The intentionality of the educational system in determining who and what one learns



PEREIRA, Katty Oliveira Silva [1]

PEREIRA, Katty Oliveira Silva. The intentionality of the educational system in determining who and what one learns. Revista Científica Multidisciplinar Núcleo do Conhecimento. Year 05, Ed. 05, Vol. 05, pp. 84-96. May 2020. ISSN: 2448-0959, Access link:


From the theories about the development of learning that emerged in the twentieth century, we highlight the ideas of Behaviorism and Gestalt in an attempt to decipher how the individual learns and important collaborators such as Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner who helped to understand the formation of cognitive processes. We sought to understand the positioning of the different investigations on learning using a comparative analysis among the cited authors, through a literature review in order to verify why the educational system still suffers from the inefficiency of students’ school performance in different age groups, leading us to reflect why studies on learning served as a basis for controlling who and what is learned.

Keywords: Learning, educational system, control.


This article aims to identify the research that has emerged around the learning processes from a brief historical analysis on the studies developed by Behaviorism and Gestalt, i[2]n addition to [3]observing the contributions made by subject matter experts such as Piaget, Vygo[4]tsky and B[5]runer to[6] critically reflect why there is so much investment to understand the cognitive processes of learning if the educational system to which this research should be destined to improve the performance of students continue to suffer with basic problems that extend from curriculum formulation to school infrastructure, negatively interfering with learning.

Reflecting on the contributions of education psychology in unveiling the processes that children experience throughout development has become a support of pedagogy, but it is important that education actors understand why this partnership alone has not guaranteed school success.


When we analyze the historical context of studies on human behavior we perceive an evolution in the way of looking at learning processes. The interest in this study arose from the analysis of animal behavior, with the publication of the Scientific Journal of Animal Psychology in 1900, in France. Soon after, the study of human behavior begins, where at first the tendency was to study mental processes “in emptiness”, that is, isolated from social contexts (COLOMBO, 2001). The investigations on learning have come a long way, going through different studies that will be analyzed until a consensus is reached on the interference that the social context causes in the individual.


The interest was to transform Psychology into science, leaving aside speculations and intangible ideas such as the term soul, consciousness and mind, since they could not be measured.

According to Topf (2006, p. 41) Watson stands out in this scenario, defending the idea that “conduct is what an organism does in the form of external, visible behavior”, so it creates the problems that underlie Behaviorism, understanding that a response is provoked by a stimulus and that it was necessary to observe how this response was learned.

These problems raised a series of hypotheses until we reached the main idea that the answers are based on conditioning, transforming these studies into “an analytical study of consciousness through introspection” (COLOMBO, 2001, p. 19). A series of tests and experiments were developed from there, but all in laboratories, limiting their field of study. Pérez Gómez (1993) explains that Pavl[7]ov and Skin[8]ner use contributions that are ‘partial aspects of learning processes’ and that ‘learning cannot be understood as a simple relationship of inputs and outputs’ referring to the stimulus/response, which occurs according to the author, because ‘it has a mediation that transforms’. Helping to understand that behaviorism eliminates the complexity of learning processes.


His study was initiated by Wertheimer [9]in Germany when he invented an experiment called strobe, which showed an illusion or ‘apparent movement’ being explained according to Columbus (2001, p. 35) as ‘a product of the balance achieved between interactions and forces present between the current temporal and spatial field of experience’. This explanation is based on the idea that it is not the past that influences the perception of the individual, but the field where he is inserted.

Kohler’s key idea (194[10]8) that “the whole is more than the sum of the parts”, became an important statement to explain the whole as a starting point of psychological experiences and never as a point of arrival.

Gestalt defined some laws to understand the brain functioning that govern the perceptual field, adopting a structuralist approach, seeking to understand the expressions from the dynamic point of view, leaving aside the previous experiences, seeking methods of observation and experimentation, without fragmentation of them.

