chapter  5
12 Pages

Language and thought

I shall take it for granted in this chapter that one of the central functions, if not the central function, of education is the introduction of pupils to those forms of thought and knowledge which we think peculiarly valuable. I shall also assume it to be obvious that language has been and is of crucial importance in the general development of man’s thought and understanding and that it plays a vital role in his transmission of these to succeeding generations. Nevertheless there exists much confusion about the place and function of language in thought and a number of significant educational misconceptions about the nature and development of understanding do, I think, gain support from quite untenable theories in this area. In the first place then I want briefly to discuss two such theories, and then from the general features of what I trust are more tenable positions, I shall say something about what is involved in the development of understanding. It may well be thought that I am trying to tackle far too much for one short chapter even though I am travelling over well trodden ground. But I want to make one or two simple yet key points without which attention to smaller detail lacks perspective. I trust my treatment will not be outrageously superficial. I am also aware that most people in education would deny holding either of the two main theories I shall criticise, but venture to suggest that few are clear enough about these issues to be free from the taint of one or the other of them, and I therefore make no apology for dealing with them quite explicitly.