Cautionary Notes on the Appeal of The New "Ism" (Constructivism) in Science Education
Ronald G. Good, James H. Wandersee, and St. John Julien
This chapter is the result of a series of discussions among the authors to explore constructivism, first as individuals and finally in a series of seminars with our faculty and student colleagues. We brought to our conversation differing approaches to questions of learning and knowledge that appeared to be related to constructivism. To the extent that "labels" can capture complex, dynamic positions on these issues, we understood ourselves to be variously a contextual realist ( Good), a constructivist ( Wandersee), and a pragmatist ( St. Julien). We agreed that what was learned was a construction of the active learner. Did this mean that we were all constructivists? The conclusion that we came to as we tried to work out our disagreements was that the term constructivism was working more to obscure differences crucial to educational practice than as a guide to practice. Our working out of our differences led us to what we feel are productive questions about constructivism itself and not to a single interpretation of the term. What unifies this work is a common concern that constructivism is currently being accepted as a panacea for educational woes in a way that obscures crucial differences among proponents. It is precisely our own conflicts that make the differences between constructivism's proponents recognizable and make clear to us the depth of the questions which must be answered before constructivism warrants the enthusiastic and, to our understanding, uncritical acclaim that it has received.
Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell ( 1872- 1970), one of the great social critics, mathematicians, logicians, and philosophers of the twentieth century, warned against uncritical acceptance of the many "isms" that are readily available. Whether the "ism" is part of the name of an organized religion (e.g., Catholicism, Buddhism), a social-political movement (e.g., communism, socialism, capitalism), or an education movement (e.g., associationism, constructivism), Russell would caution against uncritical acceptance of dogma