Foundations of Intellectual Development
The following is excerpted from a talk given by
Beth Sutton, Director of Enki Education and consultant to the
Elementary School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. To begin the discussion
Beth asked the audience what they saw as the outcome of intellectual
development at age eighteen, the end of the child's mandatory
They created a list, summarized below:
Problem solving ability
Strong communication skills in several media
Ability to listen
Confidence/courage to tackle the unknown
Enthusiasm for learning
The group unanimously agreed that academic skills
were the necessary building blocks to these outcomes - but that
the outcomes were the goal and the skills the means.
Beth Sutton (BS): Given your description I
think it would be best to start with looking at our own processes
of problem solving and creative thinking. I'll give you a math
word problem. Just try to figure it out mentally - no notes. Notice
skills you use. Don't worry too much about whether or not you can
do it. You will learn more about teaching from honestly watching
your own struggles than from looking at what you do easily!
Michael and James were playing frisbee. They
started out standing 17 yards apart on our 50 foot playfield.
Michael threw the frisbee 5 feet and James threw the frisbee 7
feet. How far apart were they when they landed?
Audience 1: It can't be done because they
are 51 feet apart on a 50 foot field. Audience 2: They
are still 17 yards apart, only the frisbees traveled. Audience
The frisbees are 13 yards apart however big the field is, as they
traveled 12 feet total Audience 4: Frisbee is played with
only one frisbee, so they must be 2 feet apart as James would
to run to the frisbee to throw it and he is only throwing from
7 feet away.
BS: All of those are great answers, and in
a classroom, listening to all of them would be very important to
fostering interest in problem solving. However, what is important
for us tonight is to look at what we used to solve the problem and
where there were sticking points. So what did you do?
Audience 1: First of all I had to picture
the situation and right away I realized the field wasn't big enough
and I gave up. Audience 2: I did the same thing and felt
mad! Audience 3: I pictured it and assumed it was a trick
because you only use one frisbee when you play! Audience
I knew it was a trick since you asked how far apart 'they' were
and they hadn't moved! Audience 5: I pictured them 17
yards apart and figured the size of the field was irrelevant.
they played with two frisbees and just did the math. Audience
6: I don't know how to play frisbee so I didn't picture anything
and I just gave up.
BS: That is pretty much the standard range
of reactions you would find in a classroom. Before we look at
you got there, I'd like to look at the attitudes. Several of you
gave up or got mad. Why? What made you give up rather than look
for several ways to solve it? I think that you probably believed
that there was only one right answer. You believed that the right
answer was more important than the process. That is an attitude
we work to counter in the Enki approach. First and foremost we
fostering interest, and the sense of 'I can.' Step one in the
teaching process must be interest in the learning process. The
the children's confidence in their own perceptions, and thus their
ability to tackle the unknown, because their perceptions count.
In the Enki approach no incorrect answer ever gets a simple X.
We always examine with the child just where the confusion is,
with supporting whatever parts of the thinking were on target.
Now let's go back to the issue of problem solving.
It sounded to me as though to begin with, everyone pictured the
situation in some way. Is that right? (audience agrees). Was there
anyone who just played with the numbers?
Audience 3: Well, I tried to but I right away
found the 50 foot field too small for the 51 foot spread, so I had
to go back and picture it.
BS: Einstein has a famous quote to the effect
that creative thinking and problem solving is founded on the ability
to picture, to form an image. For example, Copernicus, the first
Westerner to realize the earth goes around the sun, had discovered
flaws in the observations and projections of earlier scientists.
He knew there was a problem. To this problem he applied his unbelievably
strong imaginative powers to picture a universe in which the planets
orbited the sun each at a different but steady rate! Then he set
out to do the calculations to polish and prove his theory.
So we believe that the ability to create and manipulate
internal imagery is absolutely critical to creative and flexible
thinking. It is critical to all reasoning, and to the ability to
communicate effectively, whether speaking or writing. This begins
in the young child's play and needs a great deal of time and space
to really take root, especially in the fast paced, media centered,
answer-oriented society in which we live. As a teacher of over 30
years, I have been shocked to see the level of atrophy of this capacity
in students, especially in the last ten or so years.
In Enki programs, we work to strengthen this capacity,
through emphasis on creative play in the earliest years, right up
through the high school seniors' work with an integrated approach
to all their studies. Throughout our curriculum, we approach all
content material through rich spoken language and experiences in
the arts. This gives the children both the opportunity to and the
support for making their own images before we introduce our own.
So that is one of the foundations of intellectual
development. What next? What did you do once you had a picture in
Audience 3: Well, I looked to see how the pieces
of the picture fit together. It's hard to describe, but I looked
to see the relationships. Audience 2: I looked first to
see what information I needed to use and then how to put it together.
BS: That actually covers the two other foundations
of intellectual development I would like to talk about tonight.
They are: rhythm, or sequence and order; and relationships, or
perception of patterns. In some ways these are two aspects of
the same thing,
but each aspect plays a critical role in intellectual development.
Tonight we only have time to look at them as a unit; within the
curriculum we work with them as separate foundations, each of great
importance. First of all, underlying any logical thinking, is
sense of progression or order. Without it one cannot perceive patterns.
Basically, all reasoning depends on making logical progressions
from one point to the next and seeing the patterns of that process.
If you think about convincing someone of something you believe
you will automatically activate this capacity.
Unfortunately, because of the fast and fractured
pace of life today and the current push to "brainstorm" as
early as possible, this is another natural capacity that is atrophying.
being trained to jump from one thing to the next, to move as quickly
as possible across the surface, and to wander in free association.
And we wonder why they have trouble settling down and paying attention!
The ability to brainstorm is a wonderful thing. However, it requires
a base of focused sequential thinking, or it quickly becomes frantic,
sloppy, or self-indulgent.
In the Enki approach we begin by putting a great
deal of emphasis on establishing an enriching order, a sense of
ritual to all we do. In the early years children move through a
set sequence of activities, within which there is a great deal
variety. They know what each transition song or cue means, and
can move safely within them as they develop and internalize the
of order. As well, the rhythm of the seasons is worked with as
core curriculum material and is celebrated as a community, so the
experience themselves as part of a naturally rhythmic life. With
this as our base, we explore order in an age appropriate manner,
from the simple task of sorting the shells into different types
as the kindergartners clean up from play, to working with cuisenaire
rods and pattern blocks in the early grades, to seventh graders
'discovering' the laws of ratio and proportion by exploring the
patterns in nature through the magic of the Fibonacci number series
and the Golden Mean.
So we have covered three foundations: picture building,
the sense of rhythmic sequence, and the perception of pattern. We
believe these are the foundation stones. But these stones stand
on a ground, a ground that underlies all else no matter how we approach
Beth went on to describe these as curiosity for
learning and a healthy neurological system. These, she said, are
worked with extensively throughout the Enki program and will be
the topic of future workshops and articles