Reviews of

The Educated Mind

Book Reviews

From the American Journal of Education.

The Educated Mind. How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding by Kieran Egan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. x+299 pp.; bibliography, index.


William Frawley

University of Delaware

November 1998


Every few years I try to read what Kieran Egan has written to get a feel for the latest alliances and squabbles in pedagogy and curriculum. Egan is an evenhanded writer who speaks unpretentiously and offers practical ideas.


Egan's work over the past fifteen years--beginning with an attack on the Piaget-Plato grip on education (1983) and then moving to the links between teaching and narrative (1986) and imagination and schooling (1990, 1992)--naturally culminates in The Educated Mind. In his view, three entrenched and incompatible ideas drive current educational thinking: (1) schools are for socializing children (hence children learn skills and teachers are social workers); (2) schools are for inculcating forms of knowledge (hence children are packed with the best ideas for cntical sensibilitv and teachers are the authorities); and (3) schools are for developing the individual's potential (hence children have to learn how to learn and teachers are the facilitators of children's intrinsic unfolding). How do these clash? The normative drive of (1) runs smack into the critical reflection of (2) and the individualism of (3); knowledge drives development in (2), whereas development drives knowledge in (3).


Egan's solution to this impasse is a recapitulation theory in which five forms of thought govern intellectual development both historically and individually and guide curriculum and teaching practice. He spends roughly the first half of the book describing the kinds of understanding and their trajectory through intellectual history: (1) Somatic Understanding: mimetic coding of the outside world, iconic, nonlinguistic body-based knowing; (2) Mythic Understanding: binary, fantastic, rhythmic, narrative, oral knowing; (3) Romantic Understanding: heroic, transcendent, exotic, personal, affective, literate knowing marked by a mix of mythic and rational; (4) Philosophic Understanding: systematic, generalizing, abstract, disinterested, truth-driven knowing; and (5) Ironic Understanding: reflexive, contingent, fragmentary, diffuse knowing, undercutting, and self-critical without being dismissive.


Forms 2 - 5 are language-based, and all "earlier" forms support, but do not disappear in, "later" ones (this earlier-later talk is problematic: see below). These kinds of understanding ground the development of instructional language to mediate students' educational actions in the tension between what they can accomplish alone and what they can do with help, and so the whole picture is sympathetic to Vy otskyan, sociohistorical psychology (Wertsch 1998).


Egan's historical evidence is compelling and his practical advice is remarkable. For example, he nicely describes the changes in historical reporting from Homer (Mythic) to Herodotus (Romantic) to Thucydides (Philosophic) to Burkhardt (Ironic), and he shows how teachers might capitalize on the collecting behavior of Romantic-thinking adolescents to have them gather and master sets of "exotic" things. Overall, he pushes a point from one of his earlier books (Egan 1983): why be tied to the logical idea that children are unabstract and must be taught the familiar before the unfamiliar, the obvious before the hidden, when the ontological facts speak otherwise?


The traditional curriculum of the best and most substantial ideas in history can be brought together with the progressivist curriculum of individual potential and sensitivity to real social and possessed knowledge if we let multiple and simultaneous forms of knowing drive schooling. The language of daily and weekly units--tools mediating intellectual development--is guided by the five kinds of understanding.


In the second half of the book, Egan offers advice on how to put this educational program into practice. One might teach science Mythically, by giving dramatic, binarily structured stories of scientific ideas. He suggests an ingenious story about air, organized in terms of empty/full, or polluted/clean, as a way to introduce elementary school children to the way science looks for principles behind everyday things. One might teach punctuation Romantically by showing literacy's need for text markers and having the students invent punctuation systems themselves. One might teach Philosophically by casting personal qualities originally tied to people (in Romantic teaching) as disembodied ideas in abstract, theoretical metanarratives. (I think here of Flanagan [1996], who argues that morality is easy to teach, but character-- the view of what kind of person you might want to be--is not.)


