A half-century ago psychologists and philosophers could still innocently make generalizations not only about the universal character of mind but about the “natural” way in which mind grows from infancy to such perfections as it may attain in adulthood. The proclivity to do so, it seems, proved extraordinarily robust even in the face of criticism from such anthropologists and advanced social philosophers as Franz Boas and G.H. Mead. The chief inheritor of that universalist tradition in our times was, of course, Jean Piaget—though his version of it could hardly be called innocent.
Recently, during the period of its dominance, developmental universalism came increasingly under attack from different quarters. Among the critics were the anthropologists, who made claims about the cultural relativism of the mind and its growth. The forms and functions of mental activity, they alleged, varied with the demands of cultural practice, linguistic structure, and with various “basic disciplines” imposed early and exigently within each culture. The social setting and the kit of symbolic instruments ranging from myths to vocabularies were singled out as the critical factors involved in the development of the mind.
The ideological form of this criticism charged such universal theories of mind and its growth as Piaget’s with ethnocentrism, claiming that all such theories were inappropriate projections of the culture of the theorist or, even more severely, that universal theories of childhood were instruments for furthering the values of a dominant group in the interest of exploiting “inferior” cultures or inferior social classes. If the growth pattern of middle-class, Western children could be established as the norm or as “natural,” it was that much easier to label non-literate cultures or the dispossessed of our own culture as “deficient.” Writers like Paolo Freire and Ivan Illich could accuse theories of “middle-class” development of supporting the exploitation of the children of the downtrodden as inferior. Such critics pointed to the school, the family, and even the toys and games of impoverished childhood as fetters designed to assure the power of the ruling class.
But there were other, less dramatic but possibly more powerful, criticisms brought against universalist views of human growth. One of them had its origin in the failures that seemed to be endemic to Piaget’s universal theory of cognitive development, a criticism that was widespread even before Piaget’s death two years ago. For Piaget, development consisted of passage through several stages of mental growth, each of which could be characterized by the set of formal logical rules that governed the mental “operations” typical of the stage. Progression from stage to stage depended upon the child’s self-initiated interaction with his environment; feedback from that environment produced the aliment (pablum) that nurtured growth to the next stage. The image of the child was of a solo problem-solver who had to figure out the invariances, the cause-and-effect relationships, and the other logical features of the world around him on his own—without the support system inherent in the language he was mastering, and without instruction from parents or peers. He had to act like a little intellectual in pursuit of his own conclusions. To master was to discover on one’s own. Everywhere the course of mastery was alleged to be the same, regardless of culture: it grew from “pre-operational” to “concrete operational” and finally to “formal operational” thought. Each stage of development had a structural integrity to it that could be likened to a system of logic.
The trouble was that when one got down to exploring children’s developing thought in situations other than that of the typical Geneva laboratory setting, the stages of its growth unraveled in a most disconcerting way. As Margaret Donaldson’s appealing little book of a few years ago demonstrated,* the level of mental achievement (the “stage”) of the child varied with the nature and familiarity of the task, with how it was presented by the experimenter, and with the language in which it was couched. The defense of Piaget’s Geneva school was to invoke décalage. Décalage asserts weakly, and without predictive power, that the shift from one stage to another is likely to occur in certain situations sooner than in others, an argument that is not only weak but begs the questions of the structural integrity of each stage of development. Décalage was for Piaget what the epicycles were for pre-Copernican astronomy. In effect, it brought the structuralist base of Piaget’s theory into question. How could the same child be “pre-operational” in one sphere, “concrete operational” in another, and “formal operational” in a third?
As if this were not enough, criticism arose out of a still more damaging set of findings, or alleged findings. Stimulated to a considerable extent by work in “artificial intelligence,” developmental psychologists began to discover that growth was uneven in different “content areas” of thought—e.g., in dealing with numbers and words—and that, indeed, the course from ignorance to expertise in the use of different forms of intelligence was not necessarily uniform. This amounts to saying what many would expect: that the young Mozart need not necessarily be expected to have had high social intelligence, or that the verbal genius of William Blake did not necessarily correspond to his putative mathematical talents or his skill as a mime.