Its influence was highlighted in the studies of personality, motivation, social psychology and group dynamics. Gestalt stood out from Behaviorism by understanding that creative intelligence is beyond reproductive intelligence.


According to Columbus (2001, p. 42) “Piaget destroyed the conception of the imlogicality of childish thought. It can show that logical thinking has a long process of construction that precedes even the stages of manifestation of linguistic conduct.”  This search to understand the process of construction of child thought led the researcher to have as a guiding question: how does it go from a state of lesser knowledge to a state of greater knowledge?’ The search for answers arose through observation in children that gave rise to Genetic Psychology.

Colombo (2001, p. 48) explains that “for Piaget knowledge is not a state but an active process”. This knowledge is awakened from the interaction between subject and object. To understand how this process occurs Piaget studies the structures that form the cognoscitive categories, explaining the epistemic subject “the mechanisms common to all individual subjects of the same level”. His idea focuses on seeking the characteristics common to individuals and not their peculiarities. Therefore, it develops the study of cognoscitive structures, establishing stages of development that explain the interferences that occur through mediation in the behavior of the individual that enables their advances and setbacks.

This is how he determined that there is a period of assimilation, accommodation and adaptation for intellectual processes to occur according to higher thought organizations. He called the states of intellectual development as periods of sensory-motor intelligence, period of representative intelligence and period of operative intelligence: concrete and formal, one of which succeeds the other, expanding the degree of maturity of the child.

Piaget also points to affectivity and motivation as important factors for development, according to Colombo (2001, p. 74) “For Piaget it is the energetic dimension of all behavior, because there is no human conduct, so intellectual that it is not involving affective factors”. Affective aspects are fundamental in mediation processes, influencing learning processes.

Vygotsky in turn sought to deconstruct the idea that one can study man separated from his social context. Colombo (2001) explains that:

Vygotsky’s proposal for the understanding of the human mind offers a new perspective that starts from the assumption that every intellectual function must be explained from its essential relationship with historical and cultural conditions (COLOMBO, 2001, p. 78).

Vygotsky sought an innovative line of thought for his time, seeking to understand everything as constantly moving and changing based on the idea that between mediation there are instruments and signs, interconnected the social life of the individual, believing that there was the biological dimension, the historical and cultural dimension that the subject is inserted, interpreting how the transformations in this context modified the behavior of individuals. The author highlights language as an important axis for human development and the importance of interaction in the learning process.

Columbus (2001, p. 111) explains that for Vygotsky “good learning is one that originates from adult-assisted education, the most capable companion.” From this idea defines the concept of Proximal and real development zone, showing what the child is able to do alone and what he can achieve with the help of the other.

Bruner, in his investigations, also focuses his work on how the mind works from the tools at its disposal, from a dependence on culture. The author explains that “learning and thinking are always situated in a cultural context and always depend on the use of cultural resources” (BRUNER, 1996, p. 22). This is because communities create and transform the meanings of things.

Education is cited by Bruner as a culture that reflects the distribution of power, so he believes that teaching should help the student learn to ask, as it could thus discover the best way to learn. I also agree that emotions are linked to the construction of reality, I defend the idea that “education is an important embodiment of the way of life of a culture, not simply the preparation for it”. (BRUNER, 1996, p. 31). This conception helps us to understand the psychocultural perspective of education, reflecting on the importance of education in the life of the individual and society, so he became known for his proposal of “cultural revolution”.

According to Bruner, the subject encodes and classifies the data that arrive from the surroundings through the categories he has to understand it, since Piaget said it was a cognitive revolution.

Having his studies focused on the educational field, Bruner (1997) explains:

The student should not talk about physics, history, mathematics… without doing physics, history or mathematics. Truly acquired knowledge is one that rediscovers itself. A curriculum is based on successive steps by the same domain of knowledge and aims to promote learning (BRUNER, 1997, p. 24).

This idea originated the concept of ‘spiral curriculum’ that argues that the learner builds his learning according to his own intellect that changes from the interaction with the environment, deepening more and better the knowledge corresponding to the cognitive development of the student.

