Thursday, August 26, 2010

Autonomy as the aim of education

I finished my first reading of Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic: Implications of Piaget's Theory by Constance Kamii with Leslie Baker Housman and I am simply fascinated by the implications this all has on how I will approach teaching math this year.

One of the final chapters summarizes the general principles of teaching:

According to Piaget's constructivisim, children acquire logico-mathematical knowledge as well as the morality of autonomy by constructing them from the inside, in interaction with the environment, rather than by internalizing them direclty from the outside. Educators who believe that children learn these by direct internalization from the environment try to facilitate this internalization. Those who understand that only surface bits of knowledge and behavior can be learned by absorption from outside try to foster the construction of knowledge and moral values in a deeper and broader sense from within.

Children's development of autonomy cannot be fostered only during the math hour or an hour set aside for moral development. Children who govern themselves all day long can also play math games without getting into fights. Those who are considerate of others all the time are likewise considerate when ways of solving word problems are discussed. This chapter will therefore begin with some general priniciples of teaching that flow from autonomy as the aim of education.

Jean Piaget and Constance Kamii's work brings new meaning for me for what Linda Darling-Hammond meant when she said:

“If we taught babies to talk as most skills are taught in school, they would memorize lists of sounds in a predetermined order and practice them alone in a closet.”
It's hard enough for educators to get real learning and sound pedagogy right. That's why I get a cold chill when I think of how education "reformers" and policy makers, who are running the system, don't have the slightest clue what Piaget and Kamii are even talking about.


  1. So, yesterday when we analyzed "Redemption Song," we ended up having a deep discussion about the lines, "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds." One of the students said, "Schools seem to be set up so that we are almost never the ones who get to free our minds."

  2. gosh - i'm a little late to this conversation..

    John - i've had so many conversations like that lately... students craving time to just be and think. sounds like hungry learners..

    and Joe - i'm wondering why we even teach math. Linda's comment is exactly what we've done to it. it's a language that we've totally chopped to pieces and force fed.

    mathematical thinking is all the masses need. and it just happens naturally.


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