I recently attended a conference on quality math and science teaching at the Dana Center at the University of Texas in Austin. A physicist who was trying to express the philosophy of numbers used a quote by Kant that struck me as interesting.
"It is beyond a doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience."
It struck me that Kant had perhaps represented the initial formulation of constructivism as an educational philosophy. Kant's views on learning are best stated in Elements of Understanding.
Now, I know Piaget is given credit for establishing constructivism as educational pedagogy, and that constructivism as a philosophy goes back to Socrates. I'm sure that the strands of thought that separate constructivism from rationalism can be found throughout the history of thought, but I found it interesting to consider Kant's role in the relationship between philosophy of science and the pedagogy of constructivism.
Here are some other quotes from Kant:
"All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason."
"All thought must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters, relate ultimately to intuitions, and therefore, with us, to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us."
"Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play."
"Immaturity is the incapacity to use one's intelligence without the guidance of another."
"Intuition and concepts constitute... the elements of all our knowledge, so that neither concepts without an intuition in some way corresponding to them, nor intuition without concepts, can yield knowledge."
"To be is to do."
This one reminds a bit of Descartes, don't you think? Here are some quotes from Descartes:
"Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power."
"Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems."
"If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things."
I'm sure these simple observations on the history of the philosophy of constructivism won't help settle the debate in education over its application to methods. The underlying philosophical debate hasn't been settled after thousands of years, so why should we expect to agree on its applications to education today? I think it makes sense, but putting it into practice is not easy or automatic. Perhaps it helps to understand constructivism as a philosophy for consideration by teachers looking for the best way to teach? Perhaps this style does not work for everyone, but is the optimal approach for others? Perhaps we should allow teachers more freedom to find the style that works best for them?
Just some random thoughts. What do you think?
For more reading on the philosophy of science, check out The Philosophy Archive.