Reality by Design: The Rhetoric and Technology of Authenticity in Education

Reality by Design: The Rhetoric and Technology of Authenticity in Education

Reality by Design: The Rhetoric and Technology of Authenticity in Education

Reality by Design: The Rhetoric and Technology of Authenticity in Education


In the first paragraphs of this volume, the author identifies an "authenticity paradox": that the purported real-worldedness of a learning environment, technique, or task is so rhetorically potent that educators frequently call attention to it in pedagogical conversations to legitimize their undertakings, while at the same time, terms such as "real-world" and "authentic" do not require (and even resist) precise delineation.

Using the language of authenticity as a keyhole through which to view contemporary educational theory, Petraglia draws on theories of cognition, education, and knowledge to articulate the interdisciplinarity of "constructivism" and to expose the unsettling combination of constructivism's social scientific and epistemological commitments. He argues that a full-bodied embrace of constructivist theory requires that educators forgo "knowledge as we know it" and recommends a "rhetorical" approach to constructivist instruction that recognizes the cultural, social, and behavioral practices which play an enormous role in defining learners' "real worlds." Applying this critique to the field of educational technology, the author does not merely lament constructivist theory's current shortcomings, but offers a means by which these shortcomings can be engaged and, perhaps, overcome.


Charles Bazerman University of Calirornia Santa Barbara

As human material and symbolic artifice become ever more clever and pervasive, the real takes on greater and greater importance, yet seems ever more elusive. We live increasingly in an environment built not only of concrete cities, but of symbolic realms, electronic environments, and novel social relations. People living in hunter-gatherer societies tend to know what is real for them, and do not lose their ways trying to find worlds of personal meaning in a confusing and alienating world; perhaps even more fundamentally, children grow up with clear imperatives and motives within an identifiable set of adult practices. They do not need to ask what is real. But as the products of human cleverness proliferate, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify which artfully constructed alternative offers something that seems real to us, and it becomes increasingly difficult for youth to pursue wholeheartedly the wisdom, practices, and arts the previous generations offer them.

The issue of the real is more than a philosophic, moral, or existential question that may occupy the intellectual leisure of those who find themselves at personal sixes and sevens. Because of the peculiarities of human psychology, the real is a matter of motivation, participation, and organization of cognition and behavior. That is, people are more engaged (and thus learn more) the more real and meaningful they find tasks. What people find real and engaging, nonetheless, may be of the greatest human artifice. Some people find crafting sailboats, or acting in costume upon a stage, or documenting literary history, or working on string theory far more real than gathering berries. Modern society's concern for authenticity, honest expression of feelings, following one's heart and conscience, and similar motives attests to the difficulties and importance we attach to locating what we find personally real.

If the sense of the real is so important, especially in a world that seems to offer so much variety, then the learning, attention, and development of children are closely tied to what they find (or can be convinced is) real and engaging, even if at certain moments play is what strikes them as most real. the progressive reforms of twentieth-century education have at their heart, as Joseph Petraglia . . .

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