Rx for Piaget’s Complaint: A Science of Education

  Daniel C. Jordan

  International Center for Human Development


Few people will disagree with the propositions that our educational system needs a thorough overhauling and that extensive changes have to be made if schools are to become effective agents in socializing the oncoming generations. However, change for change’s sake won’t do. The changes must have direction; they should guarantee the survival of humanity and perpetually improve the quality of life on all levels: biological, intellectual, moral, religious, and aesthetic.


But even if we can agree on what direction to move in, do we have the knowledge required to plan and execute such a move? In an article published in Phi Delta Kappan, McKenna (1976) reiterates “Piaget’s complaint”:


Notwithstanding advances in psychology and sociology, there is no science of education, Why not? There is a science of medicine furnishing doctors with reliable theory and autonomy; but instead of a science of education providing teachers with the theory and autonomy they need, we have government officials and school administrators telling teachers how and what to do.


McKenna cites many reasons why we have no science of education, including the widespread belief that the nature of pedagogy precludes theory, a general lack of awareness of the need for theory and science in education, a general suspicion of erudition in educational matters, and the fact that the focus of educational policy control is with politicians who have little or no feeling for theory.


To be sure, all his reasons seem convincing; but the main reason that we have no science of education is not on the list. A science is more than knowledge. There can be no science of education until the vast knowledge available about human growth, development, memory, emotion, learning, and behavior is organized and put into usable form. But there is no hope of organizing this knowledge and making it usable without an organizing principle. The primary reason we have no science of education is the lack of such a principle. But it is not only education that has the problem. Huxley (1960, p. 47) states the case broadly:


I would go so far as to say that the lack of a common frame of reference and the absence of any unifying concepts and principles, is now, if not the world’s major disease, at least its major serious symptom.


For the past 15 years, my colleagues and I have been laboring to discover such an organizing principle, to derive from it a set of concepts which could be used to organize the current knowledge we have about human development, and to translate it into a coherent body of theory which would be an efficient guide to educational practices. Given such a science of education, the effects of practice can be perpetually refined, ever more accurate predictions made, and the accountability of the profession increased. Accountability without predictability is an irrational expectation.


While we were working to establish philosophical first principles from which could be deductively derived a coherent body of theory addressing all aspects of education (human development, curriculum, pedagogy, administration, evaluation, and community-school relations), we made an effort to test every proposition of the theories we were constructing against all the pertinent empirical studies we could glean from the literature of the biomedical and behavioral sciences.


Once the basic philosophical and theoretical foundations were established, and a fledgling science of education had come into being, we generated from it a universal model of education which is comprehensive, coherent, and scientific in its foundations. It would be possible, of course, to generate more than one model, from the same body of philosophical and theoretical knowledge. The model we have generated is called Anisa. The word comes from a Greek root word that has been used to refer to an ancient symbol, the tree of life (Cook, 1974). Since the conceptual base of the model rests primarily on the work of the process philosophers and is organismic in nature, we chose a name that would reflect its philosophical underpinnings.


The organizing principle for the science of education we propose was taken in its specific form from the cosmology of Whitehead (1929), Process and Reality. Whitehead asserted that the most pervasive characteristic of the universe is change, that change means process, and that process presupposes potentiality. As our first principle, we adopted the concept of process as the translation of potentiality into actuality.


According to Whitehead, the translation of potentiality into actuality is the fundamental definition of creativity. The philosophy underlying the Anisa Model sets forth the propositions that evolution is the primary expression of creativity, that man is at the forefront of evolutionary development, and that there is no scientific or theoretical justification for assuming a limitation on man’s potentialities or his powers of creativity. We thus affirm that it is the purpose of education to facilitate the actualization of human potential in constructive directions at an optimum rate. At this juncture in history, education cannot be divorced from the conscious and intentional endeavor to guide the future direction of evolution.


We then formulated a comprehensive theory of human development which defines development, in terms of the first principle, as the translation of potentiality into actuality. The theory specifies two basic types of potential—biological and psychological— and states that interaction between the organism and specific environments determines which potentialities become actualized, the rate at which they will be actualized, and how the actualized potentialities will be structured to form character, identity, and personality.


The theory identifies nutrition as the key factor in the actualization of biological potentialities—the translation of the genetic code into the living tissues that make up the body. For this reason, the application of the Anisa Model begins a year before conception, placing both prospective parents on a proper nutritional regime that will make them as healthy as possible in preparation for conception. The mother’s diet during pregnancy is carefully monitored and special assistance is given for creating the proper diet for her during the period of breastfeeding and for the baby throughout the life cycle. There is a definite connection between the nutritional status of a child and his/her ability to learn, and since the theory fixes learning as the means by which psychological potentialities are actualized, no educational system based on it could be considered comprehensive without provisions for proper nutrition.


The theory of development sets forth five basic types of psychological potentialities—psychomotor, perceptual, cognitive, affective, and volitional—all actualized through learning. Learning is defined as the capacity to differentiate experience by breaking it down into contrastable units, to integrate these elements in novel ways, and to generalize the integration to other similar situations. Within the framework of this definition, whenever a child is having a learning problem; it is because he/she may have a nutritional deficit that is impairing the ability to pay attention or because he/she is failing to differentiate, integrate, generalize, or because of some combination of all these elements.


Since the model’s purpose is to actualize human potential at an optimum rate, a new curriculum directly related to the categories of potentialities outlined and a compatible teaching method were required. We therefore developed a comprehensive theory of curriculum and a theory of pedagogy which are interdependent and coherent with the theory of development.


The theory defines curriculum as five basic sets of educational objectives and outlines what the children must do, usually with the help of teachers and others, in order to achieve them. The objectives are:


1.    A set pertaining to the achievement of learning competence in five dimensions of development:  psychomotor, perceptual, cognitive, affective, and volitional. We define learning competence as the conscious ability to differentiate, integrate, and generalize experience. This set of objectives and activities is called the process curriculum; it is the “learning how to learn” part of the curriculum. Each dimension is broken down into specific objectives with activities designed to achieve them spelled out. For example, the cognitive development objectives concern such processes as classification, seriation, conservation, transitivity, deduction, induction, interpolation, extrapolation, analogy, and metaphor. The process curriculum is the primary means of integrating all other aspects of the curriculum.


2.    A set consisting of basic information about the world in which we live organized according to the levels of creation as specified by Whitehead (1929): mineral, vegetable, animal, human, and deity (or unknowns and ultimate unknowables). Traditional curricula tend to be organized in this way yielding physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, the behavioral sciences, philosophy, and theology. This set of objectives and activities is called the content curriculum.


3.    A set concerning the mastery of three basic symbol systems: language (which includes speaking, comprehension, reading, writing, and composition), mathematics, and the arts (music, dance, dramatic arts, visual and plastic arts). The symbol systems are the secondary means of integrating the entire curriculum of the model.


4.    A set consisting of three types of higher-order competencies and related values, each one of which is related to a category of environment. Each type concerns a value system and a related competency, as follows: material values and technological competence (arising from interaction with the physical environment—-mineral, vegetable, and animal); social values and moral competence (arising out of interaction with the human environment); and religious and fiducial competence (arising from dealing with the unknown or unknowable environment). The values are called religious because one can approach an unknown only on faith. Fiducial competence is the ability to activate faith as one pursues an unknown so that the anxiety from the risk involved can be managed by turning it into courage. The value systems and related higher­order competencies are results of the blended effects of the process and content curricula facilitated by the mediating power of the symbol systems.


When potentialities are being actualized, they are structured. Actualized potentialities are manifested as expressions of energy use. When energy uses are structured, we call them values. In other words, a value is defined as a relatively enduring patterned use of energy, the patterning of which arises out of interaction with particular categories of environment. The integration of a person’s three types of value systems constitutes the structural and functional reality of personal identity. Each value system is organized around an ideal. If ideals are unclear, fragmented, or conflicting, personal identity will be in conflict and characterized by uncertainty and insecurity. We propose that the organizing ideal for material values and technological competence is physical causality; justice is the ideal for social values and moral competence; and, unity/truth/beauty the trinity of ideals for religious values and fiducial competence.


We hold that there is no such thing as “value-free” education and that the lack of a clear and justifiable stand on the issues of values, ideals, and higher-order competencies as we have defined them renders modern education impotent and aimless. One of the most distinctive features of human beings is the capacity to create ideals which then serve as lures and organizing principles for the structuring of energy use, the patterns of which are the value system of the person. If education ignores this, it is bound to become irrelevant.