Sandwiched between the first half on understanding and the second half on practice is a chapter of anticipated critique, where Egan poses and tries to answer some of the questions readers are surely thinking. For example, in having Ironic, self-critical understanding as the last stage, is he not privileging the white, Western conceptualization of postmodernism as the ultimate irony? His response is that the five kinds of understanding are found in other cultures and serve as an invitation to use their narratives in our education. And what is wrong with Peter Rabbit anyway? That old stereotyped Western standby is not such a bad way to teach about life and death, nature and culture, humans and animals. Egan is good at these self- critiques because he really has no ideological axe to grind. He deflates the neocons and liberals alike: "We might recall Hazlitt's comment again: 'Anyone who has passed through the regular gradations of a classical education, and is not made a fool by it, may consider himself as having had a very narrow escape"' (p. 238). "The progressivist position, in contrast, seems hard put to justify any particular curriculum" (p. 131). "In fact, the more urgently 'relevant' the curriculum has been made, the more generally clueless seem its products" (p. 238~. And he is wary of his own pronouncements: "Oh, dear--the problem [with education today, as I, Egan, see it] has to do with one educational theory and the solution with another one?" (p. 2).


Other answers to anticipated criticisms are, to me, less compelling, and this leads to four worries that I raise, not to undermine this fine book, but to lay out as points for dialogue.


First, I am still unpersuaded that this is not a traditional stage-theory in disguise. Egan denies repeatedly that his recapitulation theory is one where individuals reembody historical stages of growth and ultimately end in the best, most advanced one, but throughout the book, I find inconsistencies. Part of the problem is that Egan (inadvertently?) supports the linear-teleological view of intellectual history by presenting the facts sequentially--from Thales onward. If he is advocating a kind of lateral, rhizomic, antiarborescent view of knowledge, then he might show that Homer is as Ironic as Derrida, who is as Mythic as Homer, but that the times in which they lived privilege other root metaphors. He says that his "scheme is not one of constant 'progress' to Irony" (p. 183), but he then calls for "deliberate teaching" toward "the most advanced kinds of understanding" (p. 241). The developmental stages that correspond to the kinds of understanding are remarkably age correlated-" during the years from about fifteen to the early twenties" (p. 125), students seek Philosophic understanding, though I find no explanation why.


Second, while sympathetic to Vygotsky, the argument is not Vygotskyan enough. Vy otsky surfaces as sociohistorical support for the linguistic mediation of thinking in educational contexts and the zone of proximal development. But I think the entire theory could be more Vygotskyan: kinds of understanding go underground, are never lost, and resurface in anyone, given the proper context. Individuals appropriate "the common language they are initiated into to their distinctive, individual needs" (p. 167) since Vygotsky reversed the Piagetian dictum that metathought is homogenized by socialization. Philosophic understanding involves the growth of scientific concepts via language, thus moving concepts from congeries to categories.


Third, despite the claim that this is a cognitive theory, it looks more like a conceptual one--an analysis of ideas--rather than one disconfirmed by experiment. While there are disclaimers (p. 200), I keep for experimental evidence that these kinds of understanding surface as, for example, conditions on inference. Perhaps my misgivings are with the word understanding, which to Egan means something like "guiding idea," "root metaphor," "world hypothesis," "intellectual program," "way of knowing of an era that guides discovery and explanation." But if this is a recapitulation theory, then I need to see how these historical trends surface in instances of individual microgenesis.


Finally, these ideas are practical, but are they practicable? Constructing narratives grounded in and anticipating kinds of understanding and storifying abstract ideas into material ready for the elementarv level are terrific ideas. But I would hate to be the teacher who had to do all this! My worry is surely a partial consequence of my ignorance of school practice, but, given that planning is significantly more labor--and time--intensive than actual teaching, I wonder whether teachers have the time to construct even a fifteen-minute unit on the romance of punctuation, plus have it make contact with the curriculum more broadly. To Egan's credit, he urges use of his website, where he continues to place materials; his idea that several teachers might get together to plan and articulate narratives is very good. (I might suggest that Egan-based curricula will require advanced computer networking, with interactive websites, so that the teachers and students can co-construct these narratives and units and span grade levels virtually.) But in the end I still fear that even very sympathetic teachers will find it tough to do this kind of work on a large scale.


Let me mitigate this sour note with a plea for all to read this book. The current rush to overhaul general education requirements at universities across the country appears to me to be reinventing the three fundamental incompatibilities of modem education that Egan outlines at the start of his book. How many droning meetings have you been to where education for the workforce, the best and greatest knowledge, and individual potential are all on the table at once and--surprise!--the solution is to put them all together into one great big policy stew? I now look back on Egan's book and think that we might try to do everything differently.




