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Teaching Rationality – The Role of Social Scaffolding for the Development of Reason

Human thinking is inherently normative in that it is guided by the norms of theoretical and practical rationality. This enables us to reflect on ourselves and to make decisions on the basis of reasons (rather than mere instinct). How do children enter into this “space of reasons”? The aim of this project is to work towards a better understanding of this development, and in particular of the effects of adult-child interaction on the development of reasons-responsive, autonomous thought.

We know from empirical research that, while children are equipped with a variety of impressive capacities right from birth onwards, and while we certainly shouldn’t assume the role of the child in education to be passive, it requires much active support and guidance on the part of their caregivers for children to become proficient in the practices involved in reasoning. Specifically, interactions between infants and their caregivers are characterized by a number of scaffolding processes on the part of the adults. However, there is still a relative lack of knowledge as to how exactly interactions between children and caregivers should be structured in order to enable children to successfully enter and navigate the space of reasons, that is to become proficient players in the game of taking and giving reasons. In collaboration with researchers from the Department of Social and Educational Sciences at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, we are addressing this question by providing a more detailed analysis of the developmental steps that lead towards autonomous, reasons-responsive thinking, with a focus on how this process is embedded in and shaped by different types of social interaction. In particular, our analysis focuses on a specific type of interaction format, namely the practice of “Sustained Shared Thinking”, to show how this format exemplifies and enables children to learn to communicate in a way that is essential for reasons-responsive thought. The results of this project will also have implications for educational science.

Prof. Dr. Kristina Musholt
Head of Department
Prof. Dr. Frauke Hildebrandt
Teaching Rationality
Hildebrandt, F. & Musholt, K. (2018). Wie kommen Kinder in den Raum der Gründe?, in: Hebenstreit-Müller, S. & Hildebrandt, F. (Hg.), Nachdenken mit Kindern. Theorie und Praxis. Dohrmann Verlag, Berlin, 19-30.