The goal of this paper is to examine efforts to understand the developmental consequences, particularly the cognitive consequences, of children spending large amounts of time in formal schools where their activity is separated from the daily life of the rest of the community and mediated by technologies of literacy and numeracy as well as specialized uses of language. The analysis begins by examining the history of formal schooling in relation to its social and cultural circumstances and progresses through an examination of different research strategies for reaching plausible conclusions about its cognitive consequences in the sociocultural context. The discussion ends by considering two contradictory tendencies, centralized standardization versus de-centralized adaptation and separation versus embeddedness, which have characterized education since its inception and which societies around the world confront in our current historical circumstances.

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