Ernst von Glasersfeld's answers
April 2000

 
 
 


QUESTION

Dear Professor von Glasersfeld,

Happy Easter! I am a Master of Education student in Hong Kong, though belatedly at the age of 50. I have been puzzling over some historical issues while reading and learning about the mainstream educational theories of Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner and others who criticized Piaget. What vexes me is that, 'how did Piaget react to the criticisms?" We know that Piaget lived into his eighties while Vygotsky died in the Stalin era, although his works were only translated into English in the 1960s. Did Piaget react? How come he did not modify his theories of universal structure, cognition and etc.? Would it be for the simple reason that none of his rebuffs were translated into English so few outside France and Switzerland (and Quebec) knew about them? What also vexes me is that, "how come no one commented on the extent of the Stalinist influence, or even control, over Vygotsky, that might have affect his work?"

Regards!

Yours sincerely,
S H H Chiu
Hong Kong

ANSWER FROM ERNST VON GLASERSFELD

Dear Mr. Chiu,

Your questions are very good and I shall try to answer them in sequence.

1. According to Bruner, who I am sure is right about this, Vygotsky's 'Thought and Language' was suppressed in 1936 and not published in Russian until 1956. Vygotsky knew only Piaget's first two books (from the 1920s), which means that he could not have had an understanding of Piaget's constructivist theory. Piaget received the English translation of 'Thought and Language' from M.I.T.Press in 1961 or 1962, and it was, I believe, the only thing he read of Vygotsky. He wrote a 14 page comment explaining his relation to Vygotsky's ideas, and this was published by M.I.T Press as an addition to the 2nd printing of 'Thought and Language'. In this comment, he shows that V's interpretation of 'egocentrism' was much narrower that he had intended. He ended it by saying: 'Actions, whether individual or interpersonal, are in essence co-ordinated and organized by the operational structures which are spontaneously constructed in the course of mental development.' This foreshadows the basic insight that informed the papers that were later published as 'Sociological Studies' (not translated into English until about two years ago). In plain language: what an observer categorizes as social learning and social interaction presupposes the individuals' prior construction of 'others' and something that counts as 'society'. This is something Vygotsky did not consider, for he took society as a given, which was in agreement with the dialectical materialist theory.

Had this not been compatible with Marx, I doubt that V's would have been published even in 1956. What puzzles me is the question: How much did Vygotsky know about Aleksander Bogdanov, who had published four dialogues on philosophy of science in 1909 - a beautiful piece of work in which the social component is better integrated with subjective construction than in anything later I have seen (I published a German translation of the dialogues in my 'Grenzen des Begreifens, Benteli Verlag, Bern, 1996).

2. That the mainstream educational literature is mostly critical of Piaget is - from my no doubt biased point of view - due to the fact that very few people in education have read enough Piaget to understand the constructivist epistemology that was his main concern. Piaget is a difficult author, partly because statements about the basic concepts of his theory are scattered in many different volumes and he never produced a concise, comprehensive summary of his ideas; and partly because these ideas are incompatible with the general realist view. Consequently people read him and try to assimilate what they read to a more or less traditional view - and then it is not surprising that they find him to be mistaken. I have worked for a very long time to come up with a coherent interpretation that satisfies me - and that is all it was intended to do, for it would be against the very principle of constructivism to claim that it is the only, let alone the "right" interpretation.

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld.


 

 

 
 


QUESTION

From: FaucherCol@aol.com
Date sent: Wed, 19 Apr 2000

Hello,

I am a french assistant professor in computer science (AI) and I would be interested in finding some papers about software or methodes to teach arithmetic word problems for rather young children. Could you help me, please. Thank you very much. Best regards 

Colette Faucher
DIAM-IUSPIM
FacultÚ de St-JÚr˘me
Avenue Escadrille Normandie Niemen
13397 Marseille Cedex 20 FRANCE
E-mail :
FaucherCol@aol.com

ANSWER FROM ERNST VON GLASERSFELD

Dear Mme Faucher,

Prof. Les Steffe and Dr. John Olive at the University of Georgia have some very nice 'Microworld' programs for the nexperiential teaching of arithmetic. You can probably get the programs from them. I have been retired for over 15 years, and this is all I can tell you at the moment. Their e-mail address is: < lsteffe@coe.uga.edu >

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld


 

 

 
 


QUESTION

From: "Riccardo" <ricvent@tin.it>
Subject: Alfred Schutz
Date sent: Thu, 13 Apr 2000 

Dear Ernst von Glasersfeld

I'm an italian student (excuse me for my awful english), I'd like make a study on Alfred Schutz and G. H. Mead conception of Self and role taking. What do you thing about this matter? Thanks for your reply in advance!

Yours sincerely
Riccardo Venturini
DSS universitÓ di Pisa

ANSWER FROM ERNST VON GLASERSFELD

Dear Mr. Venturini,

Alfred Schutz is certainly worth studying, especially his 1932 book "Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt" (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp paperback, 1974), which surely exists in Italian translation. At least as relevant to your purpose would be Georg Simmel's "Grundfragen der Soziologie:Individuum und Gesellschaft" (Sammlung Goeschen, No.101). - Are you aware of the fact that Vincent Kenny, who directs this website, has written on the problem of the self in psychotherapy? I would say that this would be very relevant to your topic.
A friend of mine in Ireland has published a number of papers on the subject of "role-taking" and also on the question of "role models" in different countries. his name and address are: Prof. Hugh Gash
hughgash@indigo.ie

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld

 

 

 

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