Beneath the surface of this criticism there were two implicit premises. The first was that “mind” might consist of a set of “organs” each specialized along different lines, and that these organs would show their stuff when and only when they could find expression through various heuristic procedures like language, music, soccer, administrative structures, or whatever—all rather autonomous and self-sufficient. The “organs” of mind could be conceived of as “computational devices” or autonomous cognitive processes that were there to be awakened when faced by some appropriate “input” that unlocked their power. If you want to find out how poetic skills develop, some prominent psychologists advised, study how Auden or Robert Lowell became poets and compare that with how neophytes proceed. Study Robert McNamara for administrative skills, and so on. Never mind about the logical progression of universal growth. The truth is in the particulars.
The disputed role of language as an instrument of thought provided another source of criticism of developmental universalism. There has always been a powerful philosophical tradition, deriving from nominalism, that has seen language or some language-like system of symbols as the medium of exchange in which thought is conducted. Language in exchange was what was emphasized in this tradition, for shared meaning (or as the hermeneutic tradition would have it, negotiated meaning) is what shapes thought to the demands of social living.
This is a view that joins together such disparate thinkers as C.S. Peirce, G.H. Mead, Benjamin Lee Whorf, and Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky proposed that intellectual and social maturity depended upon the flowing together of the initially independent streams of thought and of language. His “zone of potential development,” central to his theory, describes a state of readiness for growth in which words invite thought. Growth takes place when verbal formulations can organize thought to correspond to the linguistic representation contained in the words. And indeed, the latter-day Geneva psychologists have moved toward Vygotsky: witness a famous article by Barbel Inhelder and her Geneva colleagues entitled “Nothing Succeeds like a Good Theory”—the “good theory” being a fitting verbal formulation.
From most of the foregoing one would gain the impression that growing up consisted principally of achieving intellectual prowess. And for a long time this was the chief focus of the Piagetians and the research they inspired—not surprising, since Piaget’s genetic epistemology had been preoccupied mainly with finding parallels between the growth of thought in children and the historical growth of logic, mathematics, and science. But as interest has risen in the ways that mental growth is determined by the situation of the learner, so too has interest grown in the specific settings and systems of incentives that support or promote intellectual growth (what Piaget used to dismiss as la question Américaine).
With that new interest there also arose a renewed concern with the social and the emotional life of children for its own sake. And as the issues broadened, research workers (bent on reformulation) became interested in earlier and earlier periods of development. In consequence, infant psychology and even infant psychiatry are now both flourishing professions, their respective world conferences in the last couple of years each drawing more than a thousand participants. The study of development, and particularly of development during infancy, has become a major growth industry.
So though students of development are still open to all kinds of charges including ethnocentrism, gender-centrism, class bias, and even ideological wickedness, they have nonetheless produced during the last decade more and better “hard” data concerning human development than ever existed in the preceding millennium. But what is lacking is an agreed-upon general theory, for much of this vigorous research has led to the rejection or questioning of older, grander, universal theories of growth, whether Piaget’s logicism, or Freud’s dramaturgical reconstructions of childhood from the free associations of his adult patients. All four books under review reflect this dilemma, created by the imbalance between data and theory.
Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences reflects some of the central preoccupations of recent psychology. It begins with a skeptical view of theories of general intelligence and of its development, and proposes instead to draw on the newer cognitive sciences and on theories of “artificial intelligence” in order to explore autonomous and special kinds of intelligence. On its face, in view of the tradition of mental testing, this may seem a tired idea. We have had accumulations of statistical data by generations of psychometricians who analyze intelligence tests, attempting to isolate from them “primary mental abilities”—verbal, numerical, and spatial, among others. The capacities that cannot be factored out are allocated to “g,” or general intelligence. But the statistical assumptions involved in such exercises in reducing data were so narrow that very little of theoretical substance has come from them.
