Ernst von Glasersfeld's answers
April 1999


From: "C DeLancy"
Subject: Role of teaching in radical constructivism

I would like to ask what the role of teaching is in radical constructivism. If we say that the student constructs his own knowledge, and that any objective reality is unknowable, then what gives the teacher any authority to teach the student? Perhaps the student's construct is as valid as the teacher's.

Thank you,

Carla DeLancy

Dear Ms DeLancy,

I have written well over a dozen articles on the didactic aspects of RC and edited a nice book about its practice in the classroom (Radical Constructivism in Mathematics Education, Kluwer, 1991). I won't repeat any details here. But the main constructivist attitude is easy to explain: I do not believe that a teacher's authority springs from the "knowledge" he or she has - much of it will be obsolete when the students reach middle age. Authority has to come from the ability to solve problems and from guiding students to learn to learn. They must, indeed, construct their knowledge themselves, and if it cannot be measured by a comparison with some objective "truth", it will be good knowledge only if it works in the experiential world as well as the teacher's or better. In my view, teachers can only SHOW how knowledge could be constructed, they can never transfer what they happen to know. But this, of course, presents a challenge that many are afraid of.

Ernst von Glasersfeld




From: "Finn Po"
Subject: Pre-natal invariance conservation


Hello Dr. von Glasersfield,

Firstly, thank you very much for offering your time and mind to querriers like me. I am happy to have found a psychologist who talks some autopoeitics. My interest is pre-natal psychology and I enjoy pondering interuterine 'self-making" (I call it matricing at this stage) in cognitive terms. Do you know of anything being done by Autopoietisists or Radical Constructivist in this area and have you done anything directly related to pre-natal psychology?

I do have a question that I will try to express. It may be likely that in the interuterine matricing of "self" the unenervated placenta is very active in "othering" the self that is powerfully informed by the fetal nervous system. Where would I look for placental structural responses that I think are required for invariance conservation against a continuously developing fetal nervous system.

Any direction will be useful to me.

Dear Mr. Deese (?),

I am sorry to say that I have never worked on or experimented with anyone's interuterine experiences and of course have forgotten those I might have had myself. On the other hand, I have often risked the statement that the sytematization and coordination of sensory signals must begin quite some time before we are born. I cannot imagine what the "placental structural responses" might be of which you speak; but I would say that a fetus can certainly construct elementary invariances on the basis of perceived movements, vibrations and sounds. Some of these invariances might well serve as prototypes in the organization of postnatal experiences. The womb may not provide much of a view, but it surely offers many occasions for isolating and coming to terms with movements, jolts, and spatial constraints. With the help of the various scanning devices that have become a commonplace today, it should not be difficult to make some empirical studies in that direction, but I do not know of anyone making such investigations of preliminary sensorimotor coordinations.

I am sorry that I cannot answer more helpfully to your question.


Ernst von Glasersfeld.




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