Discussion: The Educated Mind


The Educated Mind

From: DClemens@aol.com
Date: Mon, 6 Oct 1997 01:18:04 -0400 (EDT)
To: kieran_egan@sfu.ca
Subject: a quick question

Dear Professor Egan,

I am in chapter 6 of your wonderful book The Educated Mind. It has caused me to rearrange much of my mental furniture, and to feel I am beginning to understand things I have observed which puzzled me.

I'm a college teacher, 25 years of Composition and Literature. I'm currently taking classes on the Internet about teaching online, distance learning. I wondered if you have an opinion about computer-mediated learning. After five classes online, I am concerned about what sort of learning can take place on computer. It does not seem in any way able to replicate the emotional element of teaching, and seems not even very good at conveying knowledge, yet tech. cheerleaders and unscrupulous administrators are driving continued expansion in Web-based classes.

David Clemens
Monterey Peninsula College

Dear Dr. Clemens,

I share your concerns about computer-mediated learning. I have taught a number of courses "on-line", tho mainly a number of years ago, in the early days. I do think one should think of this form of teaching/learning as something to be used when more direct commuinication and discussion are impossible. But I also think that one can harness the technology to manage something that is worth-while. The book, after all, is a less flexible teaching tool than the Internet, and people have managed to do some interesting teaching via that old rigid medium.

I wrote a brief report on my experience using computer-mediated instruction teaching courses to students in the interior of British Columbia, and I'll add that to my web page in case you might be interested to see it. Anyone who is interested in seeing it can click here

Best wishes,

Kieran Egan.

Date: Tue, 30 Sep 1997 17:07:59 -0500
From: "Dr. Sponder"
Reply-To: sponder@bigfoot.com
To: kieran_egan@sfu.ca
Subject: The Educator's Mind

Hi Dr. Egan,

I am enjoying reading your book "The Educated Mind" and like many of the examples you use to illustrate the different types of understanding on which you focus. I particularly appreciate how you explore the incompatibilities among the foundations of modern western public education. I have a deep interest in this subject and am glad that you are accessible for a dialogue.

Some questions, if you please.

Waldorf Schools seem to operate with a philosophy that is similar to yours, especially in practice versus articulation. Do you see them as providing a more realistic/humanistic/educative experience than public schools. How would you say they differ from your positions in the book? Have you worked with any local Waldorf Schools?

These are some questions that have popped up as I've been reading your book and hope you will comment.

Barry Sponder

Dear Dr. Sponder,

Thanks for the comments and questions. A number of people have suggested similarities between what I have proposed and Waldorf schools. One kind person sent me some of Steineršs books and accounts of Waldorf schooling today. In general Waldorf schools probably do provide some advantages over typical public schools in the directions you suggest. There are obvious similarities between Steineršs work and what my book proposes--the story emphasis and concern with stimulation and preservation of imaginative vitality--tho, of course, I focus on story-shaping "real-world" material whereas Steiner's interest is in developing an imaginative or fantasy world through stories. I suspect most of the similarities are somewhat superficial, and that there are very real differences, especially once one gets beyond the "mythic" kind of understanding. But I should read more of Steiner before making such casual comments. I haven't worked with any Waldorf schools, though I have had contact with some teachers from a local school with whom I have felt some sympathy.

Anyway, my thanks for the interesting message, and for stimulating me to look again at Steiner's work.

With best wishes,
Kieran Egan.

Dear Dr. Egan,

Thank you for your reply. As a mainstream educator with Waldorf training I am always interested in alternative ways to facilitate the schooling process in, of all things, a Deweyean perspective of educative vs miseducative experiences for children (and their teachers). So I was curious as to how you reached some of your conclusions, either through a Waldorf path or another. No matter since I shy away from the religion of education. Similarities or differences, the real breath of any school is what goes on in the classrooms, not so much what anyone such as Dewey, Steiner, Rousseau e.t al. writes, since the correlation between theory and practice is usually on the low side (at least in my own experience).

I have often used an article by Ray Nickerson (Feb, 1985) Understanding Understanding-American Journal of Education, (familiar?) to provoke discussion by student teachers before landing on the beaches. I think that a full exploration of this topic is essential.

I am also interested in exploring the relationship between understanding and technologically-delivered instruction which, by the way, is my field.