Gardner rejects such methods. “In formulating my brief on behalf of multiple intelligences, I have reviewed evidence from a large and hitherto unrelated group of sources: studies of prodigies, gifted individuals, brain-damaged patients, idiots savants, normal children, normal adults, experts in different lines of work, and individuals from different cultures.” He sets up tough criteria to determine which kinds of intelligence are authentic, so tough, in fact, that it is not surprising that his book scores only a near miss—particularly in view of his “open” criterion that “a prerequisite for a theory of multiple intelligences…is that it captures a reasonably complete gamut of the kinds of abilities valued by human cultures. We must account for the skills of a shaman and a psychoanalyst as well as of a yogi and a saint.” His stringent criteria for what a proper intelligence would consist of are: a) it must have some demonstrable physical basis; therefore it can be destroyed or spared by a brain lesion; b) there are prodigies or gifted individuals who exhibit it; c) its core operations should be identifiable as “computational devices” or mental operations of some recognizable kind; d) it should exhibit a history of development to the point where people can be expert at it; e) it should have a plausible history in human evolution; and f) it should be in line with the data of other branches of psychology and the behavioral sciences.
In fact, given one other central aspect of Gardner’s theory, there should have been a further criterion. For he believes that an intelligence depends for its expression upon both “internal” and “external” factors—the former being the “computational devices” or “organs of mind” just mentioned, the latter being some sort of existing symbol system, external amplifier, or prosthetic device that enables the inherent skill-to-be to express itself in the real world. These include language, mathematics, science, myth, numerical notation, art forms, and the like. For it is through such external enabling devices—as well as the roles and occupations and incentives provided by the culture—that intelligences are brought into being in real life.
How far does he succeed? According to his own critical evaluation (which comprises one of the best chapters in the book), only moderately well, but that is not bad for a beginning. His first four intelligences—linguistic, logico-mathematical, musical, and spatial—jump the hurdles he has set up quite well. The gift of words, linguistic intelligence, almost does what he claims a proper intelligence should. It can be knocked apart by a brain injury; it has a proper developmental history and a recognizable, if variable, expertise in different cultures, etc. But right off, we are in trouble. For how shall we characterize the so-called computational devices that make up linguistic intelligence? Gardner notes that, at the very least, the narrative skill of the story-teller or the linguistic prowess of the poet depend upon four or five separable components, each of which meets his criteria on its own: phonology, syntax, metonymic and metaphoric meanings, and “pragmatic felicity.” But it would seem that syntactic competence is also a gift of logico-mathematical intelligence, defined as a system of abstract ordering. And pragmatic felicity, the ability to use language adeptly in discourse with others, depends upon yet another of Gardner’s intelligences: the “interpersonal.”
Let me quickly list the three intelligences at the bottom of his list which stumble badly as they try to get over his hurdles: “bodily-kinesthetic intelligence,” and two forms of “personal intelligence” (knowledge of self and knowledge of others). Nobody would doubt Marcel Marceau’s bodily-kinesthetic skill, but nobody would doubt either that unlike Joe DiMaggio he uses it for linguistic ends.
It would seem, somehow, as if most of those real-life intelligences are composed of processes (call them computational devices, if you like) which are sometimes cobbled together to meet the requirements of some existing art form, or discipline of learning, or notational system, and sometimes put together through practice and reflection to create something altogether new. In the first case, the intelligence is simply a response to what is available in the culture. But good practitioners of even the ordinary arts are inventive and full of surprises. And great practitioners are great because they put together “computational devices” that were never thought to belong together.
Yet Gardner seems to insist that there is no need to posit a self, or a general intelligence, or even a central executive routine that allocates resources and skills to tasks as needed. An appropriate “input” from a given “domain” enters our experience, and the corresponding intelligence rises from its slumber like a kissed princess. But what about innovation and the ability to generate new perceptions across the various intelligences? And, indeed, what about the different incentives that different cultures dangle before their members to waken intelligence into a search for appropriate domains? Do we really only start acting intelligently when “input” turns the key in a particular computational device?
