The Legacy of Jean Piaget

Have you ever looked at your child and wondered, “What in the world were they thinking?”
Questions like that plague us all from time to time; Jean Piaget turned the questioning into his life’s work.

From early on, the young Swiss child had a keen interest in science, and was well educated in the areas of biology and philosophy. He also earned a degree in zoology, something that probably came in handy later on, dealing with all those kids! It was his work with Alfred Binet, creator of the first IQ tests, in the area of intelligent quotient testing that led him down the path of wonderment that has hugely impacted the way we educate children today.

To his thinking, the ability to understand the way and the why of children’s reasoning would be the key to unlock the mysterious passages and networks of the human mind, and a great deal of his inspiration came from observing his own kids.

Picture Kids Say the Darndest Things’ meets Albert Einstein. Through a vast series of hilarious, thought-provoking experimentation and Q&A studies of children ranging from infancy to pre-adolescence, Piaget developed a theory of cognitive development that centered on a constructionist’ premise, believing that children actively build cognitive skills in a series of four stages; the sensorimotor stage, the pre-operational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage.

Though he wasn’t exactly schooled in the intricacies of education, his theories that children learn through a cycle of assimilation and accommodation that follows their own reasoning and adaptation have helped teachers everywhere guide students to learning at age appropriate levels, and with proper challenging stimuli.

For instance, you can thank Jean Piaget for your first-grader’s understanding of math, if their teacher uses manipulatives to enhance comprehension of the basic properties of numbers. Though somewhat controversial, Piaget is both directly and indirectly responsible for many of today’s teaching methods.

His speculations and findings helped shed light on all kinds of previously unknown areas of children’s thought. He explored everything from spatial relationships in infancy, to developing moral reasoning, to understanding pros and cons of social transmission’ versus cooperative relations;’ the first being where a child learns by a dominant influence, the latter, where power is more evenly distributed to a group, and children are encouraged to openly discuss opinions, following logic to problem solve. It was his belief and hope that his findings would help create an environment for children where inventors and freethinkers would thrive and lead the way for generations to come.

All these discoveries were the building blocks of Piaget’s greatest legacy, his introduction of genetic epistemology, the study of the impact of nature and nurture on thought, learning, and learning processes as a whole. It’s what drove him to make those pioneering advancements in the fields of developmental psychology, particularly cognitive development and human understanding, that have given us better insight into the way people learn.

Before Piaget uncovered these concepts of learning we now take for granted, the ideas of how people acquire knowledge were just considered a branch off of the philosophy tree. Through his quest for discovery, he helped bring psychology to the forefront of recognition with it’s own scientific category. Through his wonder, amazement, and organization of the way a child’s mind works, Jean Piaget helped open the door of knowledge for all of us who wonder “why.”