The British primary school is taken to be a paradigm of practice for a considerable proportion of the western world. Here, children are to be enabled to develop at their own pace, to work individually, to be free and to grow up into rational adults. Such at least is the ambition of the pedagogy. In her book Children's Minds (1978) Margaret Donaldson begins by painting for us a picture of such a school, with children full of wonderment at the joy of learning. What, she asks, goes wrong? Why, in this model, do so many children apparently fail to learn and why does such a promising start end in failure for so many of them? The dream of the pedagogy which will set children free, which will serve as the motor of liberation, is not a new one: it is present in the early progressive movement of the 1920s and 1930s and is a familiar feature of the progressivism central to radical approaches to education in the 1970s. Is it a pipe-dream, this dream of the pedagogy to aid the liberation of children and thus promote some transformation in the social domain? Is it that the conditions for such a pedagogy are not possible? Why do so many children fail and what part does developmental psychology play in all this?
In this chapter I shall argue that one of the major problems with the notion of developmental psychology as implicated in a pedagogy of liberation is in the way the terms of the argument are posed. Margaret Donald-son's answer lies in a more effective psychology which can be more accurate in telling us how children 'really learn' and therefore how to produce