Curiously, Gardner’s book itself is rich in examples of how, through imagination, the gifted and even the not so gifted combine skills in an astonishingly fresh way to achieve rather unexpected results. An instance can be found in the author’s brilliant and sympathetic description of Dr. Suzuki’s method of awakening the musical skills of a generation of Japanese children, many of whom have enthusiastically played the violin at early ages by following his methods. True, those skills depend for their expression on an innate “organ” of some kind as well as on the notational system and the instruments of Western music. But how did Dr. Suzuki dream up that happy blend of Gemütlichkeit and musical stimulation if his musical intelligence and his “interpersonal” intelligence were each modular, autonomous, and unyokable to the
Nevertheless, Gardner’s is a timely, wide-reaching, and in many ways brilliant book. His effort to bring together the data of neurology, exceptionality, development, and symbolic-cultural skills is not only heroic but makes extremely evocative reading. I have not even mentioned his concluding chapters which are given over to the practical implications of his theory for education and policy. He sets forth a powerful case for the importance of fostering human potential by providing the cultural instruments necessary for its expression. He certainly gives no encouragement to those who would trim education to the “basics.” Indeed, you will not cultivate musical talent without assuring that children have a chance to try out musical instruments—any more than you will cultivate mathematical talents without exposing children to mathematical notation. For the instruments of mind, whatever the mind’s organs may be, must be provided from outside by the culture and its agents of education.
To the extent that intelligence can be analyzed into components, this book is a creative and comprehensive effort to document the case. But as Gardner himself says, “These intelligences…are at most useful fictions,…sets of knowhow.” With this conclusion, I find myself in complete agreement. But his approach is so far beyond the data-crunching of mental testers that it deserves to be cheered.
Kenneth Kaye’s The Mental and Social Life of Babies bears the bold subtitle, “How Parents Create Persons.” Though it may not seem so on the surface, it is a response to the same problems as Gardner’s book addresses, and it even navigates by some of the same stars, although its destination is different. Like Gardner, Kaye is concerned with the relation between the inner and outer determinants of growth, and he too comes to the conclusion that description of inner resources is meaningless without reference to the system of support that brings them into being and contains their expression.
Written by a prominent “baby researcher,” the book describes how babies and their parents interact in feeding, in the turn-taking of play, in imitation, and in the growth of language. That is the manifest content. The latent structure is about how the microculture of interaction within the family eventually produces self-aware “persons” ready for the demands of the broader culture. Whereas Gardner is caught up in the modular theory of mind, Kaye keeps his eye on how the child achieves wholeness and integrity. I think the these of the two books converge, a point I will return to.
The Mental and Social Life of Babies is packed with impressive research findings on what the mother and infant manage to achieve in feeding, in play, and in the conduct of daily life. First, they have an immediate and natural symmetry; they soon engage in transactions in which the mother and infant have to take account of each other’s intentions; finally, they interact much as adults do. Kaye uses the data of his own research as well as many published reports from the rapidly growing literature on infant research to document a bold theory of how babies become persons.
His account begins, very much in tune with modern evolutionary theory, with the proposition that it is not traits of the individual, but reciprocal traits of decisive subgroups within the species that are selected by evolution to insure the continuation of the species. The range and diversity of these built-in “transactional characteristics” are remarkable. Kaye illustrates his point by describing some of the astonishing ways by which infant and mother are linked in breast-feeding. It is not simply that the strength and patterning of infant sucking match the requirements for the release of the mother’s milk. The system is much more flexible and open than that. Human infants, as far as we know, are the only infant mammals who suck in a burst-pause pattern, the bursts and pauses being nicely regulated according to the mother’s rate of milk delivery. But the pauses also serve to free the child for looking around and thereby provide an opportunity for eye-to-eye contact, a principal factor in the bonding of mother and child. To the extent that this double process of feeding and social interaction grows smoothly and at the same rate, the child increases in competence in a variety of measurable ways during his first year.
What is striking about the parents’ behavior during the early years, Kaye points out, is that they treat their infants as if they were far more competent and consistent than in fact they are. He remarks, half humorously, “Evolution has produced infants who can fool their parents into treating them as more intelligent than they really are…. It is precisely because parents play out this fiction that it eventually comes to be true.”
He turns this into an interesting proposal: Given the built-in, or “preadapted,” reactions of parents to children, parents are as much a part of the child’s original endowment as the child’s own genes. And given the tendency of parents to “fill in” for the child so that he will appear to fulfill their premature predictions of his competence, the parents serve as a “scaffold” for his development. Instead of embracing Piaget’s image of the child searching on his own for invariant relations in his lonely world, Kaye sees the child as an apprentice. “The apprentice learns the trade because the master provides protected opportunities [for him] to practice selected subtasks, monitors the growth of the apprentice’s skills, and gradually presents more difficult tasks. We can see this basic parental role in many domains, at all ages.”