Barry Sponder

Date: Wed, 17 Sep 1997 12:37:22 -0700 (PDT)
To: Egan@sfu.ca
Subject: Feedback (The Educated Mind)
name: Tom Guerry
institution: Kaiser - Permanente
email: Tom.Guerry@kp.org

comments re: The Educated Mind: Dear Prof. Egan, I am in the middle of reading your book and am enjoying it very much.I have been reading in this area for several months for two reasons - #1 trying to assess the school curriculum for my 12 and 9 year old daughters, and #2 in the course of developing a semantic model to support planning and implementing a large computer network system for healthcare delivery.I was struck by the similarity of your work to the ideas in two of the most helpful theoretical books I have come across.The first is "In Over Our Heads" by Robert Kegan who extends the ideas of Piaget well beyond the strictly cognitive realm,taking the perspective of learning as a lifelong process,and identifying necessary areas of learning based on the largely implicit demands made on us by our culture and society. The second is Eye of Spirit by Ken Wilber(also a more accessible work - A Brief History of Everything)who summarizes/integrates various theories of the evolution of consciosness from a balanced cultural,social, intentional and behavioral perspective.He proposes that different areas of learning(a la Howard Gardner)develop somewhat independently but must all go through the same progression - such as magic,mythic,rational,etc.- coordinated by an overall self identity for which some ways of thinking are enduring and some only transitional.I would like to know your opinions of these works, if you are familiar with them,and what experience you have applying cognitive tools across the various learning/intelligence areas.

Thank you for your time and your excellent book.

Tom Guerry
Medical Director
Clinical Information Systems
Kaiser - Permanente
Northern California

name: Eric Timmreck
institution: Shell Services Company
email: erictimm@hal-pc.com
topic: Reactions and Thanks (new topic)
comments re: The Educated Mind:

Dear Professor Egan:

I just finished reading with great interest your book, "The Educated Mind." I live in the corporate world and so do not bring with my comments the deep understanding of the latest competing 'general schemes' regarding educational approaches which most of your correspondents have.

But I do bring the eyes of one who has experienced the American educational system in considerable depth, has been managing various organizations for a number of years, and has seen and experienced a transformation of our corporate culture in recent years which is centered upon learning.

So I really read your book for fun - and found it fun. Sometimes we read about 'general schemes' which just feel right. That is, they square with our experience; they seem to explain a host of experiences which we can recall - both good and bad. I found your progression of modes of understanding from Somatic through Ironic to be a useful one for me, especially given the inclusion of elements of the earlier modes in the later modes.

I found myself thinking about the implications of your approach on adult learning, since that's what we focus on in the corporate world. We've been particularly influenced by "The Fifth Discipline" and other works by Peter Senge. We've found particularly useful the discipline of 'systems thinking' as a way to pictorially represent complex organizational dynamics and as a tool for corporate learning. The use of narrative has been important and effective. This probably combines elements of the Romantic and the Philosophical.

A related aspect of all this is a focus on the 'many-truths' world, in contrast to past approaches in which there was only one right way to do things. This seems to come close to Ironic understanding and, I think, does represent a post-modern view. If you've done any work on application of your approach to adult learning, I would be most interested in that.

Your book also caused me to reflect on my own education, which became very 'Platonic' starting in the eighth grade. That brought with it a strong Philosophical bent, but it also delayed any Ironic understanding until the latter stages of graduate school. Not to bore you with all that, but it was interesting reflecting on it.

I recently returned to the high-school classroom for a semester to teach Applied Economics to a class of seniors as part of a company-sponsored Junior Achievement program. It was a great learning experience - for me much moreso I'm sure than for the students. I could sense the hugely conflicting priorities and interests of the students, as compared to the much more homogenized version of high school I attended in the late 50's. I guess I sensed a reach on the part of the students toward Philosophic understanding, but with a strong undertone of survival (How am I going to make it?). Thinking back, their Ironic understanding, though not yet deeply infused with experience, probably outshone their Philosophic. Or was that just the skepticism of this modern age?

Anyway, many thanks for a very good read indeed!

-Eric Timmreck

Dear Mr. Timmreck,

Thanks for such an interesting response to the book. I am, of course, delighted that it makes sense to someone outside the professional world of education--in what we in education somewhat bemusedly call "the real world." You'll no doubt see that as ironic.

Apart from trying to teach with a touch of irony in the soul, I haven't done anything explicit about applying the later kinds of understanding in adult learning. Most of the research that has used the scheme, in earlier forms, have tended to focus on the early years of schooling, with a little attention to later adolescence.