These three thinkers significantly influenced the understanding of learning processes, enabling educators to understand the importance of respecting the student’s level of maturity, valuing the interaction process and speech, in addition to allowing the experimentation process to acquire meaningful learning.


All the investigations carried out on the learning process served to guide educational interventions, to help teachers in the daily challenges that are in the classroom, each with their different points of view contributed and left gaps, however critically analyzing each of these theories will lead us to understand the interests behind these researches. Second Pérez Gómez (1993):

The theories of operative conditioning have powerfully contributed to the understanding of phenomena of acquisition, retention, extinction and transfer of certain simple types of learning or of important components of the whole learning process (PÉREZ GÓMEZ, 1993, p. 38).

In a shallow way, Behaviorism made it possible to understand and produce certain phenomena of the learning process, with a limited field of study, did not realize that learning goes beyond a mechanical process that associates through stimulation, response and rewards.

To explain about gestalt, Pérez Gómez (1993) clarifies:

They consider learning as a process of giving meaning, meaning to the situations in which the individual is found. Underneath the observable manifestations, cognitive processes of discernment and intentional search for objectives and goals are developed (PÉREZ GÓMEZ, 1993, p. 41).

Gestalt understood that learning also depends on the forces that interact around the individual, modifying their perceptions and leading them to produce attitudes dominated by these influences.

Pérez Gómez (1993, p. 43) explains that when Piaget appears in the scenario, he leaves us his profound contribution to genetic psychology explaining that “learning is both a factor and a product of development”.  It is established that in this process there is maturation, physical experience, social interaction and balance, so that learning happens using instruments and interventions that contribute to development.

Vygotsky in turn contributes with clarifications from the Potential and Proximal Development Zone, establishing the relationship between dialectics and learning, because according to Pérez Gómez (1993, p. 50) “this leads to a dynamic perfectly influenced, within the limits by the precise interventions of intentionally guided learning”. Vygotsky helps in understanding that everything an individual can do with help today can succeed on his own tomorrow, as the exchanges will put him in touch with ideas, meanings and intentions that will be part of his training.

Complementing the contributions, Bruner (1973) directs his work directly to school activities, advocating a curricular reform that aimed to deepen the knowledge of students, where to the extent that he defends learning by discovery, adequate the cognitive structure of the learner, with the contents being worked in a spiral form, because as time passes the content is resumed, deepening it, to be able to “go beyond the information given”. This conception implied a real revolution in the way of looking at the responsibility of the school and the teaching processes.

Even with all the studies that were left of legacy of the twentieth century about the learning process, we still see that nowadays there are difficulties of a good performance of the role of school in several countries. This is because according to Annoni (2004) “by the institutional dimension is understood the complex of political, economic, ideological, cultural determinations that govern, sanction or legitimize the structured processes of pedagogical discourse”. It is precisely these educational institutions that stipulate how students should achieve school success, where the author cites Michel Foucault who approaches this situation as “social and political forms instituted of knowledge and power” (ANNONI, 2004 apud FOUCAULT, 1989).

In the analysis of power we find in the institutions the imposition of authority to exercise control, taking as a starting point the curriculum and evaluations that are determined by agencies that are distant from the students and consequently do not know their context, yet determine the content that will be made available to the learner.

If we analyze the political bias, we will perceive a two-way psychological study, since the whole investigation process served in some moments with the purpose of determinism, by seeking to separate normal children from those who had learning difficulties, the imposition of division by age group, serving the interests of educational policies that reinforce exclusion, giving space for the school to elect the failed and successful , serving as social control to the extent that it imposes on opportunities to be inserted in the job market exercising better positions and others imposes cognitive, social and affective abandonment, producing cheap labor that is useful and indispensable to the capitalist system.

