Rachel Hanley

December 14, 2006

Cognitive Development and Cognitive Domain: Connecting the Paths to Success

Why, in the Palo Alto , California preschool system, are kids able to learn freely through all of their senses, embracing the learning styles of individual children, while as students age, are they required to deny specific intelligences so as to abide by the primary evaluative approaches, such as linguistic and logical? This approach of denying certain of the learning styles results in the underachievement of countless of individuals who go on to live out stifled lives. This phenomenon is little recognized as it's so ingrained in our society that the multitude of “unhappy” people—ranging from the mundane corporate cube-dweller to the criminal behind bars—is a commonplace and accepted aspect. Though it's unrealistic to assert that the solution suggested in this paper will remedy all stifled persons—as there may be several factors involved contributing to one's unhappiness—it will address those whose shortfalls may be overcome by an expansive support system encouraging their given attributes and talents.

In Palo Alto preschools, there are a myriad of ways to help kids connect certain concepts and lessons. There are ample resources to allow kids to learn via all of the learning styles. Howard Gardner, Ph.D., came up with the theory of “multiple intelligence” citing six different intelligences:

In preschool, children are exposed to education through a variety of means that cater to each of these cognitive domains. There are play-dough tables, painting stations, reading, corners, oral stories, ball boxes, playgrounds, obstacle courses, lofts, make-believe centers, writing sessions, singing, dancing, exercising, math manipulations, blocks, cars, trains, dolls, dress up, and more. It's as though people understand that children learn different ways and at this age; each learning style is acknowledged and valued.

By contrast, when these same children enter the high school age, their cognitive domains are virtually ignored and they have been weaned off of learning via their individual intelligence, and have had to conform to learning through the leading evaluative learning styles of linguistic and logical. The effect of this is that the students who flourished when they were in an environment that allowed for their individual intelligence, now are struggling because they aren't connecting the information as quickly or as well as before because of the mode in which it's being delivered. The problem with this is that those individuals who are bright and intelligent aren't being evaluated fairly, and in turn are being perceived as less intelligent. This results in a loss of confidence in one's capabilities, causing a recoiling tendency, which can lead to a defeated and depressed lifestyle. These students no longer feel that they are as intelligent as other students and cease trying. This affects the choices they make for the rest of their lives, and subsequently, it affects their degree of fulfillment. This is a wrongdoing that could be corrected if the school system continued teaching the required curriculum by means that encompass all learning styles.

This scenario is akin to the images below: the first of which illustrates the clarity and its associated beauty and joy of a happy, healthy, stimulated mind; where as the second illustrates the clouded, lost and cold image associated with a mind whose nature is being ignored and stifled.

Tangled in my dreary way

Fog my only guide;

Lost in thought's own decay

Waning is my ride.

Faint and distant call that beckons

Flittering sparks my mind;

“I'm still here!” I call, then reckon

My way back, I'll surely find.

This second set of images contains my two-year old nephew, and in viewing them, I can only imagine the magnitude of promise, success and fulfillment that lies ahead in his future. This first image is a photo of my nephew's hands grasping the rocks, sand, water and dirt at a recent camping trip in which his explorative nature was harnessed as he was able to flourish in delight and excitement.

It was amazing to observe the way in which he chose to explore. He would run from one object to another stopping in between at an interim item that caught his eye. My sister had to stop him from charging right into the flowing river. Normally a cautious boy, his excitement temporarily overrode his sensibility. In looking back on that trip, I wonder how many brain neurons connected in that weekend alone. Simultaneously another thought, although this time a deflating one, came to mind: what if while he ached to explore, his parents discouraged it, deeming it unproductive or unimportant? Heartbreaking. Furthering upon this, I wondered how similar this feeling must be to those whose “support system” is discouraging their innate passion. When a child wants to explore, we encourage it, knowing full-well that it's the right thing to do. We don't monitor or dictate their exploration; we enable and support it. But as our children become students, and the focus shifts from exploration, to graduation, we often discourage their passionate pursuits if we deem them unproductive or unimportant in the ultimate evaluative process.

This next image is of my nephew and his father gazing out onto the vastness of the seemingly unending Pacific Ocean .

Seeing this image makes me, again, think of the unlimited potential my nephew possesses and, given the proper support, he'll undoubtedly achieve all of the success he wishes. As his parents have been cognizant of the importance of brain stimulation via various modes, my sincere hope is that his school system will encourage whatever his inclinations.