Egan, Kieran. Education and Psychology: Plato, Piaget, and Scientific Psychology. New York: Teachers College Press, 1983.


Egan, Kieran. Teaching as Story Telling. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.


Egan, Kieran. Romantic Understanding. The Development of Rationality and Imagination, Ages 8 -15. London: Roudedge, 1990.


Egan, Kieran. Imagination in Teaching and Learning: The Middle School Years. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.


Flanagan, Owen. Self Expressions: Mind, Morals, and the Meaning of Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.


Wertsch, James V. Mind as Action. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.



WILLIAM FRAWLEY is professor of linguistics and cognitive science and chair of the department of linguistics at the University of Delaware. His most recent book is Vygvtsky and Cognitive Science (Harvard University Press, 1997).


From the British National Association of Teachers of Further and Higher Education Journal, The Lecturer, Dec. 1997.


  This is really a very exciting book. Egan manages to do what most writers on education say they are trying to do, but rarely succeed, in that it is a genuinely creative blend of theory and practice.

The central problem which Egan identifies is that despite the large sums of money which are spent on it, there is widespread public dissatisfaction with education in the West, and this is not obviously because the policies which education represents are all wrong. He identifies the difficulty here as a conceptual one, in that there is disagreement about the purpose of education, and this results in education trying to do three things at once. One of these aims is to improve socially relevant skills and values, another is to master particular bodies of knowledge and the last is the development of each student's innate potential.

The debate between the adherents of each of these aims against the others is arid, he claims, since it seeks to prioritise just one approach to the role of education. The reason that incoherence enters the practice of education is because we as a society tend to hold all these three interpretations of education at the same time, in the sense that there are educational practices in operation which between them share all these interpretations. As a result everyone blames everyone else for what is perceived to be wrong with the education system, and what is at the core of the dispute is a conceptual rather than financial difficulty.

How may this conceptual difficulty be resolved? The solution, Egan suggests, is to regard each interpretation of education as appropriate to a different stage or aspect of the educational process, since each interpretation genuinely represents some part of our cultural history. So the process of education needs to involve different kinds of understanding, to be explored through working with different types of stories. This is not something which educators should seek to organise in such a way as to rule out competing stories, since all such ways of understanding are valid and important aspects of who we are. Egan provides some fascinating practical examples of how teachers can use stories and fantasies to develop this variety of understanding.

Many writers on education argue for the importance of imagination in education, but few manage to display its importance with the panache which one finds here. Readers who feel jaded by the output of recent educational thinkers will be refreshed by this book.

Oliver Leaman Liverpool John Moores University


from the Vancouver Sun Saturday Review, Nov. 15th. 1997.

A radical remedy for our children's future.


Imagine, for a moment, what it must be like not to be able to read a novel for pleasure, not to be able to glean ideas from a magazine article, not to be able to comprehend an instruction manual to write a test that could lead to a better job.

If you're reading this column, chances are you're among the literate fortunate. But for many of our neighbours, that impoverished life is all too real. As an editorial in this newspaper this week reminded us, a recent international adult literacy survey found that seven million Canadians - about 42 per cent of adults between 16 and 65 - don't have the reading, writing and numerical skills required to function effectively at work or at home.

Despite the fact that we claim one of the highest standards of living in the world, we seem chronically unable, generation after generation, to carry out our society's implicit promise to allow everyone access, through education, to a rich, fulfilling and imaginative life.

What if we simply have the whole idea of education wrong?

Step forward Kieran Egan, professor of education at Simon Fraser University. The costs of our educational crisis, he believes, "in terms of social alienation, psychological rootlessness, and ignorance of the world and the possibilities of human experience within it, are incalculable and heartbreaking."

His new book, The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding (University of Chicago, 299 pp., $34.95) not only pinpoints what he thinks are the ills besetting our approach to education, but offers a radical new prescription for its improved health - nothing less than a reconception of what we mean by education.

Egan is careful to point out that this is not a book of new discoveries or new knowledge, but simply a new organization of long-known ideas. "'The difficulty lies" (he quote John Maynard Keynes as saying) "not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones."

The old ideas can be succinctly summarized. The problem (as Egan defines it) is that our current conception of education is "fundamentally incoherent." We expect education to do three things - and the bad news is that "the three ideas are mutually incompatible."

