Radical Constructivism: Epistemology, Education and Dynamite

Constructivist Foundations 6 (1):102-111 (2010)

Authors
Peter Slezak
University of New South Wales
Abstract
Context: The current situation in philosophy of science includes central, ongoing debates about realism and anti-realism. The same question has been central to the theorising of radical constructivism and, in particular, to its implications for educational theory. However the constructivist literature does not make significant contact with the most important, mainstream philosophical discussions. Problem: Despite its overwhelming influence among educationalists, I suggest that the “radical constructivism” of Ernst Glasersfeld is an example of fashionable but thoroughly problematic doctrines that can have little benefit for practical pedagogy or teacher education. My critique has a positive goal: it is important to understand why constructivism has generated such severe polarization and disputation. A symptom of the problem is the concern with the most abstruse and obdurate problems of philosophy that have no conceivable bearing on educational practice or anything else, for that matter. The diagnosis is confirmed by those pedagogical recommendations that are allegedly derived from radical constructivism that are touted as revolutionary but are platitudes of common sense. I suggest that, ironically, this observation itself provides some pedagogical insight. Method: The approach adopted for the topic is critical, philosophical analysis of the various claims and theses of radical constructivism in the light of philosophy of science and psychology. Results: The findings of the paper are that central theoretical claims of constructivism are couched in an unclear and unnecessary jargon that obscures the implausibility or banality of these claims. Implications: The value of the paper lies in providing an analysis and critique of central, influential claims of radical constructivism both in relation to issues in epistemology and also in relation to the alleged bearing of these claims on pedagogy. It is suggested that, contrary to the claims of radical constructivists, there are few if any implications for practice and applications.
Keywords learning  teaching  metaphysics  epistemology  realism  fallibilism
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