The Origins of Intellect: Piaget's Theory
reviewed by Barry Wadsworth - 1970
At the present time Jean Piaget runs the risk of becoming in vogue in the United States. Books relating to his theory have been attracting attention for a number of years. A new work in the arena that is both readable and unique in certain respects is Phillips' The Origins of Intellect. The book is primarily an introduction to Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Secondly, it tries to "bridge the gap" between S-R theory and Piaget's conceptualizations. Thirdly, the book tries to relate Piaget's work to educational practice.
The presentation is organized into five chapters, each being preceded by an outline. Chapter 1, the introduction, presents a brief biographical sketch of Piaget, and discusses his research methods and his central concepts: assimilation, accommodation, schemata, and equilibrium. Chapters 2-4 describe the periods of cognitive development in Piaget's system, and representative cognitive behaviors in each. Chapter 5, "Educational Implications: An Epilogue," presents Phil-lips' interpretation of the implications of Piaget's theory for education. The book concludes with a relatively complete bibliography that serves as a reading list.
The presentation is rather straightforward and consistent with previous works on Piaget. Each chapter is liberally sprinkled with quotes from Piaget as well as being appropriately illustrated.
The text is well-written, using somewhat of a conversational style. Phillips has intentionally tried to talk with the reader. By and large his presentation of Piagetian concepts is clear and concise. Some of the more difficult concepts, such as lattice and grouping, are particularly clear.
Phillips' book is different from others in that he has developed relationships between Piaget's work and the work of others. His presentation of the sensori-motor period (Chapter 2) is begun with a three-page discussion of the similarities between Donald Hebb's and Piaget's concepts.
Under the heading of Teaching Examples, in the last chapter, Piaget's work is related to Newell Kephart's work, a study of training procedures by Sigel, Roeper, & Hooper (1966), and Suchman's "Inquiry Training." A last section deals with intelligence testing and contains an informative description of the test being developed in Montreal (Pinard & Laurendean, 1964) from cognitive theory.
The reviewer found himself in agreement with most of Phillips' interpretations of Piaget, although not all.
In his discussion of "optimal discrepancy" and "motivation," Phil-lips' interpretation seems questionable. He writes:
If input is precisely congruent with established cognitive structure, new learning does not occur; and if the input does not fit into the structure at all, it is simply not assimilated (p. 110).
Phillips seems to be saying that assimilation is not an aspect of learning in that it does not result in a change in cognitive structures (schemata). Whether it is an accurate interpretation of Piaget to equate learning with structural change is questionable.
Undoubtedly structural change results in learning, but it would seem that not all learning necessarily reflects structural change. Assimilation does add to the content of learning though it may not influence the structure, and content would seem to be an important dimension of learning. Continuing, Phillips writes:
The optimal difficulty of a task is therefore one in which the complexity of the child's cognitive structure almost, but not quite, matches that of the input pattern. Given those conditions, the structures will change (p. 110).
The implication here is that small discrepancies from present schemata in stimulus input result in optimum structural change (accommodation), while large discrepancies (novelty) result in less or none at all. This generalization seems to the reviewer to be misleading. It seems that Phillips is really talking about the consistency of structural change from change to change, and not about structural change per se. Unfortunately, references from Piaget are not included on this point.
Phillips has "touched" on many potentially fruitful relationships. He has presented Piaget's concepts in a very readable manner and has suggested the compatibility of his concepts with those of Hebb, Kephart, and Gagne. The student familiar with the assumptions in the work of these men will be able to "see" the relationships Phillips suggests. Without the familiarity, the relationships will probably not be clear.
The Origins of Intellect should be very useful in courses in child development, educational psychology, and psychology where students have had some exposure to Piaget, and where there is interest in developing more than a passing exposure to Piaget and his relationship to others in psychology.