The students whose learning styles are being discriminated against are at a disadvantage when applying to colleges, and consequently, are less likely to achieve their actual potential in their respective futures. This is so especially if the reality of multiple learning styles, and its hindrance, has not been brought to the attention of the student and they begin to believe that they are not as intelligent as their linguistic or logical counterparts.

There are those who reject Gardner 's theory of “multiple intelligence.” They are wary of labeling the differences between people categories of intelligence. They do concede, however, that individuals are indeed different, and possess unique sets of talents and abilities. As University of Virginia Psychology Professor Daniel Willingham agrees “children learn differently” but he argues that “elevating a spectrum of talents and abilities to ‘intelligences' leads teachers to believe the differences are greater than in most cases they are” (Seebach). Well, whether people agree on the terminology or not, even Gardner 's critics agree that children learn differently. So, why not establish various teaching methods in accordance to children's various learning styles?

As a society today, what do we value? Reality television shows, MTV, the latest celebrity gossip and fashion? Are we consumed with how much we have and how much more we can get? Are our children being evaluated on this same superficial scale? Has it been so ingrained in our psyches that we need to excel in only a couple of aspects of our capabilities that we believe that the rest of our attributes are substandard? The typical American culture is alive and well in Palo Alto , California . More often than not, the learned and aspired to scenario goes like this: go to school, get into a good college, get a good job, get married, have children, and retire. Though this ideal dream is realized every single day, how many of us are happy? There are those who argue that “happy” can't be defined. And, maybe it is too nebulous a word, however, for lack of a better term, there can be agreement on the fact that with over 50% of all marriages ending in divorce and over 161,000 people belong to the California prison system, “happy” can suffice when broadly measuring the state of our mental livelihood (Turley). How many of those children grew up whole, fulfilled and ”happy”, embracing life and spreading their individual gifts the world? It's certainly not the overwhelming majority. Are we now to perpetuate the cycle and stay the course even though it's evident that it's not working? All of those dreams should be happy milestones in everyone's lives. Why aren't they? Perhaps it's because it's the individual who isn't happy to begin with. Perhaps it's the individual who hasn't realized his or her own internal milestones.

Abraham Maslow's “Hierarchy of Needs” illustrates the milestones necessary to achieve self-actualization. This expression “self-actualization” has been debated and manipulated but in the broad sense of the term, it means reaching the highest potential for self-fulfillment and understanding. Some argue that no one achieves this state; others feel it's a seldom few, while still others believe it's attainable with the proper motivation. The “Hierarchy of Needs” is a pyramid defining specific needs that are to be met in order to reach the next level—a building block approach. Below is the model:

The Palo Alto school system seems entwined with the broader system of the sate and the country. Ultimately, the objective is to prepare the children for college so that they may earn a good living. This is masked with the talk of encouragement to follow your passion and seek what you enjoy, but the overriding message is to do well in school, which really means, to get good grades and the important subjects are math and English. After all, it's these subjects that makeup the SAT exam.

What this frame of mind doesn't address is the contributions of individuals, the so many various avenues in life, and the encouragement to find that avenue that leads to your unique happiness. I believe education is very important, and higher education is of tremendous value, I just propose that while we're educating our kids let's also teach them how to pursue happiness—real, well-rounded happiness. Let's give them the tools and the training to achieve self-actualization.

Again, perhaps it's difficult to define “happiness,” but certainly one is aware when they're unhappy. Is happiness simply the absence of unhappiness, or is it more? If one believes that each person has unique gifts and talents to contribute to the world, then when one is able to identify, pursue and hone these skills, resulting in a sense of purpose and direction, undoubtedly a sense of joy and pride accompany it. What of those whose gifts and talents have been stifled or shut out? Imagine their days pursuing non-motivating avenues at the behest of family, school or society. If for example, one's inclinations are kinesthetic and spatial, and one has a gift for movement, but their support system discourages their pursuit of dance.

What if Mikhail Baryshnikov was discouraged to pursue ballet? What a loss for the rest of us, not to mention the probable degree to which his life would be less fulfilled. If Baryshnikov's natural tendencies were thwarted, and he became an accountant instead, would his life be less fulfilled? Because his passion would go unrealized, would he live a less “happy” life?

