Goal of Education: Create People Who Are Capable of Doing New Things, Not Simply of Repeating What Other Generations Have Done

Jean Piaget? Eleanor Duckworth? Apocryphal?

learn07Dear Quote Investigator: The following popular quotation appears on a large number of websites in the educational domain. The statement is attributed to the famous developmental psychologist Jean Piaget:

The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.

Some websites list a citation in 1988, but Piaget died in 1980, and no information is provided about when or where it was spoken or written. Would you please examine the provenance of these words?

Quote Investigator: In November 1964 the journal “The Arithmetic Teacher” published an article by Eleanor Duckworth titled “Piaget Rediscovered”. Duckworth had worked with Piaget as a student, and she served as an interpreter for the Swiss psychologist during some U.S. conferences in 1964.

Piaget had recently attended two gatherings on cognitive research. One was held at Cornell University and the other at University of California, Berkeley. Piaget’s responses to questions from participants were recorded and translated by Duckworth. An instance of the quotation appeared in one of these responses.

The inclusive phrase “men and women” was not used; instead, the designation “men” was used to encompass both. The phrase “in the schools” was absent. Oddly, the word “principle” was used instead of “principal”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done—men who are creative, inventive, and discoverers.

The second goal of education is to form minds which can be critical, can verify, and not accept everything they are offered. The great danger today is of slogans, collective opinions, ready-made trends of thought. We have to be able to resist individually, to criticize, to distinguish between what is proven and what is not.

So we need pupils who are active; who learn early to find out by themselves, partly by their own spontaneous activity and partly through material we set up for them, and who learn early to tell what is verifiable and what is simply the first idea to come to them.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1968 the full passage listed above from 1964 was reprinted in the magazine section of “The New York Times” in an article titled “Giant in the Nursery — Jean Piaget”. The word “principle” was replaced by “principal”. This widely-read newspaper was an important locus for the dissemination of the quotation although the source of the words was not specified: 2

“The principal goal of education,” he once said, “is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done—men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.

The second goal of education is to form minds which can be critical, can verify, and not accept everything they are offered…”

In 1973 the journalist Charles E. Silberman edited a collection called “The Open Classroom Reader”. The introduction he wrote included an instance of the quotation that used the phrase “men and women” instead of “men”: 3

Jean Piaget, the most influential child psychologist of modern times, puts it in an even broader context. “The principal goal of education,” he insists, “is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done—men and women who are creative, inventive, and discoverers,” who “have minds which can be critical, can verify, and not accept everything they are offered.”

In October 1984 a report about chemistry education in the United States was release by a task force convened by the American Chemical Society in Washington D.C. When the U.S. Congress held a committee hearing on science policy in July 1985 the report was inserted into the official record of the proceedings. An instance of the quotation was included in the report. The phrase “men and women” was also used here: 4

“The principal goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done… who are discoverers. We need pupils who are active, who learn early to find out for themselves, partly by their own spontaneous activity and partly through the materials we set up for them.”
[Jean Piaget (1896-1981). educational psychologist]

In conclusion, QI believes that Jean Piaget can be credited with the remark printed in the 1964 citation. Modern versions of the saying have been modified to more directly embrace males and females.

Image Notes: Child with computer from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay. “Reach for the Stars” image from Wikimedia Commons was created with POV-Ray 3.6 and rendered on the International Space Station (April 25 – May 5, 2002) by astronaut Mark Shuttleworth. This project was commissioned by Chris Cason, coordinator of the POV-Ray Development Team. The “Reach for the Stars” file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license. Jean Piaget image from Wikimedia Commons was provided by Roland Zumbühl of Picswiss. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Image files have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Andrew Old whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also thanks to Jesse Sheidlower and Edward Callary for their comments. Any errors are the responsibility of QI. Many thanks to Jay Dillon who pointed to the valuable 1968 citation.)

Update History: On June 9 the 1968 citation was added.

Notes:

  1. 1964 November, The Arithmetic Teacher, Volume 11, Number 7, Piaget rediscovered by Eleanor Duckworth, Start Page 496, Quote Page 499, Published by National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (The original text contained the phrase “principle goal”. The phrase probably should be “principal goal”)(JSTOR) link
  2. 1968 May 26, New York Times, Section: The New York Times Magazine, Giant in the Nursery — Jean Piaget: Piaget’s brainchildren — many 30 years old — are just now going to school in the U. S. by David Elkind, Start Page SM25, Quote Page SM80, New York. (ProQuest)
  3. 1973, The Open Classroom Reader, Edited by Charles E. Silberman, (Introduction by Charles E. Silberman dated March 1973), Quote Page xix, Published by Vintage Books: A Division of Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1985 July, Congressional Hearing, House of Representatives, Ninety-ninth Congress, First session, Hearings before the Task Force on Science Policy of the Committee on Science and Technology, Hearings held: July 9-11 and July 23-25, 1985, (Inserted Document: Tomorrow: The Report of the Task Force for the Study of Chemistry Education in the United States: October 1984, Start Page 1, Quote Page 18, Quote Page 729 in full document, American Chemical Society, Washington, D.C.) U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link link