In case it interests someone, here's a thumbnail description sent me by a
friend in Vancouver, Peter Herd, of The Eductated Mind, a recent book by
Kieran Egan (posted by Jamie MacKinnon)
Lately, I've been having trouble understanding academic writing AND
remembering the arguments, particularly when most of my reading is
done late at night after brain shut-off or during the day while I'm often
interrupted. With that caveat in mind, here is a superficial summary
(oooh! I wish I could remember the good parts) of:
The Educated Mind - How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding
by Kieran Egan, SFU education prof.
The problem with current education practice is that it is influenced by 3
1. socialization - the initiation of the young into the knowledge, skills,
and values of society
2. the search for the truth about reality - Plato's influence, abstract
knowledge, rational thought
3. the development of the individual (Rousseau) - discovery learning,
drawing on students' experiences
Egan has developed an idea (based on the recapitulation theories of the
19th century, Vygotsky, et al) that connects past cultural development
with contemporary educational development.
There are 5 stages of understanding that people go through as they
develop. Egan calls them mythic, romantic, philosphic, ironic, and
somatic. Stages are added to, not replaced.
1. Mythic understanding
-occurs in conjunction with oral language development
-characterized by binary structures common in myths (good-evil...). Note
that oppositions are a product of our thinking, not the phenomena.
-can be developed through the use of fantasy, metaphor (kids' language
rich in metaphor), rhythm, narrative, images
Even with young kids, we can approach the big questions (history,
society...) through imaginative story-telling. It's not necessary to draw
on their personal experiences (current curriculum theory)
2. Romantic understanding
-occurs in conjunction with written language, beginning of "reason"
-some magic is lost - literacy leads to literal interpretations
-between ages 5 & 10, magic becomes questioned (Santa Claus)
-binary opposites become gradations (hot/cold...add warm, cool...)
-kids are attracted to narrative story-telling, heroes, Guiness Book of
-Examining the exciting elements of events and issues can provide a
context for more detailed, broader examination later
-Romantic understanding is lively and energetic - less concerned with
systematic structures than with unexpected connections
3. Philosophic understanding
-central feature is systematic theoretical thinking and a belief that
truth can be expressed in its terms
-not just a theoretical pursuit or mental game - philosphic ideas can be
translated into political and social action through organizations and,
increasingly, by spreading them electronically
-beware of generalizations - the lure of absolute truth
4. Ironic understanding
-irony is a powerful rhetorical tool used for effect, not just disguising
what might be better stated literally
-ironic understanding is reflexive - it enables us to apply the questions
and doubts we have about others to our own sense making.
-"ironic understanding requires expanding our sympathies and
to those who seem unlike us."
5. Somatic understanding
-preceding and a part of every kind of understanding but separate from
language and conceptual components of the others
-connected to behaviour, physical development, body language, survival
"Our initial understanding...is Somatic; then we develop language and a
socialized identity, then writing and print, then abstract, theoretic
forms of expressing general truths, and then a reflexivity that brings
with it pervasive doubts about the representations of the world that can
be articulated in language. But irony is a general strategy for putting
into language meanings that the literal forms of language cannot contain;
along with this, Ironic understanding involves abstract, theoretic
capacities, plus the capacities stimulated by literacy, plus the winged
words of orality, and also our bodily foundation in the natural world."
Egan claims that a proper education today requires that individuals
recapitulate the various kinds of understanding and deploy them
He has sections on implications for the curriculum and implications for
teaching (some of these ideas have been noted above).
He also attempts to refute claims that he is proposing a return to
ethno-phallo-Euro-centred way of thinking.