our mission was clearly unfilled.

UCSD, it appeared, would provide a more hospitable environment for pursuing the Lab’s research program. This idea was reinforced through conversations with Bud Mehan, who visited LCHC at Rockefeller University as part of the classroom discourse project on which he and Courtney Cazden collaborated (see Mehan 1979; Cazden 1986; Mehan and Cazden in press). Mehan suggested that LCHC move to UCSD and initiated conversations with high-level administrative officials about the possibility.


The Promise of UCSD

UCSD promised a way to create a critical mass of senior as well as junior scholars interested in issues of culture, cognitive development, and education from a variety of disciplinary and ethnic backgrounds. In addition, responding to changing demographics, especially in Southern California, LCHC was able to begin addressing issues regarding the Latinx population and education. The factors at UCSD that made it so attractive included:

  1. Third College, one of the thematically clustered arrangements for organizing student life at UCSD, which came into being in the mid-1960s. Now known as Thurgood Marshall College, Third College was known for its belief that education and social issues are inseparable. It described itself in the following terms, “[Third College] has a distinctive academic focus on understanding the diverse elements which effect societal change and development and the alleviation of contemporary social problems…From its inception, Third College has been dedicated to the establishment of a multiracial, multicultural academic community” (UCSD 1983 Catalog). The focus on multiculturalism offered by Third college, made UCSD an ideal venue for LCHC to begin including the study of the Latinx population as a natural complement to our previous focus on Black/White (hereafter, Anglo) comparisons. For more on the Third College Model, see Third College & CERRC: A University-Community System for Promoting Academic Excellence (Moll, Anderson, & Diaz, 1985).
  2. The Center for Human Information Processing (CHIP) (now The Center for Brain and Cognition) served as the umbrella organization for LCHC for many years. Led by George Mandler, it brought together a range of scholars such as Don Norman, David Rumelhart, Jean Mandler, Roy D’Andrade and others whose interests and expertise provided a strong founding in studies of human cognition and its development. CHIP overlapped substantially with the Psychology Department, which was Cole’s home department.
  3. The Communication Program, located in Third College, was an interdisciplinary academic unit that seemed to be a perfect way to pursue LCHC’s agenda. It described itself as, “an interdisciplinary effort, drawing upon the strengths of the social sciences such as anthropology, linguistics, political science, psychology and sociology. In their courses, communications students will master theories, concepts, and methods for dealing with the study of interaction at the political, societal, group, and individual levels” (UCSD Catalogue). Not only did this formulation fit the goals of LCHC, but the shortage of permanent faculty in the Communication Program in 1978 made it possible to envision hiring faculty who would implement Third College’s stated goals in manner consistent with LCHC’s mission. Communication, which became a formal department in 1982, was and remains central to the resources of LCHC at UCSD, it and came to play an important role in later research projects (read more here).
  4. The Teacher Education Program (see UCSD’s Department of Education Studies), also located in Third College, was directed by Bud Mehan. In addition to his role as the central player in organizing the move of LCHC to UCSD, Bud also provided his expertise as a sociologist interested in teaching, learning, testing and schooling. Additionally, he put us in touch with teachers interested in collaborating on research in their classrooms and educated us in the ways of analysis of behavior in situ. Despite a period of readjustment on all sides, LCHC quickly began to function again before classes began in the fall of 1978. The active assistance of Bud Mehan and his colleagues in the Teacher Education Program who were members of the Lab and helped get us up on our feet.

The Socio-historical Context: 1978-1984

The years between 1978 and 1984 saw a distinct shift in public policy related to the core concerns of the Lab. The civil rights legislation that took place in the 1960s still played an important role in public policy. It reflected, for example, an equity oriented National Institute of Education that began to function in the early 1970s. This ongoing national movement meant that in addition to whatever its scientific merit might be, the work of the Lab fit the agenda of key government funding agencies as well as major philanthropic foundations. But even as the Lab began its move to California, the tide was visibly changing. In 1979, the Institute of Education was merged into a Department of Education, and when Ronald Regan became president in 1981, a conservative agenda settled on the National scene.

LCHC felt the chill coming when it was denied renewal of its training grant that allowed minority group scholars to acquire the tools to conduct research on issues of vital concern to them despite the presence of a diverse and experienced faculty. Within the academic arena, however, our ideas increasingly appeared to attract the attention of people who shared our intellectual and social concerns. Initially, the changing socio-historical context seemed to have little effect on the momentum of our research because the support we needed was already in the pipeline. Eventually, however, the changing national and international environments made themselves felt, for better and for worse.

The chill began to manifest itself with far greater force in 1984, when Ronald Regan was re-elected in a landslide. Given a second term, the flow of resources for work on social class and ethnic economic inequality in relation to educational achievement dried up. The previous year, the President had used the phrase “evil empire” to characterize the Soviet Union. LCHC, a research program that had gained attention for bringing the work of Soviet psychologists into the halls of American academia and which pursued a research program directed at the role of social sciences in contributing to social inequalities clearly fell from favor. This prompted a significant reorganization of LCHC, its activities, and its network of collaborating scholars.

The chapters in this section of our narrative are as follows:

Chapter 6: Building on the Rockefeller Legacy focuses on research projects arising from work begun at Rockefeller University. The first two involve the study of ethnic diversity, one with respect to bilingual reading instruction, the second a naturalistic study of literacy in the home, the neighborhood, and the preschool. The second line of research focused on the problem of ecological validity by embedding cognitive tasks in an elementary school curriculum. The chapter ends with a description of the Lab’s earliest attempts at creating activities to promote reading among struggling elementary school children.

Chapter 7: LCHC Encounters Personal Computers and Computer-Mediated Communication recounts the Lab’s initiation into the use of microcomputers as a medium of learning and instruction, both in face-to-face interactions and through the use of the then-novel communicative potential that accompanied the new, digital, technology.

Chapter 8: Updating the Theoretical Foundations is a discussion of the new theoretical ideas that we began to entertain as we sought to theorize the organization of children’s activities in instructional settings.


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Forward to Chapter Six

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