If there are investigations to know the processes that involve learning, it does not make sense the lack of structure of the institutions. The wisest thing would be for each school to suit the teaching and learning processes to its own historical and social context and not following the orders of a single base in such a diverse country with such different realities.

Annoni (2004) explains that “the State appears as this modern matrix of individualization: a new form of pastoral power, a sophisticated structure in which individuals can be integrated through both “individualizing” and “globalizing” techniques.  The State transfers its responsibility to the individual, through the concept of meritocracy, inserting it in a global and controlling context that determines a pattern of behavior and what kind of knowledge it can have access to.

Educational policies do not always serve the common good, as well as the use with respect to learning were not always intended to improve the quality of teaching, because if they were the case the curricula would be discussed and elaborated by teachers who experience the school reality and not by representatives who are in bureaucratic activities, in federal agencies that have no idea of the problems that rural schools go through , quilombolas, periphery and large urban centers.

There is still a serious problem in teacher education, because teachers are graduated to be in a classroom and to reproduce the interests of educational policies without even being aware of what they do, contributing to the student being submissive to the interests of the State, as Annoni (2004) explains, “A body can be manipulated, formed, educated, obeyed and responds, enables a technical/political record through empirical and reflective regulations and procedures for the control of its operations.” In this context, the author refers to students who must leave school to be obedient to the system, capable only of serving to produce the demands of the State, using the faculty as a mass of maneuver to achieve this goal, because their training base is structured in classical rationality, symbolic violence and vertical dialogue, in a trajectory of overload in teachers of bureaucratic doing within educational institutions to the point of not reflecting on their pedagogical work , with the demagogue discourse of transforming reality, but reproducing traditional practices whose student is object and not subject.


Learning is the focus of teaching, so all educators should critically reflect on their role, on what kind of work they will do to prepare students to practice the learned and actively act in the globalized society.

No longer does there fit any kind of reproduction of the interests of the State, since we become aware of the control and manipulation that lurks on the part of market interests in transforming the learning space into a funnel that elects a minority for success. It is necessary to use this information for the exercise of freeing minds, mediating with students the true process of learning construction, resignifying pedagogical practices that observe the epistemic subject, respecting it and building together the bases of true education.

The process of teaching and learning must be linked to affectivity, so that the focus is based on the student teacher relationship, on the valorization of educational actors. For this, the performance of each education professional should be directed to the principles of equity, giving everyone the same opportunities through an education based on criticality about the surroundings of the school, not merely following a decontextualized curriculum that overloads and distracts the school community to the true commitment of education that is to think and not accumulate information.

At the moment we recognize the discourse of control, exclusion and submission, each teacher will start a revolution within their classroom, exercising the autonomy and flexibility to break with institutional paradigms, selecting relevant and significant contents, capable of promoting social transformation through a critical education so that our students can break with the currents that imprison them and limit their learning.


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2. Behaviorism are psychological approaches of the 19th and 20th centuries to study human and animal behavior.

3. Gestalt emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, being known as psychology of form for trying to make explicit what is implicit.

4. Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) Swiss biologist, psychologist and epistemologist who founded Genetic Epistemology, theory of knowledge based on the study of the psychological genesis of human thought.

5. Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896 – 1934) Russian psychologist proposing cultural-historical psychology.

6. Jerome Bruner (1915 – 2016) American psychologist studies the mind that in the 1960s was known as cognitive revolution.

7. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849 – 1946) Russian physiologist known for his work on classical conditioning.

8. Burrhus Frederick Skinner (1904 – 1990) American psychologist who developed behavior analysis through operative conditioning.

9. Max Wertheimer (1880 – 1943) theco psychologist who became one of the founders of gestalt.

10. Wolfgang Köhler (1997 – 1967) psychologist considered the spokesperson for Gestalt.

[1] PhD student in Educational Sciences from the National University of Rosario/ Argentina, Master’s degree in Higher Education from the National University of Rosario/ Argentina and Pedagogue from Salvador University/ Brazil.

Sent: March, 2020.

Approved: May, 2020.


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