The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding
is a 1997 book on educational theory
Philosophy of education can refer to either the academic field of applied philosophy or to one of any educational philosophies that promote a specific type or vision of education, and/or which examine the definition, goals and meaning of education....
by Kieran Egan.
Criticism of previous education theories
Egan argues that much of educational theorizing pivots around three basic ideas of what the aim of education should be:
- to educate people in content that would give them a "privileged and rational view of reality." (Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...
). Here we find the ideas: reason and knowledge can provide a privileged access to the world; knowledge drives the student mind development; education is an epistemological process.
- to realize the right of every individual to pursue his own educational curriculum through self-discovery (Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...
). Here we also find the ideas that the student development drives knowledge and that education is a psychological process.
- to Socialize the child - to homogenize children and ensure that they can fulfill a useful role in society, according to its values and beliefs.
Egan argues in chapter one that, "these three ideas are mutually incompatible, and this is the primary cause of our long-continuing educational crisis"; the present educational program in much of the West attempts to integrate all three of these incompatible ideas, resulting in a failure to effectively achieve any of the three.
Following the natural mind development
Egan's proposed solution to the education problem which he identifies is to: let learning follow the natural way the human mind develops and understands. According to Egan, individuals proceed through five kinds of understanding:
- Somatic - (before language acquisition
Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive, produce and use words to understand and communicate. This capacity involves the picking up of diverse capacities including syntax, phonetics, and an extensive vocabulary. This language might be vocal as with...
) the physical abilities of one's own body are discovered; somatic understanding includes the communicating activity that precedes the development of language; as the child grows and learns language, this kind of understanding survives in the way children "model their overall social structure in play".
- Mythic - concepts are understood in terms of binary opposites (e.g. Tall/Short or Good/Evil), images, metaphor, and story-structure.
- Romantic - the limits of reality are discovered and rational thinking begins. Egan connects this stage with the desire to the limits of reality, an interest with the transcendent qualities in things, and "engagement with knowledge represented as a product of human emotions and intentions" (Egan, 1997, page 254)
- Philosophic - the discovery of principles which underlie patterns and limits found in data; ordering knowledge into coherent general schemes.
- Ironic - it involves the "mental flexibility to recognize how inadequately flexible are our minds, and the languages we use, to the world we try to represent in them"; it therefore includes the ability to consider alternative philosophic explanations.
"Drawing from an extensive study of cultural history
The term cultural history refers both to an academic discipline and to its subject matter.Cultural history, as a discipline, at least in its common definition since the 1970s, often combines the approaches of anthropology and history to look at popular cultural traditions and cultural...
and evolutionary history and the field of cognitive psychology and anthropology, Egan gives a detailed account of how these various forms of understanding have been created and distinguished in our cultural history".
Each stage includes a set of "cognitive tools", as Egan calls them, that enrich our understaning of reality. Egan suggests that recapitulating these stages is an alternative to the contradictions between the Platonic, Rousseauian and socialising goals of education.
Egan resists the suggestion that religious understanding could be a further last stage, arguing instead that religious explanations are examples of ironic understanding preserving a richly developed somatic understanding.
Connections with other authors
Egan's main influence comes from the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky
Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky was a Soviet psychologist, the founder of cultural-historical psychology, and the leader of the Vygotsky Circle.-Biography:...
. The idea of applying theory of recapitulation to education came from 19th century philosopher Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era....
, although Egan uses it in a very different way. Egan also uses educational ideas from William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....
and expresses regret that Wordworth's ideas, because they were expressed in poetry, are rarely considered today.
In popular culture
The same year the essay was published (1997), Italian comedian-satirist Daniele Luttazzi
Daniele Luttazzi , real name Daniele Fabbri, is an Italian theater actor, writer, satirist, illustrator and singer/songwriter. His stage name is a homage to musician and actor Lelio Luttazzi...
used Egan ideas for his character Prof. Fontecedro
in the popular TV show Mai dire gol
, aired on Italia 1
Italia 1 is an Italian commercial television channel on the Mediaset network. It is oriented especially at young people.Italia 1 was launched in January 1982 and, originally, was owned by Rusconi; after a few months, however, due to the aggressive dumping practices of Silvio Berlusconi's rival...
. Fontecedro was satirizing the inadequacies of Italian school system
A school is an institution designed for the teaching of students under the direction of teachers. Most countries have systems of formal education, which is commonly compulsory. In these systems, students progress through a series of schools...
, and the reforms proposed by Luigi Berlinguer, 1996-2000 Ministry of Education of Italy. Fontecedro' sketches brought Kieran' theory to extreme levels with surreal humor. The joke
A joke is a phrase or a paragraph with a humorous twist. It can be in many different forms, such as a question or short story. To achieve this end, jokes may employ irony, sarcasm, word play and other devices...
s were later published in the book Cosmico!
(1998, Mondadori, ISBN 88-04-46479-8), where the 5 stages mind development is also cited at pp. 45-47.