Formal Operations: Education is not a HOAX


An ongoing joke we had in grad school was whether or not people had gone through Piaget’s cognitive developmental stage of Formal Operations. The reason I think many of us fixated on this criteria is because it really is a hard line of intellectual development between the ability to do various tasks needed to survive on your own and the ability to think abstractly. Our developmental psychology professor who taught us about it said, “If you’re in graduate school, you’ve gone through formal operations,” but she made it clear that there were many among us in society, full grown adults, who had not.

To give you the cliff note version, there are four stages in Piaget’s cognitive development. The first is the Sensorimotor stage, which is from birth through ages 18-24 months. In this stage infants and toddlers acquire knowledge through sensory experiences and manipulating objects. A key test of basic motor and sensory skills is object permanence. This is when a child understands that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen. For instance, when a ball goes behind the couch does the child think it disappeared or do they know that it is still there? This is considered an important milestone in early development.

The next stage is Preoperational, which begins when children are toddlers (18-24 months) through early childhood (age 7). In this stage, kids learn through pretend play but still struggle with logic and taking the point of view of other people. They also often struggle with understanding the idea of constancy. An example would be if you poured the same amount of water into two different sized containers, one that is tall and thin and the other that is wider and larger, and the child thinks there is more water in the thinner container that looks more filled to the top and doesn’t realize there is the same amount of water in both containers.

The third is the Concrete Operational Stage, which happens between ages 7-12. Kids at this point of development begin to think more logically, but their thinking can also be very rigid. They tend to struggle with abstract and hypothetical concepts. At this point, children also become less egocentric and begin to think about how other people might think and feel. Kids in the concrete operational stage also begin to understand that their thoughts are unique to them and that not everyone else necessarily shares their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

The fourth and final development stage is Formal Operations, which begins at approximately age 12 and lasts into adulthood. During this time, people develop the ability to think about abstract concepts. Skills such as logical thought, deductive reasoning, word problems, making inferences and systematic planning also emerge during this stage. An example of formal operational thought would be imagining the outcome of a particular action that has yet to be undertaken such as drawing conclusions about things they have not actually experienced by considering information presented to them.

The truth is that many people do not reach Formal Operations in their lifetime. It is estimated that only 35% of high school graduates in industrialized countries obtain formal operations; many people do not think formally during adulthood. It is estimated that about 30% of people in the U.S. never actually develop advanced abstract reasoning skills.

I would make the inference that many of the 30% of people living the in the U.S. who have not undergone Formal Operations are the same very people who voted for DT. I believe this because I think they were unable to imagine what it would really be like with a reality star that had never held an elected office running our country. Most people who are able to think logically using facts presented to them could infer that it is a bad decision to elect someone who makes things up and revises history constantly. This is called gaslighting.

People who support DT are relying on opinions rather than scientifically proven facts. The notion that global warming is a hoax is a ridiculous opinion thrown out by people on the right who want to put the fossil fuel industry above our environment. It has been proven by thousands of scientists that global warming is a threat to our survival on earth yet DT has used his manipulative skill of gaslighting to make his followers believe that his opinion can subvert actual facts. Anyone who could fall for such a myth would likely have not gone through Formal Operations because the act of critical thinking allows people to decipher fact from fiction.

Systematic planning is also something that has been missing from the #trumptrain from the beginning. There was no real plan behind his campaign, just platitudes. Even building a wall was more symbolic of isolationism rather than realistic as a way to deter immigration. The idea of “Making America Great Again,” is based on a myth that America should go back to some nostalgic era like the 1950’s when there were factory jobs that no longer exist. Instead of laying out real plans and policies, DT relies on soundbite slogans and generalities that have no real data to back it up. We call these empty promises.

Empty rhetoric is dangerous for many reasons but most notably it has been used as a weapon of propaganda. There have been so many lies and misinformation slung about that we no longer can keep up with what is fact and fiction. People who are less educated and do not engage in critical thinking may take any information presented to them by the media and politicians as an automatic truth. A classic example of this is the birther lie that DT spread about Obama. There were people who actually believed our former president was a foreigner and a Muslim based on propaganda that DT and the Republicans spread. If DT hadn’t planted the seed of the birther lie no one would have ever fallen for such a preposterous and racist conspiracy theory.

What is disheartening is that what America needs more of right now is proper education yet DT has nominated Betsy DeVos, a vapid billionaire puppet of a woman, to lead the country as the Secretary of Education. The irony of this pick is that with someone like that in charge of public education it will continue to spiral and fail and more of the people who cannot engage in critical thinking will graduate from our schools. These are the kinds of people who will then vote for someone like DT in the future. If we keep our public dumb they will continue to make bad decisions that endanger our planet and all of us.

There is a war on education right now. There is a war on facts. There is a war on logic. The right feels they are being talked down to when really they just are not listening, paying attention, and making an educated decision. They have rejected what the media tells them because they think it is yet another conspiracy theory of the educated against the uneducated to tell them what and how to think.

The only thing that will save us now is to take back our right to facts. We must take back our right to logic and science as being the answer to many of our problems. We have to take back our right to a good education and not let Betsy DeVos flush public schools down the toilet. We have to use our critical thinking and not apologize for being intelligent, thoughtful, creative people. We have to teach our own children Formal Operations so that they too can be part of the solution rather than the problem in the future.


Posted 2.7.17

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