Kaye’s data almost as much as his theoretical predilections leads him to place very great emphasis first upon the growth of conscious intent in the child, and then upon the entry of the child into a symbolic system for communicating. His theory can be roughly summarized as follows. The infant begins life under the control of a diverse set of largely autonomous self-regulatory systems: mechanisms for controlling arousal and attention; mechanisms for primitive imitation, for controlling bodily needs, etc. When these come into play, they produce reactions from the parent which, in turn, create strong expectancies in the child about what his behavior will produce in those around him.
By about the last third of the first year, the child begins to act intentionally to produce these expected reactions. So far the account is not very different from Piaget’s. Since the mother and infant typically act within a circumscribed situation, the mother’s reactions to the child’s budding intentions turn out to be either appropriately on target or close enough to provide a basis of negotiation between them. This is the start, Kaye claims, of genuine intersubjectivity, and a self capable of having intentions begins to come into being. With continued interaction of this kind, the mother and infant begin to store up a stock of shared references and memories—the start of what he calls a mother-infant “cultural microcosm.”
Now there can develop a far more elaborate, conventional, and intention-governed signaling system between them through gesture, vocalization, and appreciation of the situations in which they find themselves. Conventions of interaction develop, if only in games and play, and through them the child begins to develop perspectives on the roles he plays and the complementary roles played by others. Role reversal soon becomes common as the mother plays the child and the child talks to the mother, for example, as if correcting her. Here begins the mastery of “deixis,” the linguist’s term for “a knowledge of who is speaking to whom and where they are located in time and space…a universal property of all natural languages.” Now self-consciousness emerges almost as if in counter-point to the consciousness of others.
Language, in fact, does not exist merely for the sake of naming things. Nor does it exist for the sake of propositions about the world. It consists of interpersonal communication about shared and sharable intentions.
From very early on, once mutual intentionality is grasped, a metalinguistic capacity emerges: being able to address oneself to one’s own talk, if at first only to repair misunderstood utterances, but finally to check one’s hypotheses about what the other person feels. The child is now on its way toward participation in a real social system.
It is interesting to note in passing that Kaye rejects the euphoric upgrading of infants that prevailed a decade ago. The point for him is not that infants are so intelligent but that the emerging mother-child system is so well tuned as to assure the infant’s competence across a broad range of activity—a matter well documented in much of the new work on the acquisition of language, and particularly on how children quickly learn to speak idiomatically and skillfully about complex matters. Plainly, Kenneth Kaye believes that parents are enormously important in determining how their children turn out although he does not fall prey to what he calls the “mal de mère fallacy.”
Kaye’s book must be read as exhibiting a convergence of historical trends. On the one hand, he is explicitly in the line of George Herbert Mead and Lev Vygotsky, who emphasized the enabling, instrumental function of culture in forming the self. But in another sense both his research and his theoretical approach are strongly influenced by the so-called process models of cognitive science and artificial intelligence. He uses the latter tradition with great deftness, particularly in elucidating the sequential processes whereby the child moves from being a “mere” organism to being a person who acts with intentions in a social system.
Unfortunately, the author lands himself in some philosophical thickets in his eagerness to make his points. It still is something of a neat trick to move, as Kaye attempts to do, from showing how expectations are formed to ascribing intentions to infants. Here he would have done well to take account of the work of the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe on the complexities of intentionality. It is also a neat trick to move from communication by gesture and vocalization to the use of lexico-grammatical speech. Here he would have done better to acknowledge how little we know about the inner mechanisms that make this transition possible. Finally, it takes more than the stipulation of an emerging “intersubjectivity” to settle the philosophical problem of how we perceive what is in “other minds.” But then psychologists never settle philosophical problems. They only help in formulating them more tautly. And this Kaye has done.
