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

Albert Cahalan acahalan at
Mon May 19 13:21:50 EDT 2008

On Mon, May 19, 2008 at 3:47 AM, Edward Cherlin <echerlin at> wrote:
> 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:

>>> 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 couldn't find a less offensive way to describe my opinion of
the idea that the concept is both valid and unlearnable by reading.
I wish I could have done better.

>> 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.

I wanted to see if you were really aware of the field of
education, including the terminology. I guess that would
be a c13m way to teach you how I feel about your use of
words that not everybody understands.

> 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.

I don't claim to agree with unschooling. That is however the
usual name for this sort of education. Feel free to explain
any distinctions you may see.

>> 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...?

Explain the topic, work through examples, give the kid some problems
to do, insist on effort, repeat as needed until barely competent,
then move on to the next lesson before boredom sets in. It helps to
have word problems with humor, obvious real-life use, and topics
that interest the child. Timed tests are good for simple arithmetic.
The standard is "barely competent" to avoid boredom; full competency
comes via the fact that later lessons will depend on earlier ones.
It's done with pencil and paper, and sometimes a calculator.

>> 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.

I personally don't wish to live the 9-to-5 existance, but that
doesn't make it bad for everybody. Most people are not very curious,
yet public education must serve them too.

>> 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.

Accountability and measurement is critical. Without that, you have
an unreliable system that produces a few winners and many losers.
While I regret that NCLB doesn't do much for the brightest, it is
extremely important for society that we raise the educational level
of the low acheivers.

>> 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.

Heh. I found one just yesterday, in a book on the history of math.
Did you know that pi is exactly 22/7, and can't be represented as a
finite decimal because 22 can not be evenly divided by 7? I didn't!
This was repeated in the main text and in the glossary.

I don't think any particular educational method has a monopoly
on error.

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