27 April 2009

On the evolution of dumbing-down

There is a political/commercial side of the alleged process of dumbing-down--the pressure for greater "achievement" rates, etc. But there is also a logistical side, a trivial equivalent of the "banality of evil" demonstrated in the Eichmann trial... Just how does it work?

When I started to create my site on learning, I explicitly set out to address "An introduction to theories of learning for college, adult and professional education" I found that in order to discuss key ideas of assimilation and accommodation, I needed to mention Piaget. But he was primarily a developmental psychologist.

So he was interested in the unfolding potential of the child. I was concerned with its product in the adult, but I needed to sketch in a simplified account of his view of the developmental process, on another page, and just for completeness...

This has become the most viewed page on the site, much to my annoyance!

What happened? There is no agreed way to tag for academic level, on the web... Searchers have latched onto a much-distilled account of an idea, and reproduced it because it has been the most immediately comprehensible account. That was fine for my target audience for whom it was a side-show, but not to be presented as a definitive account.

And web-searchers do tend to stop at, and believe, the first few instances of the search result. But what has now begun to happen is that I am being approached by authors and publishers with requests to reproduce part of the page in text-books they are working on. So for some readers, this diluted version of Piaget's developmental sequence is acquiring an authority it certainly does not deserve, and I perhaps a reputation for over-simplification.

In my present revision I am inserting a caveat on the page, and I have also taken to declining some of the requests; I hope that helps.

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