Sunday, April 13, 2008

constructivism and objectivity

Seymour Papert:
Knowledge we are told must be understood as situated, contextualised, genderised, multicultural, social, relational and domain-specific. This is a culture in revolt against the idea of the abstract! But while I feel thoroughly part of that culture, I also have trouble reconciling mathematics with its criteria: I can't shake off the conviction that mathematics is abstract - indeed the ultimate exemplar of abstraction
(Editorial. International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1996)
He goes onto say that "instead of resolving the tension ... it might not only be acceptable but actually productive to live with it"

Does constructivism (Piaget) or constructionism (Papert) necessarily imply that there is no such thing as objective knowledge?

Papert sometimes might stray there but I've avoided reading him in that way. I've interpreted his writings to mean that we should respect the developmental process by which knowledge is acquired. Children interpret the world in childlike ways which have their own internal logic that needs to be understood. Adults, with a scientific world view interpret the world in ways which are closer to objective but always evolving.

However, some see truth itself is seen as a meaningless concept – due to their embrace of cultural relativism, the importance of "diversity", celebration of difference, a particularist world view linked to the politics of identity, repulsion or revulsion from modernity, all knowledge is seen as socially constructed, different views are equally valid, experience is more valuable than theory (Furedi combats these views)

I interpret Papert above as saying that we have a culture in revolt against the whole notion that truth exists - but nevertheless truth does exist. Admittedly, it is not certain that he is saying that since mathematical abstraction is not necessarily objective truth. But he appears to be saying we should not capitulate to cultural relativism, that it is necessary to look at situations objectively as well.

The word constructivism has been sadly perverted by some education departments to elevate process knowledge above content knowledge in such as way to undermine the Enlightenment values on which Western culture is built and which we still need to further progress.

The word constructivism is a casualty of friendly fire in the culture wars. Should we let it bleed to death on the battlefield or attempt to bring it back from the dead?

1 comment:

Jared M. Stein said...

I think you've nailed it. As a grad student in the Ed department I always was repelled at constructivism's anti-objectivity slant (either artificially pasted on or inherent in the approach)--and it goes much farther than you've suggested, particularly with respect to reading education.