"We expect education to:

Shape the young to the current norms and conventions of adult society - socialize them, in other words;

Teach them the knowledge that will ensure that their thinking conforms with what is real and true about the world;

Encourage the development of each student's individual potential.

In our modern multicultural, technology-driven society, the incompatibility is clear. The first idea - socialization - is in clear opposition to the second, which implies connecting the child with "the great cultural conversation" that transcends conventional norms, beliefs and values.

The second, meanwhile, "tries too hard to secure for students a reliable image of reality" at the expense of wisdom and compassion. Similarly, socializing is in direct conflict with the development of individual potential, which involves releasing students to explore and discover their uniqueness.

All three ideas have accumulated unwanted bathwater that Egan is keen to pour down the sink. His proposed new approach will, he believes, preserve the babies while moving us toward the notion of education as an unfolding sequence of what he calls "kinds of understanding."

In effect, this mimics the historical sequence of Western cultural development. Each "kind of understanding" results from the development of particular language tools. They progress from oral language to basic literacy, from literacy to the ability to handle theoretical abstractions, and from there to "the extreme linguistic reflexiveness that yields irony."

To anyone, like this writer, who regrets the widespread North American indifference to (or inability to appreciate) irony, that wonderful playground of the incongruously juxtaposed perspective, this all makes sweet sense. And when we examine the proposed methods by which these ideas could be integrated into the curriculum, we can only regret not being young enough to rush daily to class.

How does it work? Egan identifies five "kinds of understanding," starting with the Somatic and progressing through the Mythic, the Romantic and the Philosophic to the Ironic. At each stage, the stress is on direct access to topics through narrative structures, drama, mystery and the human dimension. Teachers become storytellers; students engage their natural talents for creating a poetic, imaginative world.

I don't have space for more than an example or two. In the Mythic phase, the tools would be metaphor, rhythmic language, story structures. Students might look at history (for example) through "the struggle of life against extinction" or "the struggle for freedom against oppression, with the dramatic incidents of that extensive and dramatic story forming the lessons over many weeks . . .The aim is to tell a vital part of the human story that will help students make sense of the world and the society into which they are growing."

As students approach the Philosophic phase, at around 15, they will move toward ideas: where they earlier learned about, say, some human quality through dramatic event, the focus will now become the quality itself.

Eventually they reach the level of Irony, by which I gather Egan means the stage where the student can look at a topic or an idea from a variety of often conflicting points of view.

Ultimately, Egan believes, students will be led "by a somewhat unconventional route to, what seems to me, a more abundantly educated life."

Well, no question about that. An individual who has acquired the layering of knowledge and awareness that Egan defines is inevitably going to offer multiple enrichments - of her own life, of course, because of the possibilities of engagement with the world that such a liberated imagination will allow; but, equally, of the life of society at large.

Egan argues his case with such energy, wit and conviction, and it is an argument so spectacular in its simplicity and its promise, that you close its pages in full agreement with his suggestion that it might indeed be a better bet than any other theory of education around.

Why on earth (you find yourself asking) hasn't it been done this way before?

We might even imagine, indeed, the emergence of a voting class equipped with the kind of intelligent, ironic skepticism (and the tools to verbalize it) that would ensure that such widespread literacy-inadequacy would eventually become nothing but a painful memory.

Wouldn't that be ironic?

Max Wyman.

from the NEW SCIENTIST, June 28, 1997


Teaching's mission impossible


FAILURE to produce enough science students&endash;indeed, to deliver young adults proficient in a whole range of subjects-is a common criticism of schools and universities in Britain.

In The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding (University of Chicago Press, £19-95, ISBN 0 226 19036 6), a carefully argued and readable book, Kieran Egan argues that this failure is due to an education system based on conflicting goals that can never all be fulfilled. We are, he says, setting ourselves impossible targets by attempting to use education to produce good citizens equipped with the social skills and values required by society, to impart knowledge and to fulfill the potential of each student. Success in all three areas is.mutually exclusive, he claims.

Egan proposes a radical change of approach for the whole process of education. Drawing on sources as diverse as Plato, Rousseau and Piaget, he discusses how maturing children develop the ability to use a variety of intellectual "tools" to understand the world around them. He suggests that different tools for understanding--somatic, mythic, romantic, philosophic and ironic--be used to discover how children and young people are best able to learn, offering a vision of education that recapitulates the way humans develop cultural understanding.

