Another heightened emphasis of Philosophy Matters is critical thinking, and today I’m going to attempt to highlight that with some oldies and goodies such as education and ethics. I should first mention that critical thinking is one of the major cruxes of most branches of psychology. Some may wonder, “Hold on a minute, JustHeath, if psychology is a science, then shouldn’t all of it be based on critical thinking?” My response is simply, “Yes…it should.” I don’t want to delve too deeply into this particular point today, but let’s just say that some “pop psychology” or “parapsychology” may not quite fit the bill. Feel free to leave any comments or questions on this topic for consideration for future posts.
*GET ON WITH IT!*
Okay, I recently read an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education by former Under-Secretary of the United States Department of Education, Linus D. Wright (2012). This official from the Ronald Reagan administration posed the idea of eliminating American students’ senior year while starting education pre-preschool. He argued that this two-stage plan would be both revenue neutral (i.e., a fancy way of saying it wouldn’t cost any more money) and beneficial to many college freshmen who enter an institute of higher education ill-prepared at best. Innovation is a word that is often celebrated in the field of education, and if we merely are to equate novelty with innovation, then we have a winner with Wright. However, I believe it prudent to apply a bit of critical thinking (with a psychological basis) to his ideas before heralding in a PK-11 educational system in the country.
Is early-education good? You betcha…depending on how one defines education in that context. There’s been a debate raging for what seems like ages over whether schooling can take place outside of the schools or not. I think most people would agree that experience is fundamental to living the good life, but is experience the same thing as education? If so, is it equivalent to the type of education one receives in a brick-and-mortar building complete with special crosswalks? I don’t know the answer to those questions, so I’ll leave it for readers to consider. Regardless, I think that how one learns at an early age is often left out of the discussion. Jean Piaget, a self-proclaimed genetic epistemologist (i.e., he studied how knowledge was formed and what it meant), was a developmental psychologist who has become famous for deriving a scheme for cognitive development (Berger, 2003). I suspect many readers have heard of his four stages: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational (Piaget, 1964/2003). The proposed early-education programs would affect mostly children in the preoperational stage, and they would probably be successful for children if they catered to the abilities present during this stage of development. In other words, these programs would probably work if used to foster the growing awareness of symbolism and knowing what is real in the world; the children would need to be engaged in hands-on, interactive activities, and it’s possible that being confined in a classroom could potentially impede that type of learning. In fact, there have been several recent studies (Gray, 2012) that tend to support the idea that the rigid schooling environment most students suffer through actually stifle creativity…which is another factor needed for developmental progression. On that point, I recall several discussions throughout my many years of psychology, education, and counseling classes that often resulted in making a good case for postponing formal schooling a year or two.
Is most education complete prior to the twelfth grade as Wright insinuates? This question was the first that came to mind when I initially read the article, and I have to admit that I cannot yet fully comprehend how Wright came to his conclusion here. Wouldn’t this idea directly contradict his premise that the need for change is BECAUSE students aren’t prepared for college? I suppose his argument was that if children are taught at an earlier age then they would be prepared at an earlier one to go to college, but I remain unconvinced. Let’s assume for a moment that his reasoning is sound in the academic realm. What about psychosocial development? There are many extracurricular facets to high school, such as sports and peer groups, which are also important to one’s education to live the good life. Erik Erikson (1950/1966) was a psychologist who devised a popular theory of psychosocial development, and he believed that people essentially had to overcome a particular developmental crisis before advancing to the next stage. Seniors in high school are still trying to work through the Eriksonian identity crisis, and entering college earlier could potentially delay their progression through this stage of psychosocial development.
This topic becomes an ethical discussion because Wright’s argument can be summarized into the following question: is it fair to “take” from seniors in high school to give to three-year-olds without sufficient efficacy evidence? Please take our poll or leave some comments on the issue. Until next week, stay psyched up!
Berger, K. S. (2003). The developing person: Through childhood and adolescence (6th ed.).New York: Worth.
Erikson, E. H. (1966). Eight ages of man. International Journal of Psychiatry, 2, 281-307. (Original work published 1950)
Gray, P. (2012, September 17). As children’s freedom has declined, so has their creativity: New research suggests that American schoolchildren are becoming less creative [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201209/children-s-freedom-has-declined-so-has-their-creativity
Piaget, J. (2003). Development and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(Suppl.), S8-S18. (Original work published 1964)
Wright, L. D. (2012, October 14). School at age 3. No more 12th grade. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com