With best wishes,
Kieran Egan.

Date: Fri, 25 Jul 1997 08:43:46 -0700 (PDT)
name: Berrie Heesen
institution: Faculty of Philosophy Amsterdam
email: heesen@philo.uva.nl
topic: First topic
comments re: The Educated Mind:

Dear Prof Egan

I wonder if I understand you correctly if I assume that you do consider it possible that an eight year old child does have developed some (there can be no dichotomy here!) of the five distinguished understandings? That is to say, he or she does have some developments along these lines including ironic understanding. It is my convictin that this is certainly the case with some children.

Dear Dr. Heesen,

Yes, I don't see the "kinds of understanding" as very strongly age constrained, and do think that as the later kinds of understanding, including the ironic, are in a sense implications of language development, then one is likely to find some degree of each of them once language is mastered. The main constraint on the degree to which each is developed, it seems to me, is the linguistic environment in which the child grows up. So I don't so much think it is a matter of particular children having some special inherent capacity for ironic understanding--tho no doubt some element of this must play a part--but that mainly it is a matter of the way parents and others talk with children. Families in which irony is a common trope are likelier to stimulate a greater degree of ironic understanding than families in which irony is very rare. So I agree with you that some children show features of ironic understanding, and philosophic, and romantic, and so on.

With best wishes,

Kieran Egan

Date: Thu, 31 Jul 1997 11:05:20 +0200
To: Kieran_Egan@sfu.ca (Kieran Egan)
From: heesen@philo.uva.nl (Berrie Heesen)

Dear Mr Egan,

Thanks for your reply. Given that I consider such discussion public (can anything more public than discussing how we have to educate the next generation?) I surely agree with you request to be aded to your webpage. It is a good thing we are able to converse without knowing or meeting each other.

I completely agree that the language environment constitutes the ironic understanding, given that we have a lot of irony at home, I noticed that my son picked it up quickly, but my daughter always was troubled by it. Just the number of times she went ot the bathroom to convince herself that there were no frogs in there, although I assured that I just saw them.

Anyway, I would like to come back to a remark by Richard Fox (see below)about Lipman's work.

My question is not so much, why he was not quoted in your book, you quote the ones you are thinking of at the moment of writing, I appreciated your story from Miranda Armstrong about her conversation with her son and I will make an exercise out of it for my students: how would you continue the discussion if you don't start talking about trains, buses and bedrooms? My question is more related with the curriculum Lipman created, the Philosohpy for Children program. did you consider how this program deals with your five forms of understanding? I ask this because I think that it not only deals with philosophic understanding, and also because you show interest in developing a curriculum for primary schools.


Berrie Heesen
manager Journal 100
Faculty of Philosophy
Nieuwe Doelenstraat 15
1012 CP Amsterdam
The Netherlands
+31 20 525 4526 or 6165369

Dear Professor Heesen,

Thank you for your further interesting comments. I must admit I haven't considered Matthew Lipman's program in terms of its dealing with the five kinds of understanding. But your comment persuades me I should do just that.

Best wishes, Kieran Egan.

Date: Tue, 17 Jun 1997 13:11:11 BST
From: Richard Fox
Subject: The Educated Mind (2)
To: Kieran Egan

Professor Egan: I am reviewing your book "The Educated Mind" for the British Journal of Educational Psychology, and although I have not yet read it all, I would like to ask you a question. Having read the section on pages 200-201, I see that you deal with the requirement that your theory be testable by arguing that that is to mistake its nature. It is more in the way of being a kind of Kuhnian paradigm shift, in the light of which to re-interpret existing research findings. As a psychologist, I remain unsatisfied. In particular, I am very interested in the effects of the cultural tools of literacy upon children's thoughts (and affects). If literacy produces a vast shift in the way we can make sense of the world, then we should, it seems to me, be able to find the results of this influence on children's thinking, talking and writing. And yet, though I may be wrong about this, my reading so far suggest that such evidence has been very hard to come by. Do you agree that such evidence does bear on your transition from mythic to romantic understanding? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Second question: do you know the work of matthew Lipman and his philosophy for children programme? I don't think you ever refer to it. In your terms he is a dewey-ian and hence a rousseau-ian, but I would have thought you would find his writing very relevant to your theory. Just to finish with, may I say that I have been something of a fan of your work for several years. It has meant a lot to me and I continue to find it fascinating. I hope you will have the time to respond to this rather rambling query. Richard Fox e-mail: R.M.H.Fox@exeter.ac.uk

(Reply from K. E.)

Dear Richard, (if I may--it seems to be the North American style),

Thanks for the three messages which I received together, one via the web page. Your question about testability is one I have not very successfully wrestled with for some time. (One bout led to the book Education and Psychology: Plato, Piaget and Scientific Psychology, which Methuen published in England some time after the Punic Wars. A bout from which I think I emerged rather more battered than the question.) You have recognized that I am somewhat ambivalent about empirical tests of the theory. Clearly I want to claim it attaches to the world, and it deals with regularities of behaviour, etc., and so must be amenable to empirical testing. The issue you raise about literacy and its effects has, as you no doubt know, been subject to a great deal of discussion and testing. The general "literacy hypothesis" that arose from the work of Havelock, Ong, Goody, Olson, etc.--that literacy, in Ong's pyrotechnic phrase, "transforms consciousness"--has not proved subject to easy empirical testing with either individual students or with cultural groups gaining literacy for the first time, as Michale Cole's work has demonstrated. I think I mention some of this in the chapter about the transition to literate/romantic thinking. What is clear is that literacy certainly does not have this transforming result whenever it appears; the simple acts of reading and writing, coding and decoding seem to have few discernible cognitive consequences of necessity. This is why I consistently, I hope, mention literacy in the context of a specific set of supporting cultural tools that seem to be responsible for the kinds of changes I describe as Romantic Understanding. Its not that I think these are immune from empirical testing, rather that they are very hard to get at given the kinds of tools we currently use in psychology. I think most people would acknowledge that early adolescent children in western societies do begin to show many of the characteristics that I describe as "romantic"--heroes, Guinness Book of Records engagement, etc. but I know of no reasearch that has been able to trace the development of such large scale and profound cognitive shifts in children. It's as though the tools of psychological experiment have been calibrated to a quite different level of the phenomena.

My response that this is a paradigm-shifting notion is too glib, obviously, and doesn't anyway remove its claims from ordinary scrutiny. Another somewhat sneaky response is to say that until theories like this are formulated, the question of how to go about testing them can't come to the fore. The kind of shift described as a result of picking up the tools of romantic understanding, and that complex of Western tools associated with alphabetic literacy, is a claim that may perhaps focus some cunning empirical researcher onto a new question about literacy's effects. (Mine is, I think, significantly unlike the kinds of claims that were made earlier on by the "literacy hypothesis" people.) This is the "division of labour" response, that grandly asserts that theories must precede their testing, and leave others to that task. None of these is adequate, and I acknowledge there is something unsatisfactory about either the nature of the claims--which are after all straightforwardly empirical--or the nature of the evidence I bring to bear on them to assert, at least, their plausibility.

Yes, I am familiar with Matthew Lipman's work. While there is a Deweyian stream to his work, I have certainly drawn on it, and it will be just an unhappy coincidence that I haven't refered to it or quoted him in the books.

Would you mind if I added your question and this response to the "discussion" section of my web page? Tho you might prefer another round first. I confess that the above looks unduly vague to me--my excuse is that I am just back from a visit to Asia and my jet-lagged brain feels full of cotton wool at the moment.

Best wishes, Kieran.

X-UIDL: 866658805.003
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 1997 12:13:26 BST
From: Richard Fox
Subject: The Educated Mind (3)
To: Kieran Egan

Dear Kieran,

Thanks very much for your swift response to my initial electronic barrage, all the more so given that you were/are jet-lagged. Yes, I am happy for our dialogue to be added to your web page discussion section and clearly I need to visit that site again and orient myself to the discussions going on. For now I'll stick to e-mail, however, which is faster for me to manage and send.

I am very re-assured by your answer to my question about the testability of your theory. You are sensitive to any premature attempts to dismiss the 'levels of understanding' theory on the basis of current research. You point out, quite reasonably, that a new theory demands both new research and a re-think about existing research. But, fundamentally, you are happy to accept that your claims about the development of educational understanding must bear some relation to the world as it is, to what we used to call "the facts of the case". Aspects of the theory must be testable, we might say, if it is to be an interesting theory. (This reflects my tendency to use Karl Popper's conception of Science, although I know that things have moved on in the philosophy of Science...) Anyway, I'm satisfied for now about the general question of empirical evidence. Moreover I need to read Education and Psychology...

