Critical constructivism

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critical constructivism looks at constructivism within a social and cultural environment, but adds a critical dimension aimed at reforming these environments in order to improve the success of constructivism applied as a referent. Taylor (1996) describes critical constructivism as a social epistemology that addresses the socio-cultural context of knowledge construction and serves as a referent for cultural reform. It confirms the relativism of radical constructivism, and also identifies the learner as being suspended in semiotic systems similar to those earlier identified in social and cultural constructivism. To these, critical constructivism adds a greater emphasis on the actions for change of a learning teacher. It is a framework using the critical theory of Jurgen Habermas to help make potentially disempowering cultural myths more visible, and hence more open to question through conversation and critical self-reflection.
An important part of that framework is the promotion of communicative ethics, that is, conditions for establishing dialogue oriented towards achieving mutual understanding (Taylor, 1998). The conditions include: a primary concern for maintaining empathetic, caring and trusting relationships; a commitment to dialogue that aims to achieve reciprocal understanding of goals, interests and standards; and concern for and critical awareness of the often-invisible rules of the classroom, including social and cultural myths. This allows rational examination of the often implicit "claims to rightness" of the participants, especially those derived from social institutions and history (Taylor, 1996).
Cultural myths that are prevalent in today's education systems include (Taylor, 1996):

  • The rationalist myth of cold reason - where knowledge is seen as discovery of an external truth. This can lead to the picture of the teacher in a central role as transmitter of objective truths to students. This philosophy does not promote clarifying relevance to the lives of students, but instead promotes a curriculum to be delivered.
  • The myth of hard control - which renders the teacher's classroom role as controller, and "locks teachers and students into grossly asymmetrical power relationships designed to reproduce, rather than challenge, the established culture".

Together these myths produce a culture that portrays classroom teaching and learning as "a journey through a pre-constructed landscape". Modification of such entrenched environments to reduce these myths and promote approaches based on constructivism is problematic, because of the self-reinforcing nature of administration, and the effects of wider culture. Taylor (1996) argues for an optimistic approach, and that teachers need to work collegially towards reconstructing education culture together rather than heroically on their own.

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Dougiamas, M. (1998). A journey into Constructivism,

Taylor, P. (1996) Mythmaking and mythbreaking in the mathematics classroom, In: Educational Studies in Mathematics 31, pp 151-173

Taylor, P. (1998) Constructivism: Value added, In: B. Fraser & K. Tobin (Eds), The International handbook of science education, Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic