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Chapter Ten: The Systems Stage

Section 1: The Next Modal Level 


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Human development through adolescence is characterized by a succession of cognitive structures described by Jean Piaget. Infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence correspond respectively to the sensori-motor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages of cognitive development. Although the causal relations are complex, the cognitive level of the individual determines to a great extent the general level of competence of the individual; the modal cognitive level of a population determines to a great extent the level of sophistication achievable by that society.



It is clear from chapter eight that no democracy of substantial size could be sustained if the modal level of the population were the stage of concrete operations, which occurs in middle childhood in Western societies. A formally operations modal level is necessary to sustain a democracy because of the abstractness and complexity of the concomitant decision-making processes.



Piaget has described no stage beyond formal operations. This has led some people to believe that cognitive development has essentially reached its limits by adolescence, subject only to further refinements. This suggests that humankind has merely to iron out the wrinkles in its final stage of evolution.



However, the fact that most people, even in advanced civilizations, end their education by late adolescence is not strong evidence that their potentials have been approached. Primitive societies may terminate "education" by puberty because concrete operations are all that is required for sustaining such a culture. Formal operations may represent a limitation of current societies to educate and utilize human competencies.



Clearly, to assess our future, it is imperative to know whether new cognitive powers are within our potential. Piaget nowhere excludes this possibility. He simply asserts that formal operations is the highest stage that he has been able to describe in mathematical terms. Our task at this point is to identify such a fifth stage of cognitive development. Next, the implications of this stage on human competencies must be considered; then one must consider the structures societies might take if this fifth stage were modal. A fifth stage would take us one step closer to our pragmatic utopia.







Book Contents

Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future


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Adolescence and Education

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