Perhaps we might turn, in more detail, to the question of the effects of becoming literate. I'm aware of Michael Cole's work with the Liberian (Vai) literate and non-literate sub-cultures and the difficulty that Cole and Scribner had in pinning down the effects of literacy and/or schooling. I've read your summary in "Primary Understanding" of the "literacy hypothesis" research by Havelock, Ong, Goody and others, which I found fascinating. Also I think that Bruner alludes to this kind of thing here and there in his work. Otherwise I don't really know of psychological research which looks head-on for the effects on cognition of becoming literate. Yet how amazing that statement is! It may reflect my ignorance. I have some reading to do, for example of David Olson, and so forth, and there may simply be research I do not know about within mainstream psychology (one of the problems of working in teacher education is that one becomes something of a jack of all trades and thus master on none). At this point I read pages 71 to 81 of The Educated Mind.

I offer these thoughts, for what they're worth:

1. There is a persistent tendency to talk about "literacy" and think only about acquiring the ability to read. The ability to write, fluently, is rather more rare. It might just be that the most significant re-structuring of understanding, as a consequence of acquiring literacy, comes about as a consequence of learning to turn one's thoughts into writing. One could posit the simple hypothesis that the cognitive consequences of literacy are a more or less direct function of the degree to which one becomes a fluent thinker in writing.

2. To qualify the first point, it's worth considering how inter-dependent reading and writing are; also that we must expect that the consequences of becoming literate are as complex and many-shaded as the nature of the literacy that one acquires. It's clearly not a simple on/off affair. For example, I've noticed that the difficulty that my undergraduate students have with literacy relates back and forth between their reading and writing. In simple terms, I feel that they don't write well unless they are well-read. Many of them cannot really handle academic essay writing with any fluency or confidence and I suspect this is a consequnce of them not having read enough. But they have problems with reading academic prose, also, and this may relate to their difficulties in finding out what is involved in writing about such topics, by trying to do it themselves.

3. A psychologist who has done some thinking about all this is Margaret Donaldson. I wonder if you know her "Human Minds"? I find it an exceptionally rich and interesting book.

4. Further to my speculations about writing, one "measure" of how far one's thinking is transformed, or not, by literacy might be the extent to which one is able to revise writing. James Moffett, years ago, distinguished between a number of different levels of writing, from copying upwards towards what he called full "authoring". Authoring he defined as "the revision of inner speech". So my initial hypothesis becomes: literacy transforms consciousness to the extent that the thinker, as writer, can control and transform inner speech. What do you think?

Best wishes,

- Richard.

(KE reply)

Dear Richard,

Thanks for the recent message. I do agree how surprising it is that there is no reseach yielding any even vague indications of the results on cognition of becoming literate. Part of the trouble, of course, is that this kind of very general and pervasive kind of influence is not what research methods are well designed to get a grip on. (Do you know Jan Smedslund's work on "the analytic and the arbitrary" in Soc. Sci. research?) The other part of the trouble, of course again, is that "lityeracy" itself is not easy to define and so give the researcher something precise to work with. We tend to use it as an omnibus term for anything from the crudest coding/decoding skills to the subtlest reflexive thinking engaged with sophisticated print material, and obviously there are worlds of cognitive difference between those. I think your observation about fluent writing is a good one, and helps to underscore the gulf between simple and sophisticated literacy--to the point where one has to recognize the term 'literacy' is used inappropriately to suggest a similarity between what are really quite different cognitive conditions.

I was impressed by Margaret Donaldson's CHILDREN'S MINDS, and, after my EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT came out, we had some correspondance--but that was a number of years ago. I bought her HUMAN MINDS a while ago, and it is on the shelf of things to read--but it's such a long shelf. Indeed, on it are books I have found very stimulating in thinking about the mind, such as Steven Mithen's PREHISTORY OF THE MIND and Merlin Donald's ORIGINS OF THE MODERN MIND. Both going to and fro between phylogeny and ontogeny, to the benefit of both, I think. Not books on whose conclusions one would bet the farm, but very stimulating. Do you know them?