Flesh is placed on the bones of these ideas by chapters on the implications for the curriculum and teaching. Egan also offers a Web site for interactive communication on his ideas.

There is much in this book to interest and excite those who discuss, research or deliver education. For example, when discussing science education, he says: 'The more general and speculative theories in any [scientific] discipline are treated like a disreputable relation who, even though the children find her exciting and entertaining, must be kept hidden from view". Egan warns that a common result is that the more imaginative students, who might enormously enjoy scientific study and contribute significantly to the exercise, are disenchanted and repelled."

Ann Fullick


From the New York Times Book Review, Sunday 7th. Sept. 1997.

By Jonty Driver. (C. J. (Jonty) Driver, formerly principal of Island School in Hong Kong and headmaster of Berkhamsted School, is the master of Wellington College in England and the editor of the magazine of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.)


Understanding Understanding

A new theory of education that is (believe it or not) useful.


Kieran Egan's new book, "The Educated Mind," contains a fascinating and provocative study of cultural and linguistic history, and of how various kinds of understanding that can be distinguished in that history are recapitulated in the developing minds of children. It also spells out a new theory of education.

As Egan himself acknowledges, most modern educational theory is dreary and muddled--indeed, often tautological, reaching such devastating conclusions as "some schools are perceived as better than others" or "what makes one school seem better than another is more often than not owing to the quality of leadership in that school." It is thus a particular pleasure to come across a book about education that is witty and self-deprecating, as well as learned and useful.

Egan, who is a professor of education at Simon Fraser University in Canada, argues that educational theory is a muddle because its three main historical ideas are mutually incompatible: that we must shape the young to the current norms and conventions of adult society (in jargon, "socialization"); that we must teach them the knowledge that will insure their thinking conforms with what is real and true about the world (Plato, in Egan's shorthand); and that we must encourage the development of each student's individual potential (Rousseau). In place of this approach, Egan proposes a new idea: to shape our curriculums and our teaching in the same way as the mind develops various kinds of understanding, in effect recapitulating the way Western culture has developed, from the prelinguistic through to modern times.

He distinguishes five kinds of understandling: the earliest (Somatic) he deals with last, perhaps because it is the most vague--a mode of mind, rather than a kind of understanding; he borrows from other researchers the term "mimetic" to characterize it as a communicating activity preceding the development of language and says it survives in the way children "model their overall social structure in play" even before they learn to talk. The others are the Mythic (roughly, comprehending the world in stories, as children do between the ages of 2 and 6 or 7), the Romantic (with its "associations with the transcendent qualities of heroes, fascination with the extremes of experience and the limits of reality, and pervasive wonder"), the Philosophic (which allows us "to bring very complex knowledge into coherent general schemes") and the Ironic (which involves "sufficient mental flexibility to recognize how inadequately flexible are our minds, and the languages we use, to the world we try to represent in them"). And he mentions, in passing, a sixth, the Spiritual.

He explores each kind of understanding as an intellectual development in Western history, and then draws parallels with the way young minds change and grow. "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." He is not rigid in his separation of kinds of understanding; indeed, "somewhat distinctive" is a constant and self-conscious refrain: understanding is "polysemous," though categories help us to understand understanding. Moreover, there is loss as well as gain; it is not for nothing that in Egan's book Wordsworth is restored to a rightful position as a profound thinker about education. Egan is passionately concerned to re-establish the imagination as crucial in education: not the poet's imagination, which Wordsworth called "the secondary imagination," but the primary that which belongs to everyone, what Coleridge called "a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation of the infinite I AM."

I am not entirely convinced by Egan's recapitulation theory, partly because I am concerned that applying recapitulation theory to ihe processes of education might (in the hands of dogmatists) turn into another intellectual straitjacket as limiting as the application of Piagetian theory has been (one delight of Egan's book is how substantially he demolishes Piaget, and all the consequential nonsense about "relevance," the "concrete," "hands-on experience" and the rest). However, I have no doubts that teaching to these various kinds of understanding, and allowing room in the curriculum for these different kinds of understanding at different stages of development, would represent a splendid enrichment for most schools.and their pupils.

