It’s been difficult for me to stop thinking about this piece by Seymour Papert.
Specifically, I keep coming back to his three phases of intellectual development. He admittedly oversimplifies the development by containing it in three categories, but even in this somewhat rudimentary manifestation, it still gives us as much to think about as we can handle.
Papert calls phase one, “universally successful learning.” This is during the time before we enter formal institutions of learning, and Papert describes it this way. “All children show a passion for interactive exploration of their immediate world. The diversity of possible activity is great enough for different individuals to find their own styles.”
Watch a three year old wonder and make meaning of their world, and you’ll see the qualities of this phase clearly.
Papert calls phase three, “intellectually awake adults.” I really love that. Once again, this is in the space beyond the walls of our formal learning institutions and is replete with diversity of styles. It’s the way we as adults learn that which we desire to learn for a wide variety of reasons and purposes.
Phase two, then, is the space between. Papert’s description of the phase is a bit harrowing. “The second phase is the narrow and dangerous passage in which many factors conspire to undermine the continuation of phase one. School is often blamed for imposing on children a uniformity that suffocates those who have developed markedly different intellectual styles; much as it used to suffocate left-handed people by forcing them to ‘write properly’.”
While phase two is indeed narrow and dangerous, the duration of the phase stretching out often beyond 15 years makes it all the more so.
One of the greatest roles we play as teachers is to serve as the guide to move our students from phase one to phase three. Papert asserts not all adults will make it. That should haunt us.
I hope we do all we can to make the path between as wide, safe, and inspired as possible. Doing so will certainly change lives.
Thanks to Sean Lucas for the use of the Flickr image.