5.    A set pertaining to the self. The purpose of this curriculum is the achievement of self-knowledge, the conscious direction of translating one’s own potentialities into actuality and their structuring into an integrated value system that constitutes personal identity. The curriculum of the self is organized around the five dimensions of development, which have counterparts in the process curriculum as follows: body awarenses (psychomotor development), self-percept (perceptual development), self-concept (cognitive development), self-esteem or self-worth (affective development), and self-determination or autonomy (volitional development). All of these are organized around a self-ideal which is an integration of the ideals around which the person’s material, social, and religious values have been developed, but as these value systems pertain to the self. For example, justice is the ideal around which social values are organized to yield moral competence. On the level of the self-ideal, this is reflected as fairness; every self-ideal will include a commitment to fairness to some degree.


The curriculum requires a specially prepared teacher. The theory of pedagogy of the Anisa Model, like the theory of curriculum, takes its definition of teaching from a central proposition of the theory of development. Because the process of translating potentiality into actuality is sustained by interaction with the environment, and because the function of teaching is to facilitate that process, teaching is defined as arranging environments and guiding the child’s interaction with them to achieve the goals specified by the curriculum. The type of environment, its arrangement, and the specific guidance for interacting with it is determined by the objective to be achieved and the developmental level of the child as it pertains to the objective. Hence, teaching involves diagnosing developmental levels of children in relation to educational objectives so that the required interactions with appropriate environments will take place to facilitate differentiation, integration, and generalization.


The implications for teacher preparation based on the Anisa Model are very extensive and clear. The teacher education program entails gaining the philosophical perspective, internalizing the theories, applying the theories under supervision while receiving specific feedback on performance, and learning the techniques of self-assessment. Such preparation produces teachers who themselves become competent learners, full of enthusiasm for life and learning, so that they can model what they teach. Furthermore, they become generative teachers—teachers who can take any environment, under any circumstances, with any budget, and work with any child in a way that will enable him/her to gain the maximum educational mileage out of the experience.


One of the toughest issues facing our society, or any society, is the issue of how to equalize educational opportunity. For an educational experience to be opportune, it must be fit, advantageous, and timely for a given child; to equalize educational opportunity means making the instruction for every child fit, advantageous, and timely. In order to sustain the uniqueness of each individual child, the experience, to be equal, will not be the same, but different. Equality cannot mean sameness; it means relevant difference. In order to equalize opportunity, we must know each child in his/her specificity and provide experiences that match his/her developmental levels. For this, we require a curriculum and a method of teaching that rest on a comprehensive theory of development—in short, a science of education. We claim that the Anisa Model and the teacher preparation program based on it constitute a scientific solution to the problem of equalizing educational opportunity. More than five years of testing various aspects of the model in the field have yielded extraordinarily promising results.


To complete the Anisa Model’s body of theory, we formulated a comprehensive theory of administration and a theory of evaluation, both of which have been designed to ensure constant institutional self-renewal. Obviously, such a new kind of educational system has to be administered in a new way, and an organismic view of creation and development requires new approaches to evaluation.


We believe that what we have accomplished, though only a beginning, does make a significant step toward enabling the education profession to deal with problems of fragmentation, incoherence, and lack of comprehensiveness and to establish itself on scientific foundations through careful philosophical, theoretical, and empirical work of an interdisciplinary nature.


McKenna (1976) closes his article with another question:


There is much talk today about the need for innovation in education. Why not try the one innovation the establishment avoids discussing: the application of disciplined philosophical scientific inquiries into learning/teaching?


We have tried “the one innovation,” developed a science of education, created the Anisa Model, and find that it holds enormous promise for the future.




Cook, R. The tree of life: Image for the cosmos. New York: Avon Books, 1974.

Huxley, J. Knowledge, morality, and destiny. New York: The American Library, 1960.

McKenna, F. R. Piaget’s complaint—and mine: Why is there no science of education? Phi Delta Kappan, February 1976, 57(6), 405-9.

Whitehead, A. N. Process and reality: An essay in cosmology. New York: Macmillan, 1929.


Author’s Note: For further information, see Jordan, D.C., & Streets, D.T.  The ANISA model: A new basis for educational planning. Young Children, June 1973, 28(5).



Jordan is director International Center for Human Development, San Marcos, Calif., and chairperson, Education Department, National University, San Diego.