Musings

Robert Cotner, Editor


I

n the summer of 1964, I was a participant in the North Central College and University workshop on the campus of the University of Minnesota. It was my good fortune to study with Dr. Ruth Eckhert of the university’s School of Education.

During the course of the summer’s work, Dr. Eckhert received from Benjamin Bloom of the University of Chicago materials relating to his important taxonomy series, which she had been asked to review. She took the liberty of sharing with the North Central professors the outline for Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook I: Cognitive Domain.

Perhaps it was a result of my being trained as a biologist that the whole idea of the taxonomy of educational objectives was so welcoming. As a botanist and zoologist, I had used taxonomies regularly and with great satisfaction. Whatever it was, the moment of reading Bloom’s outline was an epiphany in my own education. Here was a logical, sound structure for what I, as student and teacher, was working toward in the intellectual scheme of things in American education.

The first level of learning is termed, quite appropriately, knowledge. The basis of learning is the recall of specifics and universals, methods and processes, patterns, structures, or settings. Knowledge permits us to communicate in a common, well-defined, and generally accepted language.

But we must proceed beyond terms to comprehension of the meanings — an understanding of the fullest range of what is communicated in words. Comprehension moves toward the utilization of materials and ideas in translation, interpretations, and extrapolations related to other, similar materials and ideas.

And then we must be able to make application of abstractions—general ideas, rules of procedures, or generalized methods—as well as to understand concrete situations. These may include laboratory experiments as well as concepts in literary studies.

From application, we proceed to analysis, the “breakdown of a communication into its constituent elements or parts such that the relative hierarchy of ideas is made clear and/or the relations between the ideas expressed are made explicit.” Analysis may include elements, relationships, and organizational principles.

The heart of the intellectual enterprise follows: synthesis. The process of synthesis is the assembling the scattered elements into a new and creative wholeness. It is the act the poet knows well. Through synthesis we produce a unique communication; we develop a plan or propose a set of operations that did not previously exist; we derive abstract relations heretofore not known or understood.

And, finally, the culminating experience toward which all learning must proceed: evaluation. Using internal evidence and external criteria, we learn to form qualitative and quantitative judgments about the world in which we live and regarding the people, events, and circumstances each must face on a daily basis.

These six functions of the mind, organized and elaborated by Bloom and introduced to me by Ruth Eckert, were, in 1964, a renaissance experience to me. When I returned to the campus that autumn, I bought the Bloom book. I studied it with great care. It impacted the way I approached learning and the way I taught.

It will be argued that the Bloom taxonomy is passé, and that may be true. But it stands as an important milestone in American education. And it represents another instance of the book’s enriching profoundly the life of the mind — mine and those of innumerable others.

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