Kaye frequently refers to the work of Judy Dunn and Carol Kendrick on what happens to the family system when a new sibling enters the scene and “displaces” an older one. That work has now appeared in a superb book, Siblings. It has little of the grand theoretical ambitions of the first two books reviewed, yet it makes an enormous contribution to our understanding of how a change in the composition of a family changes not only the entire constellation of interactions, but also the plight of each person caught up in the system. For me, it represents a striking instance of the new awareness of how social setting affects individual behavior.
The book is principally based on a study of what happens when a new infant enters a family that already has one child. Dunn and Kendrick interviewed and observed forty “stable,” mainly upper-working-class families in Cambridge, England, and its surrounding villages. They began with a visit before the new child was born, returned often for fourteen months afterward, and made regular follow-ups. In each family the older child was under three at the time of the first interview. The families were as ordinary as they could find: there were no single parents, no extremes of poverty or privilege, no patent abnormalities or deficiencies.
That there are deep problems of sibling rivalry the authors amply demonstrate. They go beyond the familiar accounts of childhood envy that are reconstructed by psychiatric patients from free associations. Take one of the principal findings as an example. Older sisters who were closely attached to, and had played warmly with, their mothers before the new baby came were the ones most likely to be afflicted with feelings of envy and alienation—even though they earlier had the best relations with their mothers. There is something tragic about their plight that seems to derive from the structure of the family, but the causes are not obvious. Why do older brothers who were on similarly good terms with their mothers not suffer a comparable setback? Are little girls peculiarly vulnerable to disruption of their gender identity if they are strongly tied up in their relationship with their mothers? When does identification with the mother start, and how could it be protected under the circumstances? We do not know.
But to dwell on rivalry, envy, and disruption is to do a disservice to Dunn and Kendrick’s book. For their findings speak eloquently of the benefits that accrue to both younger and older siblings in these two-child families. To begin with, younger children plainly take special delight in, and come to identify with, older siblings, whether of the same or the opposite sex—even with those estranged, displaced older sisters. And the younger siblings get a better deal in the family. The older child, in most instances, comforts them, intervenes on their behalf with the parents, and provides rich education in words and games. Dunn and Kendrick remark that theories stressing early egocentrism must be based on questionable observations. For they encounter repeated instances of children under three grasping a younger child’s intentions and meanings and interpreting them to the parents. Indeed, they appreciate their younger siblings so well that when goaded, they can, with striking intelligence, make life miserable for them.
The benefits of being an older child in this kind of situation depend heavily on the mother. If the mother treats the younger child as a person, talks about him or her as having intentions and wishes and the like, the older child will much more quickly become sensitive to the subtleties of other people’s behavior and to the corresponding linguistic distinctions with which natural language is so richly endowed. The arrival of a younger sibling, however painful its consequences in the loss of the mother’s attention (and this is considerable), has the effect of making the older child’s responses and his language more acute, giving him a head start in developing Gardner’s “personal intelligences.”
Even though it is limited to forty families in East Anglia, Siblings, in its grasp of the human plight, has a universal quality comparable to that of another classic of East Anglia, Akenfield, and the reader’s sense of coming close to the heart of family experience is not chilled but rather made richer by the book’s statistics and systematic comparisons. This is one of those rare books that make us feel that the universal human condition can be revealed by a compassionate study of particular behavior.
By contrast, Valerie Suransky’s The Erosion of Childhood manages to combine irateness, humorlessness, and shallowness in a remarkable degree. A pity, because the book deals with a matter of great importance and deep interest both to the layman and to professional students of human development (whom Suransky despises, except when they serve the purposes of her argument).
We are, she claims, eroding childhood, turning it into a training ground for corporate officers, for mass labor, for alienation. And the theorists of development are almost more to blame for their complicity than those innocent bystanders, the parents.
In the twentieth century, when the “science of childhood” has come of age, we have moved so far from the distant past of medieval miniature adultism, have become so obsessed with the unqualified separateness of this period of life, that we have imposed on the social space of childhood an emasculating psychologism which has succeeded in alienating the life project of the child from the child’s existential reality. We now separate children from the world of work; we dichotomize play from work; we deny the significance of the child’s contribution to the cultural forms of everyday life…. In short, in the modern era of childhood, when every stage from infancy to adolescence is measured and demarcated with fine technological precision, we have “progressed” from the forgetfulness of childhood to the containment of childhood.
