Cognitive and Instructional Processes in History and the Social Sciences

By Mario Carretero; James F. Voss | Go to book overview
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role" by combining the ideas of command and an important person, and the stage of "political order," when political roles are differentiated and hierarchically ordered. From the descriptive data presented here, it is not possible to establish how this shift occurs and what the primary cause is, whether it be school teaching or cognitive changes such as the completion of concrete operational thinking as in Connell's hypothesis. Political notions are certainly poorly taught in schools, as shown by the studies of textbooks. On the other hand, the study on the union of Nile villages revealed remarkable differences between second and third graders, which would be difficult to ascribe only to age.

There is a great discrepancy between third graders' notions taken for granted by textbook authors and those that children actually possess, which can lead to serious misunderstandings. It is obvious that textbooks must be suited to learners' knowledge and abilities, but it is less obvious how this can be done in this case: Is it better to present third graders with political concepts before or during the teaching of history, or to present them only with some aspects of past everyday life and material culture, postponing political themes to the following grades (see Calvani, 1986; Girardet, 1983)? This question cannot be answered by descriptive studies such as those presented in this chapter. More exploratory research, aimed at giving a detailed picture of children's political conceptions, is needed before we can go on to training studies.


The investigations presented in this chapter were carried out with the help of several students, who collected all the data and in some cases also helped to prepare the interview schemata and to identify and define the answer categories. The first two series of data were collected by Leone Pavesi and Biancarosa Bassan; the interviews on the union of the Egyptian villages were conducted by Angela Barizza, and those on the union of the small kingdoms by Elisabetta Bonalumi. Data on state disruption were collected by Donatella Mongardi and those on union in the context of current political events by Mariacristina Calogero. The whole project was funded by the Italian CNR.


Beck I. L., McKeown M. G., & Gromoll E. ( 1989). Learning from social study text. Cognition and Instruction, 6, 99-158.

Berti A. E., & Bombi A. S. ( 1988). The child's construction of economics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.


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