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Jean Piaget: The Man Who Listened to Children
As a distinct form of scientific study, psychology does not boast a long history. During the earliest years of its practice, the study was used in a sort of "one size fits all" manner, with the client undergoing the same sort of analysis regardless of gender, age, or background. As more information was gathered through actual interaction with subjects from different parts of human society, it was found that men and women are different and cultural influences can profoundly affect the individuals subject to them.
Jean Piaget was among the first psychologists to understand that children are more than simply little adults (Kitchener, 1986).
Piaget was born on August 9, 1896, in Neuchatel, Switzerland. His father, Arthur, was professor of medieval literature at the University of Neuchatel, and his mother, the former Rebecca Jackson, was also an educated person, assuring young Jean of a home brimming with intellectual stimulation. Piaget was their oldest child. Photographs of the boy often show a serious and thoughtful child whose face is highlighted by piercing, dark eyes above a long nose, and a high forehead topped by thick, hearty black hair. One family picture taken when Piaget was about eight years old, resents a rather different image, however. Situated between his stern-looking parents to his left and his two subdued younger sisters to the right, Piaget sports a mischievous and inviting grin. Photos snapped of him throughout the remainder of his long life generally feature that same inviting, friendly smile (Vidal, 1994).
Piaget proved to be an excellent student and was already attending Neuchatel Latin High School at age eleven. It was at this point that he wrote a short scientific paper about an albino sparrow that was remarkable in its perception and is now considered to be the beginning of a scientific career that would reach towering proportions (Evans, 1973).
His first intellectual love was not for psychology, however. The boy was fascinated by mollusks, the soft-bodied and often shell-encased creatures found in abundance on both land and sea. Piaget's interest ranged from the common snail to the exotic (and often unfairly maligned) octopus. He published dozens of papers on the topic throughout his career, and the fascination never left him (Piaget, 1976).
Following his education, Piaget married Valentine Chatenay in 1923, with whom had three children: daughters Jacqueline and Lucienne and son Laurent. Piaget carefully studied their intellectual development from infancy to the acquisition of language (Evans, 1973).
Piaget was a tireless researcher and a prolific reporter of what he uncovered. In all, he produced more than sixty books and several hundred articles while establishing an entirely new genre in the study of childhood psychology.
Recognized worldwide, Piaget received more than thirty honorary doctorates, including those bestowed on him by Harvard (1936), Manchester (1959), Cambridge (1962), and Bristol (1970). He was appointed to the presidency of the Swiss Commission for UNESCO and the International Union of Scientific Psychology, among many other appointments and received a dozen important international prizes, including the Erasmus Prize in 1972.
Jean Piaget was a world traveler, but he ever returned to his beloved Switzerland, where he died (in Geneva) on September 16, 1980. Though his original theories of childhood psychology have undergone revision by those who followed him in the field, their basic tenets have proven to be lasting ones, and his reputation as a major figure in the scientific investigation of the human mind remains powerful (Bridgewater and Kurtz, 1969).
Piaget's Educational Background
Upon graduation from Neuchatel Latin High School, Piaget entered the University of Neuchatel, where he studied natural sciences and obtained a Ph.D. A semester spent studying at the University of Zurich sparked Piaget's interest in psychoanalysis, and he spent a year working in France at a boy's institution (Ecole de la rue de la Grange-aux-Belles) founded by famous early psychoanalyst Alfred Binet and directed by De Simon, who had devised one of the earliest tests for the measurement of intelligence with Binet. Piaget conducted his first experimental studies of young minds during this year.
Piaget became the director of studies at the Institute Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Geneva in 1921, a position he held until 1925, when he moved to the University of Neuchatel as Professor of Psychology, Sociology, and the Philosophy of Science.
Thereafter, Piaget's educational appointments were many. Throughout all the moves, he was continuously studying his own children and making statements about their growth and development which would later form his famous theory of child growth and development (Evans, 1973).
Piaget's Basic Premise and Enduring Perception
As stated earlier, Piaget was one of the first investigators to perceive of a concept which seems extraordinarily simple to today's student of psychology, but which was revolutionary for its time: the psychology of the child differs dramatically from that of the adult. Until his studies, human beings were basically viewed as interchangeable by psychologists, with a set of virtually innate psychological principles with which to deal with life. Piaget's observations were that these principles develop during the earliest years of a child's development, acting in the manner of a progressive construction of "logically embedded structures superseding one another by a process of inclusion of lower, less powerful logical means into higher and more powerful ones up to adulthood. Therefore, children's logic and modes of thinking are initially entirely different from those of adults" (Smith, 1996).
Why I Chose Jean Piaget
My interest while studying psychology is focused upon children. I plan to pursue a career in early childhood education, and the works of Piaget provide a solid foundation in this area. By using Piaget (and the subsequent studies of those men and women who have followed his path), a door into this wondrous period of human development will be opened for me and help to prepare me for the profound duties which I will assume in helping new minds understand what the world offers them.
Piaget's Theories Simply Put
During the first three years of life, a child will develop crucial intellectual, emotional and social abilities, learn to give and accept love, to be confident and secure, to show empathy, to be curious and persistent -- all abilities that will enable him to learn, relate well to others and lead a happy and productive life. This is an exciting period in a child's life!
Begins to make use of imitation, memory, and thought. Begins to recognize that objects do not cease to exist when they are hidden. Moves from reflex actions to goal-directed activity.
Gradually develops use of language and ability to think in symbolic form. Able to think operations through logically in one direction. Has difficulties seeing another person's point-of-view.
Able to solve concrete (hands-on) problems in logical fashion. Understands laws of conservation and is able to classify and sequence objects. Understands reversibility.
11- Adult Years
Able to solve abstract problems in logical fashion. Becomes more scientific in thinking. Develops concerns about social issues, identity.
Infancy: The Sensorimotor Stage. The earliest period involves seeing, hearing, moving, touching, and tasting. During this period, the child develops OBJECT PERMANENCE, the understanding that objects in the environment exists whether the infant perceives them or not. "Out of sight, out of mind" typifies the sensorimotor stage. As the child approaches the next stage, the older infant who searches for the ball that has rolled out of sight is indicating an understanding that the objects still exist even though they cannot see it.
Early Childhood to the Primary School Years: The Preoperational Stage. This stage is marked with the use of many action schemes. However, as long as these schemes remain tied to physical actions, they are of no use in recalling the past, tracking new information, and planning future actions. Piaget coined the term OPERATIONS for actions that are carried out and reversed mentally rather than physically. This stage is called Preoperational because the child has not yet mastered the mental operations - but mastery of this mental capacity is imminent. Preoperational children, according to Piaget, are very EGOCENTRIC; they tend to see the world and the experiences of others only from their own viewpoint. Another characteristic common to Preoperational children involves CONSERVATION tasks.
Elementary to Middle School Years: The Concrete Operational Stage. "Hands-on Thinking" best describes this stage. The basic characteristics are the recognition of the logical stability of the physical world, the realization that elements can be changed or transformed and still conserve many of their original characteristics, and the understanding that these changes can be reversed. With an understanding of REVERSIBILITY, the student can mentally cancel out any changes that have been made - in effect, mastering two-way thinking.
Junior and Senior High: The Formal Operations Stage. Some individuals will remain at the concrete operations stage throughout their school career - and even throughout the remainder of their lives. ABSTRACT REASONING is the hallmark of formal operations; it…[continue]
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