Parent Advice: “Papert on Piaget”

A lot of discussion has been taking place lately around whole-sale public K12 education school reform. The catalyst has been the new report out from the NCEE featured on Time magazines cover.

I noticed a comment by Gary Stager to a blog post of David Warlick’s in regard to this report. Stager encourages us to go back to put the report in context to what Seymour Papert has been writing and saying for a long time. This lead me to a short essay written by “Papert on Piaget.”

From the essay:

Piaget recognized that Julia’s answers, while not correct by any adult criterion, are not “incorrect” either. They are entirely sensible and coherent within the framework of the child’s way of knowing. Classifying them as “true or false” misses the point and shows a lack of respect for the child. What Piaget was after was a theory that could find in the wind dialogue coherence, ingenuity and the practice of a kind of explanatory principle (in this case, by referring to body actions, in other cases much harder to state) that stands young children in very good stead when they don’t yet know enough or have enough skill to handle the kind of explanation grown-ups prefer.

Piaget was not an educator and never enunciated rules about how to intervene in such situations. But his work strongly suggests that the automatic reaction of putting the child right may well be abusive. Practicing the art of making theories may be more valuable for children than achieving meteorological orthodoxy. And if their theories are always greeted by “nice try, but this is how it really is…” they might give up after a while on making theories. As Piaget put it: “Children have real understanding only of that which they invent themselves, and each time that we try to teach them something too quickly, we keep them from reinventing it themselves.”

As the father of a 6 and 4 year old and as an educator, I find myself constantly trying to “educate” my children about “the ways of the world”. I was the parent that immediately corrected my children and tried to tell them in “kid speak” what was “really going on” in the world. If we don’t allow our children at a young age to create and test hypothesis on their own, no wonder they don’t do it in middle and high school!!!

BTW – (I thought it was important to explain how I got to this understanding by explaining the path I took above because I think it helps to demonstrate the interconnectedness and access to informal learning communities that blogs and the blogosphere provides.)


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