Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

More fun curmudgeonly criticism from Donald Clark. He writes, "I’m not even sure that social constructivism is an actual theory, in the sense that it’s verified, studied, understood and used as a deep, theoretical platform for action." (Me, I see social constrictivism as positing a 'black box' theory of learning - but back to Clark). Some thoughts:

- I agree, kind of, with Clark's criticism of Rousseau (though the Hume quote is unfair, as he was trying to give Rousseau a place to live, not theoretical support) - but I lean toward Rousseau's naturalism, and away from his pronouncements on 'the general will'

- I am also, with Clark, not a Marxist (though I've been accused of being one) - not because of Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot (none of whom actually practiced Marxism) but because I reject collectivism in favour of what might be called cooperativism

- I also, with Clark, don't agree with Piaget, and mostly for the same reasons: "His famous four ‘ages and stages’ developmental model has been fairly well demolished." I agree with a sensitivity to capacities - children are different from adults. But children are also very different from each other. So 'class based' learning theory is probably wrong.

- and, with Clark, I don't agree with Vygotsky, and in particular with "the idea that learning is fundamentally a socially mediated and constructed activity." But while Clark bases his objection in Chomsky's ideas, I do not. I just don't see learning as inherently based in language. That doesn't make society irrelevant - I do endorse the idea of 'scaffolding', for example - but it means that society is not necessary.

- Finally, I am with Clark in his last few points: I agree that social constructivism is inefficient (especially iof you need to just know something), I agree it ignores the power of solitary learning, I agree that it is damaging to the less privileged, and that it appeals to a sense of utopianism. I am not an instructivist - I don't believe in teaching - but I think showing and telling can be incredibly valuable.

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Mar 30, 2021 3:32 p.m.