Constructionism (was Re: XP on OLPC - a contrarian view)

Edward Cherlin echerlin at
Mon May 19 03:47:51 EDT 2008

On Sun, May 18, 2008 at 5:41 PM, Albert Cahalan <acahalan at> wrote:
> On Sun, May 18, 2008 at 5:38 PM, Edward Cherlin <echerlin at> wrote:
>> On Sun, May 18, 2008 at 11:46 AM, Albert Cahalan <acahalan at> wrote:
>>> On Sat, May 17, 2008 at 6:28 AM, Martin Langhoff <martin.langhoff at> wrote:
>>>> Stop here, and please _read_ on constructionism. (Hint: most of the
>>>> tricks have to do with what happens _without the teacher around_).
>> Sorry, people can't learn Constructionism simply by reading.
> That is simply appalling. The words that come to my mind are:
> nonsense, unlearnable, faith-based, bullshit, and excuses

I'm sorry, I have no idea from this farrago of insults what your
actual objection is. If you don't understand what I said, you can ask
for clarification. If you think you do understand but you disagree,
you can state your case. But this is unacceptable.

> I'm also reminded that one doesn't really understand a concept
> until they can teach it. If you can't teach me, then perhaps
> your own understanding is weak.

I haven't failed to teach you yet. We have barely started.

>>> The idea appears to be extremely old, though not the norm. Ditching
>>> the buzzword would be appreciated; it only serves to obfuscate.

See alleged Confucius quote on Constructionism page. Jargon becomes
buzzwords when used by those who don't care to learn what the terms
are intended to mean, and use them to pretend to knowledge and
understanding. That is not the case on this list. You have a chance to
learn from some of the greatest minds of our age here. Insults
obfuscate better than buzzwords, BTW.

>> The jargon of any field is a necessity to practitioners, but a barrier
>> to entry. There are essential reasons, having to do with saving lives,
>> for the use of precise medical terminology. There are essential
>> reasons, having to do with shared understanding of fairly difficult
>> concepts, for the terminologies of mathematics and programming. The
>> same is true in psychology, if you can filter out those who practice
>> bafflegab to prevent anybody from noticing that they are not, in fact,
>> saying anything. Not a trivial practice, but one that some people can
>> and will help you with.
> I checked the wikipedia article for bafflegab, and found it spot-on.

I assume you mean that you find my message to be bafflegab, not that
you agree with my definition and my assessment. I'm afraid that I
cannot find words to express my disappointment in you.

> We can do without the words "epistemology" and "ontology" as well.

We can do without the narrow-minded, crack-brained epistemology you
are demonstrating at this moment, particularly since we know that you
know better.

>> The problem is that everybody is a psychologist. Nobody thinks that
>> simply owning a car makes you a mechanic without actually working on
>> cars, but everybody thinks that having a mind entitles them to an
>> opinion about all of its workings. The fact is that we are massively
>> ignorant about minds/brains, but we do know a few useful things, like
>> Isaac Newton's picture of himself as a child on the beach picking up
>> pretty shells, while the vast ocean of truth lay all undiscovered
>> before him.
>>> From what I can tell, c13m is an awful lot like unschooling.
>> Nope. Well, the Amish practice of calling farm labor schooling might
>> qualify, from their point of view.
> It's not that. I think you need an overview of unschooling.

I think it would be helpful if you gave the link when first
introducing a new term whose meaning is not obvious.

Yes, I see. Indeed, Unschooling as Holt expounds it includes much from
Constructivism. Good man, Holt. Since you know about him, and you
yourself have suggested him as a model for Constructivism, why are you
shouting at us? It isn't our fault that you haven't put 2 and 2
together yet.

>> The way to learn about Constructivist and Constructionist methods (not
>> the same thing: Constructionism is the one with the computers) is not
>> to discuss putative definitions. It is to practice Constructivism: try
>> them and see for yourself. The most direct way to do that is to go to
>> an education supply store and buy a set of Cuisenaire rods, and try
>> them out on yourself and on any children of suitable age that you can
>> borrow the use of.
> Cuisenaire rods are truly dreadful, along with the decimal blocks
> and sandpaper letters. If that's c13m, then it's harmful to kids.
> It doesn't get results.

Evidence, please. I can cite Caleb Gattegno's writings, and the work
of many others, in favor. What is your argument against? I hope that
it isn't you trying them out without learning the methods, or just
dumping them on the children with no guidance.

> I believe I even have the "children of suitable age". (all even ages
> from 0 to 8) I can teach how I please, as they are homeschooled.

Out with it, then! How do you please? How are they doing?

> Those worthless c13m toys ("manipulatives") gave me an 8 year old
> who was struggling with multi-digit addition and subtraction.

That's funny. I don't recall any suggestion from any educator that
Cuisenaire rods would be any good for anything outside the 0-100
range. Where did you get that dippy notion from? You need the
Montessori materials for that, and they are only good up to 10,000.
Chisanbop might have helped.

> I cast that junk aside, and

replaced it with...?

> 3 months later he's doing much better.
> He can handle most of the math needed for a college-level physics
> course targeted at engineering students. That even includes the
> bare essentials of integral calculus.
>> Now contrast the picture above with the standard Instructionist
>> picture of going to school, taking COBOL classes for a few years,
>> never learning anything not assigned, and getting a job as a cog in a
>> corporation. It isn't COBOL any more, but the specific language
>> doesn't matter. This is a picture of learning only enough so that you
>> never have to think for yourself again, and being taught to _like_ it
>> that way.
> Thinkers may look down on non-thinkers,

Are you a Republican, considering Liberals to be elitists for wanting
everybody to be able to think? I don't know anybody else who spouts
that hypocritical nonsense.

> but don't knock it too much.
> Being a cog in a corporation will put food on the table and a roof
> over the head. It sure beats what the drop-outs face.

Albert, you will never convince me that you believe that yourself. You
know what it is to educate yourself on new computer technologies.

> We thus have
> things like No Child Left Behind, which has done wonders for both
> math and reading skills.

Are you serious? Are you really a Republican? No Child's Behind Left
is the worst disaster in education in decades, as John Holt would have
been the first to point out if he had lived long enough. Who claims
that NCLB is raising skills, as opposed to test scores? With what
evidence? The real skills aren't on the standardized tests.

> You can't expect every kid to spontaneously
> generate the sum of human knowledge by playing with plastic blocks.

You don't have the slightest idea what Constructionism is, as this
demonstrates. Yet you presume to criticize your strawman view of it,
rather than to ask for explanations, and you insult those who try to
help you. You are close to the killfile for trolling, Albert, and I'm
not the only one who thinks so.

> Spoon-feeding facts into a kid

That's would be Instructionism, with the correction, "alleged facts".
I can cite plenty of experts on the fact that current textbooks are
full of errors and outright lies. Richard Feynman on math and physics
books up before the Los Angeles textbook committee, for example.

> might not be stylish, but it works.

No, it doesn't work as education, only as social control. You can't
show me a single study demonstrating that it works better than real
education, and I can cite dozens to the contrary.
Edward Cherlin
End Poverty at a Profit by teaching children business
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."--Alan Kay

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