Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Critical Constructivism for Teaching and Learning in a Democratic Society

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Critical Constructivism for Teaching and Learning in a Democratic Society

Article excerpt

Practice is never a simple application of general rules to concrete situations ... (Bettancourt, 1993)

We begin with a caveat: We do not believe it is possible to derive any straightforward recipe for teaching practice from constructivism, or any other general theory. Attempts to make recipes out of educational theories tend to make them rigid, languid, and unable to motivate teachers or students. Such has been the fate of constructivism. As an educational reform, constructivism has become inert, merely another detachable means to whatever curriculum ends politicians or educational authorities prescribe. Since our first introduction to it over twenty years ago, we have been generally enthusiastic about the constructivist view of meaning and knowledge creation. Understanding both that knowledge is constructed and "how" it is constructed serves to reveal the contingency and contextuality as well as theory- and value-ladenness inherent in knowledge. Theory-ladenness of observation, for example, is a phenomenon that one's observations are influenced in various ways by one's background. In other words, observations and experiences have to be interpreted to be meaningful and it is this unavoidable association of a theoretical dimension that represents theory-ladenness. Awareness of these characteristics more readily renders all knowledge claims subject to deconstruction and reconstruction, an important basis for a more critical, creative, and mindful approaches to teaching and learning.

Excited by the pedagogical possibilities of a constructivist perspective, a group of us worked together to develop what we call "critical constructivism." (1) This expanded idea of constructivism emphasizes understanding the contingent nature of knowledge to induce a more critical reflection about various educational institutions and practices. Thus, despite the nearly wholesale acceptance of a trivialized version of constructivism by mainstream educators, we believe that the ideas of constructivism remain a viable and vibrant tool of responsible critique for teaching and learning in a democratic society. In what follows we take a look at school-based education, and particularly curriculum and instruction in the sciences and social studies, through a critical constructivist lens.

Sadly, the school curriculum often unwittingly presents content in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences as objective and beyond question. The decontextualization of this content conceals any of the contingent circumstances of its construction or curricular representation, as well as the larger sociopolitical and economic conditions upon which it depends. In the process, school knowledge loses contact with the context of the student's everyday life; its reification leads the learner to think that knowledge is simply the property of the sages, rather than a revisable social product of humankind. Thus reification and decontextualization are two undesirable outcomes of education addressed by critical constructivism, a third being technocratization, a process we see in the high-stakes testing movement, by which knowledge is used to serve bureaucratization and results in the deskilling of teachers.

Looking at schooling through critical constructivism we seek to deflate the pretensions of content in the curriculum by exposing it as contingently constructed, contextualized, and value-oriented. This exposure occurs by involving students in examining the processes that originally led to its production as well as to the processes by which it is reproduced via curriculum. We are particularly interested in what we have referred to as the students' rapport au savoir (Desautels, Garrison, & Fleury, 1998), that is best understood as "a relation of meaning, and thus of value, between an individual (or a group) and the processes and products of knowledge production" (Charlot, Bautier, and Rochex, 1992, p. 29). Most importantly, we think that attending to these critical aspects of constructivism serves as a constitutive means to the democratic ends of teaching and learning. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.