Suransky’s solution to the problem is “phenomenology,” the phenomenology of the child himself. But her immediate aim is to show how the nursery schools and day care centers she observed impose the thumbprint of technological society on their charges. At the Golda Meir Nursery School (the names are all fictitious), she found organized patterns of time being imposed on the children, robbing them of their sense of “lived time.” What struck her initially as a warm atmosphere turned out to be one of “effective containment”: “children were socialized to ‘get along with other kids’ and ‘to follow directions.’ ” Or to put it in her rather pompous way,
When we examine the structural properties of this nursery school, we notice that its features approximate a microsocial equilibrium model organized along the lines of certainty, security, and predictability and closed to fundamental alterations of the planned time curriculum. We find limited freedom within a framework of non-freedom.
At the Busy Bee Montessori Center the teachers were pounding the work ethic into the children’s heads so that they will only “display interest in ‘work’ but little interest in ‘play.’ ” She concludes: “A Montessori educational experience thus becomes a training ground for the early bureaucratization of children.” And at Pine Woods Free School, modeled after A.S. Neill’s Summerhill, the children were trapped in a double standard where they could taunt a new teacher by chanting, “You fucker, you fucker,” while the teacher was forbidden to reply. The strong ones learned to exploit this double standard, and became bullies.
Her plea for phenomenology is more irate and confused than reasoned: we must respect how the child feels the world to be. But aren’t the teachers at the Free School, at the Golda Meir, and the Busy Bee convinced they are doing that? And by what means would children’s consciousnesses escape their parents’ bourgeois commitments? These questions, alas, get buried under the debris of Suransky’s indignation.
Her hero is Paulo Freire, who has written a breathless foreword. Like him, she would “deinstitutionalize” childhood, although the shape of such a childhood remains unclear. If her hero is Freire, she uses the sociologist Peter Berger to derive the observational hit list she used in observing her nurseries. Berger wrote a reasoned and now celebrated paper some years ago on how a technological society prepares its citizens to fit its various functions. She finds them all in her nurseries. Very few saving graces are to be found in the world of childhood as observed by Valerie Suransky.
These books show the directions that work on human development has been taking after the decline of Piaget’s influence. Howard Gardner argues that we must turn to the particularities of special intelligences and the ways the skills that are developed in the surrounding culture enable them to function. Kenneth Kaye sees the most fruitful field of study in the creation of self as the agent for orchestrating the use of the organs of mind, and conceives of growing up as apprenticeship in the management of the same cultural skills. They are brothers in the belief that man’s powers do not stop at his skin, but depend rather upon the symbolic tools through which people deal with their worlds.
Judy Dunn and Carol Kendrick give a splendid demonstration of how the family, though it may set up its own private little hell, opens the portal into the real world of people and their conflicts, providing the apprenticeship that Kaye posits as the medium for growing up. Valerie Suransky, for all her indignation about our abuses of the minds and hearts of children, nonetheless recognizes how much the settings we provide them with form the children on whom they are imposed. For all the confusion that the demise of developmental universalism has created, it has at least given us theories of development that can serve as theories of education as well. For what, after all, is educational theory but a set of canny ideas for arranging the world so that the child may reach his full powers?
As we reflect on these books, it seems much too soon to despair about our ever understanding the universals of human development. Just because mind expresses itself through different modes, in different intellectual domains and in different settings, and by different instruments, it does not mean that mind is not to be distinguished from the instruments and occasions of its expression, that we will never be able to tell the dancer from the dance. Languages differ, but there are linguistic universals that make access into any language easy for any child. Cultures differ, but they too have universals that speak to the generality of mind and probably to some general features of its development. Perhaps Piaget did not get it right—his specialized, obsessive concern with parallels between the logic of the developing child and the history of science was too limiting. That the gap between the universal deep structure of mind in general and its expression across a variety of situations seems great is not surprising. Unitas multiplex may still be the best motto. It may save us from conceiving of mind as a battery of computing devices with nothing in charge but the “input.”
October 27, 1983