Constructivism in Education

By Leslie P. Steffe; Jerry Gale | Go to book overview

2 Social Construction and the Educational Process

Kenneth J. Gergen Swarthmore College

Practices of education must necessarily proceed on the basis of assumptive networks, that is, preliminary beliefs about the nature of human beings, their capacities, and their relationship with the world and each other. In the case of education, the pivotal concept is that of knowledge. How do we define or conceptualize knowledge, such that educational processes are demanded or desirable, or that certain educational practices are to be favored over others? It is clear that disparate concepts of knowledge lend themselves to differing views of the educational process. If we believed, along with certain romanticists, that "the heart has its reason," we might replace books and lectures with intense encounters of both interpersonal and spiritual variety. Should we believe, along with the Ilongot of Northern Luzon, that knowledge is to be gained in the throes of anger or in the hunting of heads, then formal training in schools might be replaced by battle experience. Beliefs about knowledge, then, inform, justify, and sustain our practices of education.

Given this concern with grounding assumptions, I first adumbrate two major conceptions of knowledge dear to the Western tradition--conceptions that continue today to inform the vast share of the educational practices in which we participate. As I propose, these closely related systems of belief are deeply problematic, both in terms of their epistemological and ideological commitments. I then outline an alternative to these views, namely one issuing from a social constructionist standpoint. Social constructionism abandons the traditional views, invites a new range of

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