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Cognitive and Ethical Growth: The Making of Meaning

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years ago

Perry’s scheme is a theory of views of adult intellectual development often evoked in the educational literature to help instructors understand the perspectives of their students (e.g., see Chapter 21 of Davis’ “Tools for Teaching”). Perry’s theory is popular because it can be condensed into four rough stages: Dualism, multiplicity, relativism, and finally Commitment. The stages are as follows:



Student’s believe that “Right answers exist somewhere for every problem, and authorities know them.” The job of authorities is to help students learn right answers (usually in the form of memorizing answers).



Student’s now realize that authorities disagree on important issues, and that there is often no obvious way to tell who is “right.” Therefore, students are unsure of how to make sense of competing theories now that they can no longer rely on experts. Students in this stage believe that “everyone has a right to his own opinion; none can be called wrong.” Students may believe that a teacher’s evaluation of the ideas of a student is just an unfounded opinion, and means nothing.



Student’s are now coming to understand the qualitative methods of forming fallible, context dependent judgments about the worth of different theories. The ways of forming these judgments are different depending on the discipline. Thus, they are able to evaluate competing theories from multiple angles.



Student’s finally come to understand that the consequence of relativism is that they must make important choices in their lives based on their own construction of the world with no hope that an “authority” will be able to tell them what is “right” for them to choose. Although authorities can still be a source of information (about which students must make up their own minds), authorities are especially valuable as models to help students learn to navigate in a world where one must commit to choices based on fallible and context dependent knowledge.


Although Perry’s Scheme can be used as a simple teaching tool to help college teachers connect their methods of presenting information with the developmental level of most of their students, this approach ignores the richness and depth of the theory. The importance of reading about Perry’s scheme from this primary source (as opposed to from a secondary source such as the Davis book mentioned above) is that the full conception of Perry’s Scheme can help college teachers conceptualize their work with students in terms of how it helps their students develop into actualized human beings (not just good budding philosophers, biologists, etc.). I found this article to renew my belief in the true value of a liberal arts education, and would recommend it to anyone who feels that higher education is as much about learning how to “be” as it is about learning how to “do.”


Created by Andrew Kerlow-Myers on 11/29/08. Andrewkerlowmyers@gmail.com

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