I do like the Moffett points about distinguishing levels of literacy--and it would be good if discussions of literacy kept such distinctions in mind. I'm as guilty as anyone of too casual use of the term in a portmanteau sense. I'm reminded, too, of school experience in which one was required to write an essay a week in a number of subjects. It is hard not to conclude that that kind of practice in reflecting on one's writing doesn't have cognitive influences that are quite significant over the long run. Anyway, all this is simply to agree that your observations about the importance of sophisticated writing as an important distinguisher among kinds of literacy is a good one.

I'd obviously be interested to see a copy of the review when it's done--if that's kosher.

Best wishes,


X-UIDL: 867348638.002
Date: Thu, 26 Jun 1997 08:18:59 BST
From: Richard Fox
Subject: The Educated Mind (4)
To: Kieran_Egan@sfu.ca

Dear Kieran,

Thanks for your reply. I will send you a draft of the review when it's done. I can't see why not, in fact the Brit. J. Ed. Psychology has been promoting the idea of responses from authors to reviews, which I think is a good idea. Perhaps they'll ask you for a response. On the other hand, I may praise the book in so fulsome a way that you won't feel like saying anything! (No, seriously, I shall try to engage with it critically in some way...)

If you ever get to the section of the shelf with M. Donaldson's "Human Minds" on it, don't be put off by the rather detailed psychology in the early chapters; it's the general scheme and the more speculative and brave second part which I particularly like. Thanks for your reading suggestions, which I shall try to follow up this summer.

I completely agree with what you say about the vast range of cognitive conditions heaped together under the heading of "literacy". But what about those elusive "cultural conditions" or circumstances which need to go with it, to mediate effectively? This makes me think of Foucault's notions of "discourse" and being situated as a subject within discourse of a certain kind.

There may be "bottom-up" and "top-down" effects of literacy: e.g. sheer practice over months and years leaves a certain residue behind, in the shape of habits and routine patterns of language (bottom-up); very indirect effects via our affects and dispositions and INTERESTS may also be crucial, though hard to trace (top-down). It's your emphasis on changing interests, or changes in what children take to be significant, which I think is a new and very important note within this field.

Regards, Richard Fox.

Comment/Question: Do you really think this is properly called a recapitulation theory? That element of it seems to apply only in a trivial sense in which almost any educational theory could be considered to involve some form of recapitulation.

Ron Chambers. Beaumont College. Sydney.

Response by K.Egan: In the Afterword to the book I suggest that one might see two kinds of recapitulation at work. First, one driven by evolutionary pressures that involve the individual in recapitulating the somatic processes which were developed in our evolutionary history and then the linguistic. These are genetically driven. Then the remaining kinds of understanding are, as it were, "optional". In as far as we learn the romantic, philosophic, and ironic intellectual tools they have to be recapitulated from our cultural history. But, having mumbled that, I do agree with you that the use of "recapitulation" is a tad overdone. I'm not sure it's trivial exactly, but the whole theory could have been articulated without any mention of recapitulation. It just seemed to me a neat way to frame it. Things one might live to regret # 325.

From: Tom_Snyder@teachtsp.com
Mime-Version: 1.0
Date: Thu, 8 May 97 09:14:02 -0800
X-Mailer: GlobalCenter (tm), Global Village Communication, Inc. 1.2
X-Priority: Normal
To: Kieran_Egan@sfu.ca


Yikes, did I enjoy that conversation with yourself in Chapter 6 of The Educated Mind. Arguing with one's self in such an intimate way is actually illegal in some provinces. I first read your book Teaching as Story Telling in the mid 80's and I have enjoyed reading each of the next. Early on, I confess with affection, that I suspected that you might be a Jerry Bruner wannabee, when you used some word like "ontic", but then I realized that it was me who was the J.B. wannabee.

Anyway, enough of me... well not quite yet. You may know my work if you follow the world of educational software from the States, or if you watch cable TV may know my show Dr Katz: Professional Therapist (an adult animated comedy). But enough of me... well not quite yet... I was reading The Educated Mind last night and then rushed off to a dinner with an educator named Debra Maier from the boroughs of NY. We had a great chat about you. But enough of you. I guess I'm just glad to find your email address after all of these years of following your path. I hope you are equally thrilled to get my email address. Coincidence: I published a book in 1985 with Addison Wesley called: In Search of the Most Amazing Thing: An Educated Mind. It was read by literally dozens of professors. My main point was that school is about drama and narrative...