The huge difficulty with learning is that it doesn't happen in straight lines; it progresses by leaps, or sometimes meanders around on a plateau and then sprints for a precipice (up or down). Ask anyone who remembers learning to read if it happened in the stages described in the textbooks, and he or she will reply, "Well, I seemed to skip this or that stage entirely." Or consider the teacher who complains because a pupil misses a class to have a violin lesson, on the apparently logical ground that academic continuity is lost, though that same pupil may be away ill for a fortnight and yet seem to fill in the gaps without any stumbling at all, if the will is there.

Egan would almost certainly accept this idea, because his humane theorizing, properly ironic, is the opposite of Procrustean dogmatism--and one would guess he himself must be a gifted teacher, if one judges by Chapter 6 ("Some Questions and Answers"). Indeed, one of the most exciting things about "The Educated Mind" is that its author clearly perceives it as a work in progress. He gives his E-mail address for any reader "who wishes to send comments, questions or related ideas."

I shall certainly be joining in the debate myself--though, like most people who actually run schools, I usually flee from theory as fast as I can. "The Educated Mind" is something very new and different.

After this review appeared I was sent a copy of a letter addressed to Mr. Driver. It is the kind of thing that somehow makes the whole business seem worthwhile. Here it is:

"September 10, 1997

Headmaster C.J. (Jonty) Driver

Headmaster of Wellington College

Crowthorne, Berkshire, RG 112 NN, ENGLAND

Dear Headmaster Driver:

In your book review of "The Educated Mind" by Kieran Egan (NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, September 7, 1997), you are, to paraphrase, delighted by Egan's substantial demolition of Piaget's theories, etc.

I believe that Piaget's theories and insights will be studied and respected by the academic community long after Egan, his book, his new theory of education, and your review will have been forgotten.

Yours truly,

xxx ".

The last paragraph expresses a belief that it is not at all hard to share. What is odd is that, while Piaget has come in for perhaps excessive criticism of late, I have long been an enormous admirer of his work. I have tended to be very critical of the way it has often been "applied" in education, and I can only agree with the recent research that has shown significant flaws in his theories. Admiration of someone's work doesn't remove it from criticism. As I wrote elsewhere: "Criticism is appreciation. If Piaget is occasionally inconsistent and plain wrong . . . we remember that we do not expect geniuses primarily to be clear, consistent, and right. We can teach almost anyone to be clear, consistent, and right. We expect geniuses to practice that magic which pulls new ideas out of the air. We need only recall the common image of cognitive development before Piaget's work to see how well he has fulfilled such expectations." (Education and Psychology. New York: Teachers College Press, 1983, p. 106.)




From the Library Journal. March 1st. 1997.


Egan, Kieran.

The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding.

Univ. of Chicago. 1997. c.302p. ISBN 0-226-19036-6. $24.95.


Egan (author of Imagination in Teaching & Learning, Univ. of Chicago, 1992) argues here that the incompatibilities of three inherited significant educational ideas--"socialization," "Plato and the truth about reality," and "Rousseau and nature's guidance"--have brought about clashes at every level of the educational process, from teaching methods to curriculum decisions. His diagnosis presents a new and sophisticated alternative. To keep educational energy alive, Egan endorses William Wordsworth's idea of stimulating the imagination early on. His theory seems practical as well as innovative in that he concludes his work with timely proposals for changes and applications in teaching and curriculum. Extremely clear and readable, this work provides a compelling vision for today's uncertain educational system.

Samuel T. Huang, Northern Illinois Univ. Libs., DeKalb

From Amazon Books ( Books:

Imagine the consequences if such polar opposites as Plato and Rousseau opened a school together--the results would be nothing less than schizophrenic. Yet, according to Kieran Egan, author of The Educated Mind, this is exactly the model upon which most of Western education is based. Historically, schools in the West have been chartered to perform three fundamentally contradictory tasks: to socialize children, to encourage conformity, and, at the same time, to develop individual promise. Instead of trying to pound different-shaped pegs into a one-size-fits-all hole, Egan suggests that educators take a new tack: shape learning to the way the human mind develops and understands.

Egan begins by defining five types of understanding: Somatic, Mythic, Romantic, Philosophic, and Ironic. Each kind develops at different points in a child's life and brings with it new abilities to process and integrate information. Throughout each phase, Egan is particularly concerned with the role of imagination in learning--a crucial role, in his opinion. The Educated Mind is not a textbook about methodology. Rather, it is a meditation on the way the mind grows and learns, and on how teachers--and students--might profit from these developmental stages by shaping lesson plans to fit the mind instead of the other way around.

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