Questioning Moshman and van Glasersfeld on Education, Liberty, and Constructivism

Besides finishing up my four-part questioning tour of Moshman (previous posts: I, I, and I), this week’s reading also looks at A Constructivist Approach to Teaching by Ernst von Glasersfeld. It is the first chapter of Constructivism in Education, edited by Leslie Steffe and Jerry Gale of The University of Georgia.


The von Glasersfeld article has a boat load of citations on Google Scholar, and was quite enjoyable. Besides being constructivist like blog-friend Dan Nexon, and hinting at times at ideological evolution, Dr. Ernst von Glasersfeld has looked at a particularly fun topic: poetry.

Unrelatedly, last night baked cherry bars. Delicious, and completely devoured by fellow residents far too fast.


On page 137, Moshman quotes Israel Scheffler, who in 1997 wrote “The funciton of education in a democracy is rather to liberate the mind…” Aren’t Moshman and Scheffler conflating John Stuart Mill-style “liberalism” (which is a method of thinking) with democracy (a method of selecting laws)?

On 137-138, Moshman writes that we do not want to have our educational systems producing “slaves, incapable of playing a human role, that is, of conceiving goals and politics of their own and realizing them.” Besides being an offensive slight of those held in slavery, does Moshman’s formulation not denigrate the “meek”? Is this hypocritical, in the context of a book on morality?

On page 143, Moshman reiterates “rational constructivism suggests that education should be aimed at the promotion of rationality, and that rationality is promoted by intellectual freedom.” Wouldn’t the view that “education should be aimed at the well-being of the student, the community, and the nation” be more responsible?

von Glasersfeld

On page 3, von Glasersfeld complains that contemporary students are “unable to read or write, unable to operate with numbers sufficiently well for their jobs,” and so on. If this is true, would we not see unemployment trending higher, not lower, in recent years and decades?

On page 7, von Glasersfled writes “From the constructivist perspective, as Piaget stressed, knowing is an adaptive activity… This notion is analogous to the notion of adaption in evolutionary biology, expanded in include, beyond the goal of survival, the goal of a coherent conceptual organization of the world as we experience it.” Can this be easily expanded to accommodate Dawkins’ “memes” – is it not the evolutionary perspective, but from the perspective of ideas to whom coherency is an approximation of fitness?

On page 10, von Glasersfeld discusses Plato’s idea of “perfect forms” that are “embedded.” However, he concludes “from our point of view, to assume that something is God given or innate should be the last resort — to be accepted only when all attempts at analysis have broken down.” Why? There is considerable research on genetic factors in belief, so why should one line of scientific inquiry be so deprecated?

On page 12, von Glaserfled says Kant writes “that we can only conceive of another subject by imputing our own subjectness to another entity.” Does this imply that all “conceptual” thinking is analogical?

On page 13, von Glaserfeld asks “How does it come about that normal children, sometimes between the ages of 12 and 24 months, learn to use plural words of their language?” If this is true, this is fascinating.

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