If you have a minute, hit the reply button.
Tom Snyder, Tom Snyder Productions, Cambridge MA

PS I reread the above message and it just doesn't get any more flippant than this.

To: Egan@sfu.ca
Subject: Feedback (The Educated Mind)
name: Michael Stubitsch
institution: Scarborough Board of Education
email: mvkmz@interlog.com
topic: First Impressions
comments re: The Educated Mind.

Since reading your first book and using it to plan curriculum, I have been intrigued by your views and suggested methods.

I have just, by chance, received news of the new book and was delighted to be able to visit the publisher's site, read the introductory chapter, and then to visit your site, and wade into all of the supplementary materials. I can't remember reading an omitted chapter prior to reading a book itself. So bravo for the "novelty" of this innovation in publishing! And, I assure you that I shall be ordering the book very soon.

Before closing, I just want to fawn a bit by saying that I find your approach to curriculum making refreshing. All too often it tends towards bureaucratic nonsense. I find your planning models tend towards a more humanistic and human representation of teaching and learning. And, I do delight in the intellectual challenge of your theory-making, replete as it is with rich references.

Once I have read and digested the book, I may return to give a bit more feedback of an more informed sort.

Thank you for publishing the new book.


K.E. response:

Well, thank you. I am grateful for the comments about the use of the planning frameworks. I do hear of some uses--such as those described in the book JOURNEYS OF DISCOVERY by Miranda Armstrong, Anne Connelly, and Kathy Saville, published by Oxford University Press in Melbourne 1994, in which they descibe the integrated units they planned on the framework in TEACHING AS STORY TELLING--and others more anecdotally. It's nice to know something is happening with them. Thanks.

Date: Sat, 28 Jun 1997 07:20:49 -0700 (PDT)
To: Egan@sfu.ca
Subject: Feedback (General)
name: RichardFox, University of Exeter, U.K.
institution: R.M.H.Fox@exeter.ac.uk

email: new topic:

general comments: Somatic Understanding and the educated mind: amidst all the linguistic imperialism which has been about in recent years, it is refreshing to read the section on somatic understanding in chapter 5 of The Educated Mind. It is pretty clear that infants are purposeful, intelligent and soon able to represent the world to themselves, without language. Something which is not mentioned in the same chapter is Piaget's pioneering studies of what he labelled "sensori-motor" intelligence. Yes, we know that Piaget got lots of things wrong, including lots of things about infants, but he never made the mistake of thinking that symbolic thinking only started with language acquisition. John Searle has a neat way of relating our intentional conscious mind to what probably went before it: beliefs and desires map onto perceptions and actions. We try to align our beliefs with how things are in the world; we want them to have a mind to world fit. In the case of desires, we want to change the world so as to fit our desires. Desries relate to actions as beliefs relate to perceptions. Desires have world to mind fit.

(This is highly frustrating! I can't see what I'm typing... time to fade away. One last thought: much of the uncertainty about post-modernist scepticism seems to turn on whether, and how, we get feedback from the world, for example via perception. If, as in direct theories of perception, we have direct access to the "brute facts" about reality, then our traditional empirical methods have a lot to be said for them, after all.

Dear Richard,

Thanks for the interesting comments. I obviously agree with the points you make about the excessive emphasis on language as the "essence" of human intelligence--a consistent theme of Rorty's notion of a "liberal ironist", as I discuss in the book. And, despite the easy disparagement of Piaget that seems currently the fashion, and from which I haven't been immune, your observation about the cognitive constituents of his sensori-motor intelligence, and its persistence as a basis for later "languaged" intelligences, is good to be reminded of. I have drawn on Searle at other points in the book, but had forgotten the ideas you mention. Yes, I guess we can't quite dispense with empiricism in the mind/world business. Thanks again.

Best wishes,


Date: Thu, 17 Apr 1997 22:22:37 -0700
From: "Philip J. Pocock" Reply-To: ppocock@ibm.net
X-Mailer: Mozilla 3.01 (Win16; I)
MIME-Version: 1.0
To: kieran_egan@sfu.ca
Subject: WOW!

I don't know when I've come upon (via U of Chicago Press) such a valuable Web site.

David Tracy at U of Chicago "put me onto" a book that gives a good linkage with the early Greek and Roman philosophers: PHILOSOPHY AS A WAY OF LIFE, by Pierre Hadot, intro by Arnold Davidson, published by Blackwell 1995. An insightful book and not just an account of the complex interaction of individual accomplishments.

