Every Time We Teach a Child Something, We Keep Him from Inventing It Himself

Jean Piaget? Apocryphal?

sand07Dear Quote Investigator: Jean Piaget was an influential developmental psychologist who studied the learning strategies of children. I am trying to determine if he said the following:

When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.

I have not seen a precise citation for this. Would you be willing to help?

Quote Investigator: QI has not found an exact match for the expression above, but Jean Piaget did make a similar remark in an article “Some Aspects of Operations” published in 1972 in a symposium titled “Play and Development”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Children should be able to do their own experimenting and their own research. Teachers, of course, can guide them by providing appropriate materials, but the essential thing is that in order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand that which we allow him to discover by himself will remain with him visibly…

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Piaget’s statement caught the eye of other researchers. For example, in 1979 an article titled “Approaching Reading through Invented Spelling” by Carol Chomsky referred to it: 2

The more the children are prepared to do for themselves the better off they are. Piaget (1972) has said, “Children should be able to do their own experimenting. . . . In order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself [p. 27].” This view applies quite well to learning to read. The printed word “belongs” to the spontaneous speller far more directly than to children who have experienced it only ready made. For once you have invented your own spelling system, dealing with the standard system comes easy.

In 1998 a book about caring for infants included an instance that matched the phrasing given by the questioner. It is possible that the author was not attempting to give an exact quotation: 3

I think Jean Piaget said it beautifully: When you teach a child something, you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.

Whenever you restrict an infant from doing what he could and would do naturally, in my mind you tell the child, “I know what’s good for you.” But you, the adult, do not know.

In conclusion, QI believes that the Piaget quotation in the 1972 citation is accurate and would be a fine choice. QI has not found substantive support for the version given by questioner.

Image Notes: Children playing in sand from cocoparisienne at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to J. E. Johnson and Cristina Milos whose tweets and inquiry on this topic led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Update History: On November 15, 2014 the 1998 citation was updated to indicate it had been verified on paper

Notes:

  1. 1972, Book title: Play and Development: A Symposium with Contributions by Jean Piaget, Peter H. Wolff and Others, Editor: Maria W. Piers, Article title: Some Aspects of Operations, Article author: Jean Piaget, Start Page 15, Quote Page 27, Published by W. W. Norton & Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1979, Book title: Theory and Practice of Early Reading, Volume 2, Editors: Lauren B. Resnick and Phyllis A. Weaver, Article title: Approaching Reading Through Invented Spelling, Article author: Carol Chomsky (Harvard University), Start Page 43, Quote Page 49, Published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, New Jersey. (Questia)
  3. 1998, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect by Magda Gerber, Edited by Joan Weaver, Quote Page 12, Published by Resources for Infant Educators (RIE), Los Angeles, California. (Verified on paper)