chapter  7
10 Pages


In this chapter theories about the relationship between the growth of young humans and their learning will be examined. It will be maintained that there is no such thing as psychological development in anything other than the biological sense, but that there are constraints on learning of various kinds, some of which, because they are connected with biological immaturity, may be classed as ‘developmental’.1 However, there is no welldeveloped theory of what those constraints are, nor should we confidently expect to see a well-grounded theory arise, let alone a well-grounded theory of psychological stages of development. Neither am I interested in educational theories of development, such as those of Whitehead and Egan; it seems to me that these are largely normative accounts of what education should be, rather than theories about learning.2 Learning as much as possible about constraints on learning is extremely useful, even though there is no theory of development underpinning our knowledge. Indeed, large-scale theories of development, when they are based on inadequate evidence, may actually hinder our knowledge of such matters. Some of this is uncontroversial. A 1-year-old cannot speak, an 8-year-old cannot properly understand the affective responses of the sexually mature, but beyond this, not much is clear. The claim that development of the general capacity to learn takes place in sequential stages associated with age is very hard to sustain. There are two massive problems associated with most developmental theories; the first is that they seek to show what children cannot learn at certain ages. The second is that, rooted squarely in the metaphor of organic growth, they find it difficult to account for motivation. The growth metaphor usually has a covert evaluative component built into it, which of itself is not necessarily wrong, except that it is usually the case that this evaluative component requires independent justification which it never receives. The persuasiveness of the growth metaphor arises largely from a neglect of the social aspects of learning.3