March 22, 2001 Vol . 20, No. 6

Novice gardener wins Killam award

By Carol Thorbes

SFU educator Kieran Egan (below) may be a novice at wielding gardening tools. However, his firm grasp of how cognitive tools shape children's intellectual development recently earned him a prestigious national research fellowship and election to an elite American group of educators.

Egan, the author of Building My Zen Garden, a newly published humorous account of his first venture into gardening, is one of 17 new recipients of a 2001 Killam research fellowship.

He is the only member elected this year to the National Academy of Education from outside the United States. The 125-member body is made up of leading educational scholars in the U.S. who make funding decisions about education research. Only nine members are from outside of the U.S.

Egan's revolutionary reconception of current educational theories and practices in his book The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape our Understanding earned him the National Academy of Education's recognition.

In the book, Egan argues that most modern schooling is "ineffective because it is built on confused and incompatible aims". Egan also maintains that public education can better help children make sense of the world by developing their imaginations and the cognitive tools invented by humans.

He cites language, literacy and theoretical thinking as examples of cognitive tools.

Egan's plans to write two more books earned him a Killam fellowship.

One of the books, The Flaw in Progressivism and in Educational Research: Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, Jean Piaget will outline how these 19th and 20th century thinkers influenced the development of today's ineffective schooling.

It explores how Spencer's ideas have resulted in "systemic and pervasive mistakes about children's thinking, learning and development," writes Egan, and perpetuated the poor performance of many children in today's public school system.

Getting It Wrong From the Beginning: Major Mistakes in the Project to Educate Everybody is Egan's second book. The book proposes an alternate concept of education designed to stimulate students' imaginations and help them develop the widest array of conceptual tools.

The Killam award, a $53,000 award renewable for a second year, supports Canadian scholars engaged in research projects of outstanding merit in the humanities, social, natural and health sciences, engineering and interdisciplinary studies within those fields.

Created in 1965 and administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, the fellowship enables recipients to take a two-year paid leave of absence from their teaching and administrative duties to pursue research full-time.

Egan, who has authored about 20 books on various topics, most recently about building a Japanese garden, is the second educator to receive the Killam award since its inception.

SFU bee expert Mark Winston, who was awarded a Killam fellowship last year, is among 19 recipients who had their awards renewed this year.

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