Now I'll settle down and read through what I took great joy in downloading.

Many thanks and all best

Philip Pocock

K.E. response:

Gosh. Thanks for the book suggestion. Glad you enjoyed the site.

Date: Sat, 21 Jun 97 09:30:04 -500
From: Monica_R._Edinger@dalton.org (Monica R. Edinger)
Organization: NLTL/The Dalton School
Subject: The Educated Mind
To: Kieran_Egan@sfu.ca, SNMEdinger@scholastic.com

Dear Kieran,

I am a fourth grade teacher at the Dalton School, an old progressive school in New York City. A philosopher friend introduced me to your book "Imagination in Teaching and Learning" several years ago and last summer I began to dip into your other work as I wrote a book on teaching history. I discovered your e-mail address in one of your books, we had a brief correspondence, and I saved your responses, but not mine. I seem to have let you know that I found the first chapter of "Imagination in Teaching and Learning" a bit of a slog, the rest more accessible and also wrote of my admiration of "Teaching as Story Telling" and other writings on imagination in education. Also of my delight in your rejection of Piagetian theory. I'm constantly stopped dead by so-called "developmental teaching." Half the time the educators using this language don't even know what they mean by it. Only that it means that close literary analysis is not "developmentally appropriate' for 4th graders. (Your idea of "outward looking "teaching -thank you, thank you! They often do know vaguely of Vygotsky's idea of zones of proximal development so I've even got a hook.)

I also evidently wrote you of my own books - one for Scholastic called "Fantasy Literature in the Elementary Classroom" (Scholastic, 1995) and the one I was writing when I wrote you, "Far Away and Long Ago: Young Historians in the Classroom." (with Stephanie Fins, Stenhouse, November 1997) The teaching and learning described in both are strongly about imagination. (I wanted to title the first, "Imaginary Worlds" but that was too creative for Scholastic. They were terrified that Christian fundamentalists would shun them for a book on fantasy so made the title as boring as possible.) I didn't know your work when I wrote the first book, but for the second I included several references to your work. The longest chapter is called "Long Ago: Imagining the Pilgrims." I will ask the publisher to send you a copy since you have been so influential in my thinking. (You acually wrote that we should try a swap of on-going manuscripts for a "bit of mutually supportive criticism." While I was thrilled with your suggestion, I think I'm relieved we didn't. I'd have been so totally intimidated that I have no idea what I would have been able to say except superlatives.) My hope is to next write something for teachers focused around the idea of imagination.

I have now dipped into "The Educated Mind" and find it helpful in furthering my thinking. ("Dipped" because I'm a greedy reader - impatient to get to the stuff that speaks most to my own work -that is mythic and romantic. I read much of it carefully; however, I admit I haven't read chapters 4 and 5 yet.) I teach at a "progressive" school and sometimes wonder what kind of educator I am. Traditional or progressive? (Those binary structures!) Much of what my colleagues do is imaginative; it is also very rooted in progressive ideas - especially the one of starting where the children are. That is the one that frustrates me the most and I love your arguments against it. I'd been teaching history and fantasy literature with a vague idea of how children enjoy things that are drastically different from their own lives. You have provided me with a theory to support this intuition. You also seem to be in some other educational universe (that's good!) from those I usually traverse. I worry that I'm closer to Hirsch yet I don't like the superficiality of his lists and Core Knowledge stuff than Dewey whose political stance and learning by doing ideas used to be my theoretical base. Perhaps I've become frustrated with them. I do know that I want to provide children with compelling studies - intensive, deep engagements involving content that I am passionate about. You have provided me with a theory to support that. Even though, I am sure, few at my school will have the slightest interest in your work (they are so set in the traditonal/progressive structures), at least I can sit through faculty meetings knowing there are other ways to think about teaching and learning.

This summer I have a fellowship at the US Library of Congress to develop curriculum for their on-line American Memory Collections. These are part of the National Digital Library. I'll be working with a librarian at my school to develop a library curriculum for our 4th graders. I think, after looking at your planned frameworks, that I'll use them in this project. I'm not sure yet if the Mythic or Romantic one is best - perhaps I'll use both.

Since I'm a Lewis Carroll fanatic is seems appropriate that I have become a fan of an educational thinker who, "manages to bring educational theory into the late nineteenth century..."

Thank you!


Monica Edinger

Go Back