In another instance, famed classical pianist and composer Robert Schumann's mother insisted that he go to law school dismissing his affinity for and propensity toward music. Initially, Schumann abided by his mother's wishes, although he only remained in law school for a short time before allowing his passion for music to prevail. Even after he made this choice in favor of his own desires, because he was never supported, he remained afflicted by his mother's disconcertion, harboring feelings of inadequacy as though his innate, brilliant, musical endowment was somehow inferior to that of the written word and language of law. Schumann suffered from debilitating depression, and ultimately died a miserable yet brilliant composer. The effects of his passion have been bestowed upon us as a great treasure, though he himself was never able to see the extent of his gifts due to the influence of his mother's sentiment about which “intelligences” or talents are to be honored ( www.dsokids.com ).


There's no place—it's clear

For my voice, here

In shadows, instead, it dwells.

My words—once free

And energized to be

Floating on weightless swells.

Now trapped and bored


Drowsy; I'll toll my bell.

Another poignant pyramid is longtime UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden's “Pyramid of Success.” There are similarities to Maslow's hierarchy of needs in the premise. In the words of coach Wooden:“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”


( http://www.coachwooden.com/ )

Again, illustrated here is a building block approach to an elevated sense of enlightenment, purpose and achievement, which breeds contentment. The common factor here is that everyone can achieve these milestones; it's simply a matter of understanding how you learn and absorb the knowledge required to get there. When one's learning style isn't conducive to the teaching approach, it's a hindrance to that student's success in mastering a level. This is so especially if that student is unaware of his or her learning style and simply feels inadequate and unable to learn. When this happens, it stunts his or her development right on that level, with little hope for advancement.

As advocates for our children and society, shouldn't our common goal be to inspire students to their utmost abilities, not stunt and deny them? As Hugh Gillilan, the President of the Utah Psychological Association states, "[t]hat society is good which fosters the fullest development of human potentials, of the fullest degree of humanness." I believe Palo Alto can be a pioneer in supporting the pursuit of the “fullest degree of humanness.”

The two main issues I wish to address within the Palo Alto school system are:

  1. That countless students are not learning the core subjects of math and English via a mode that their learning styles can process well. It's established that these core subjects are extremely important to their success and all students need to be sufficiently learned in each.
  2. Society does not value certain of the “intelligences” as much as they do the logical and linguistic, and students are only being truly evaluated by these two. In order that society be well-rounded with a multitude of various facets, all attributes are to be valued.

It would be better if those whose innate learning styles aren't logical and linguistic were taught in a way that they may better grasp these subjects. These students are able to excel in math and English; however, their cognitive domains need to be considered in the information-delivery process.

It would also be better if Palo Alto , followed by the state, and eventually the rest of the country, valued the other cognitive domains as much as logical and linguistic. As a society, we are quick to support and appreciate those who are already immensely successful, like the Baryshnikov's, Schumann's and Julia Roberts' of the world; however, we're not supporting them in their initial pursuits.

Some challenges to the implementation of this motion are that the support needs to be widespread, and must incorporate major changes on the individual, district and city levels.

I propose a complete overhaul of the Palo Alto learning system. Beginning from infancy, parents should be advocates of the full “self-actualization” of their children. Resources will be made available for parents to learn about the phases of cognitive development. Taking advantage of such resources will be encouraged strongly by medical centers (i.e. OBGYNs and pediatricians), the school system and the City Council.

Support for the development and betterment of individuals' learning styles must commence from infancy. For instance, prior to the age of three, it's imperative that babies receive proper cognitive stimulation through color contrast, speech, touch, repetition, and security in order that the synapses—the gap between signaling neurons—connect in their brains. Otherwise, they'll lose the chance of that potential after the window of opportunity passes, leaving that child with less potential than otherwise would have been possible. Below are illustrations of a newborn's brain, 25% connected and a three-year-old's brain, 90% connected (Early Learning Birth to Age Five). Notice the neurons with frayed edges that haven't yet connected in the newborn's brain, in contrast to all of those connected in the three-year-old's brain. Imagine if this baby were deprived the stimulation necessary for those neurons to connect.



( http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov )

My proposal includes parenting classes for new parents. These courses will specialize in the different phases of cognitive development pursuant to the different phases of child growth: birth to age 3, preschool through kindergarten, grade school, pre-adolescence, and adolescence. Parents will have a selection of courses to choose from in a prerequisite style offering; the birth to age three class will be required in order to take any of the following classes. This will help ensure a parent's understanding of the development process. Lectures will include:

Professionals, such as psychologists and pediatricians, as well as Stanford graduate students will serve as lecturers. Stanford is a big part of our community and as a teaching hospital, Stanford, along with our community, welcomes the budding expertise of its students. While professionals are compensated for their lecture time, students may earn credit as they work toward their professional degrees. These parenting classes are akin to a “Lamaze” birthing class. As Lamaze prepares parents for an optimal birthing experience, parenting classes prepare them for an optimal developmental experience for their children.

