The Stairway Project

We need to engage and catalyze a network of educators and researchers to chart the ‘learning challenges’ implicate in the psychological and intellectual developmental milestones children face along the road to healthy maturity.

More specifically, we need to envision a stairway stretching from birth to self-sufficient, individually and socially responsible, self-healthy-maturity. The steps of the stairway represent the fundamental challenges. Each step itself has an interior stairway and so on into the levels of granularity necessary to differentiate the key distinctions.

A gross example, in a classical educational paradigm, would be to identify the most fundamentally challenging learning milestones children face in grade school. Our work on reading can be seen as focusing on one step. To begin with, I would ask what are the top 20 most challenging learning milestones of k-6?  In other words, each stage of education assumes that children have already developed certain pre-requisite processing proficiencies. We need to see the lattice and stairway of these proficiencies as prioritized by how many children are ‘falling out’ of educational progress due to the lack of them. 

I think the steps should be ranked by radiant implication significance and should be classified according to a cognitive, processing reflex development taxonomy as well as affect science’s, nuclear and other, ‘script’ taxonomy (and other co relatable systems).

We realize that children learn differently. This isn’t an attempt to homogenize these differences, rather to go a step more implicate and see where the deeper, more universally relevant and statistically significant, challenges are.

The steps are also ‘fulcrums’ - locations where the greatest leverage exists to use our resources wisely in effectuating maximal ‘lift’ in helping the children succeed through the challenges that matter most along the human developmental stairway.

Another example, outside the classical education paradigm, that further illustrates our intention here is our conversation on how children learn to develop ‘artificial memory’

Over the roughly speaking 5-7 million years since human beings began to differentiate… our animal memory was ‘organized’ by nature – primarily in wake-like response to our affects. Our memory wasn’t organized by words, wasn’t verbally-abstractly organized.  In this, primal-animal memory context, memory was less about recalling fragments of information and more about ‘re-membering’ (reassembling) the presence most relevant to instinctually-optimally engaging the animal in the present triggering situation.

Language is recent. For the majority of our evolution our brain’s physiology evolved to process a non verbal reality. Thus the ‘hardware’ of our brains evolved to process according to a radically different integrating/organizing system than one influenced and structured by words.

A significant challenge facing children as they come into oral language is the challenge of developing verbally-abstractly-artificial volitional memory according to external social conventions that are alien to the evolved memory processing structures of their brains. Clearly the underlying biology/affect based memory organization of the brain is being conscripted. Just as we are now making a case for examining the relationship between shame, ambiguity-overwhelm and the formation of decoding reflexes (and other component processors of the ‘mental-virtual’ infrastructure involved in reading), I think even more fundamentally, we now need to explore the even earlier and even more precarious and less understood developmental challenge: coming into verbal-intentional memory. What happens to the developing processing ecology of children who come into the phase of developing this tacitly learned interface in the affective context of chronic shame in relation to their ability to intentionally recall?

Just as learning to read can be radically improved, there is a way to unfold the challenge of developing this new form of memory that could be much more ecologically safe to the development and well being of the children. We need to learn about this. 

Coming into spoken language is, Pinker and others argue, instinctual. We have language instincts. The child will naturally learn the language spoken by the adults in their surroundings. Coming into verbal-abstract organized memory, being able to volitionally recall information from memory via verbal thought, is an artifact of the effect of writing on oral language and is too recent a development to be instinctual. This distinction seems critical. Each major developmental threshold our children must learn through, between their natural organic modes of processing and the artificial modes of processing they are socially pressured to adopt, is a pregnant opportunity – a fulcrum location.

When we focus our energies and dollars towards improving the lives of our children we are implicitly guided by some sense of what the most important steps are. I think, as it is, we are extremely fuzzy here. Prudent stewarding demands that we learn our way deeper into the challenges children face and align our efforts more fulcrum like, where they can create the most benefit.

See Commentaries on Participation for a few more related ideas.

Shall we?


for all children

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