Taking this thought process and applying it to future developmental and social stages, we move onto the preschool years. In this phase, Palo Alto is quite successful at encompassing all the different ways in which children learn and providing a plentiful atmosphere of learning and development as mentioned at the start of this paper.

Additional parenting classes are also offered at this stage, and their focus is now incorporating the importance of social skills and strategies to help children assimilate into a new social world. A main focus will be on the importance of a vast array of learning materials, methodologies and approaches. Emphasis is on exploring, taking turns, sharing, helping, contributing, encouraging, and building trust and security. Parenting classes at this stage will help parents cope with the new challenges of assertive preschoolers—how to advocate their curiosity and exploration while teaching them to live by certain rules of society. When a child achieves a sense of belonging, safety and she or he feels comfortable taking measured risks, which build confidence and ultimately a strong sense of self. This will only benefit them in their later years, as is our communal goal.

In kindergarten, there should be the implementation of mandatory standardized testing to identify an individual's learning style, while still taking a wide and versatile approach at teaching. There will be six different tests, all containing the same material, only delivered in a different mode. Each test will be equal in its content; the only variable will be the method in which it's presented. Each method will represent a cognitive domain. This way, when a student excels on one test, and struggles on another, it will be an indicator as to which cognitive domain she or he subscribes to. These tests will be performed several weeks apart so as to give the children ample time in between.

Kindergarten is a year of assimilation into the routine of school, social interaction, and introduction to basic academics. With a child's cognitive domain identified at an early age, the foundation may be set for a positive and comprehensive learning career.

First grade on, throughout middle and high school, students will learn the core subjects in group settings. For math and English, students will be divided up into groups by their cognitive domain. Each group will receive instruction via a different teaching method; one conducive to their learning style. This will ensure the comprehension of and success in these important core subjects. Examples of varying teaching methods based upon cognitive domain include:

Emphasis on the importance of doing well will not diminish, yet greater acceptance of “non-traditional” subjects will be incorporated. Value of the performing arts and other talents and intelligences will be encouraged. Proficiency and acceleration will be advocated just as they are in the core subjects.

Palo Alto will become champion emphasis on “non-traditional” subjects, advocating for their students who possess stylistic gifts. Students will, however, perform well on standardized tests because they were taught these subjects via modes by which they could understand. As far as the evaluations pertinent for acceptance to college, I propose a divergence from the standard SAT format and propose the creation of varying forms of evaluation, which will enable a true reflection of a students knowledge base; one similar to that instituted by UC Santa Cruz.

It's not unheard of in California that an educational system embraces unconventional methods. The University of California at Santa Cruz is a notable school within the UC system with a great reputation and they don't give out traditional grades (E. Hanley). Each teacher performs an evaluation for each of their students, omitting a letter grade. These students are well-accepted into countless prestigious graduate schools. UC Santa Cruz' alternative evaluative systems is no hindrance to its students' success. For UC Santa Cruz, the evaluations serve as a better and more in-depth reflection of how a particular student performed. UC Santa Cruz feels this evaluative method is in their students' best interests. With my proposal, Palo Alto will also choose the side of its students, not the side of the system.

Below is an illustration of the proposal in the familiar pyramid formation:

This proposal may seem unattainable and surely will be met with resistance by many. Already I hear the cries, “we can't afford it!” My response is that we can't afford not to. For each one of those kids who end up dropping out, how many end up in prison at some point? According to George Washington Law School Professor, Jonathan Turley, the California prison system is growing exponentially year after year at incredible rates and is a “crisis in the making.” With 6-9% of the California state budget allotted to the prison system—$5.237 billion—we have to make a change (Turley). These monies are directly taking away from our public school system and the ferocious cycle will wind tighter and tighter without radical change now. Do we want to maintain the trend of spending more on prisons and less on schools, or are we ready to act? My postulation maintains that if we make the necessary, insightful—albeit unconventional—changes to the way we raise our children and encourage their success and fulfillment, the natural effect will be less individuals ending up in prison and, hence, less of our budget will be allocated to it. Thus, more of our budget may be utilized in the positive changes to our learning system. Let's reverse that budget allocation and pay our teachers, not the prisons. This deviation from the status quo is plausible, possible and attainable. Let's start now.


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