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Is Constructivism the Best Approach to Teaching?

Is Constructivism the Best Approach to Teaching?

When we think about education, it is important to see clearly that the contribution of the teacher is not trivial and elementary. Plato’s dialogues offer several examples of learning and teaching, most famously the Socratic questioning. Indeed, there are lots of classic theories of teaching and learning. Obviously, scientists, artists, politicians, and the great business men and women of the past have learned through those methods. However, looking back to the several images of learning and teaching, we saw that constructivism has tended to dominate in the last decades of the twentieth century. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is the father of the progressive educators. Yes, the deceptive Swiss philosopher, author of the novel Émile (1762), has inspired many with his nihilism.

Anyone who seriously approaches the study of learning and teaching methods, whether pedagogue, psychologist, or philosopher, must quickly become aware of the enormous difficulty of drawing a constructivist line to all the different camps of investigation. Anyway, constructivism is perhaps the major influence in contemporary science education.

Constructivism is a theory of learning which claims that knowledge cannot be transmitted from teacher to learner but must be constructed anew by each learner. Most in education community have adopted constructivism as a epistemology. Consequently, they came to believe that consensus among scientists constitutes scientific knowledge. Now, constructivism has become part of educational orthodoxy. One of the problems with constructivism is its disregard for the teacher and his transforming agency, by relying only on children independent efforts. This theory puts a strong evolutionary defense of construction of all knowledge by inquiring students alone.

I believe that this general claim is far from justified. You know the picture: constructivism is evidently not realistic, for this theory of teacherless learning puts the pupil and the object of study as the most important figures in the process of learning. Yet the truth is the classroom represents a kind of communion involving teacher, student, and knowledge. Beyond that, integral education involves family, community, and school. No learner is an island. A lot of factors lead him to make one or another choice in his learning journey. Learning is an extremely complex and abstract task, and the young child will not succeed independently of others. We have before us this sad reality: students that “have learned” through constructivist instruction hardly find success in their intellectual efforts. It is not easy to accept the view that a child is capable of constructing all her knowledge for generating a set of rules. It is not unfair, I believe, to conclude from the results, that, in effect, constructivism cannot explain correctly the way kids learn.

Surely, parents and teachers have a work to do in helping children to improve every talent and skill and should take hold of it earnestly. I believe that we become someone when we confront nihilist ideas. This is because if we confront them and their consequences, then, and only then, we are affirming the essence of being human: our freedom and our desire for sharing knowledge and love. In this regard, traditional school with “classic” learning methods could lead students not only to fruitful results in their careers, college, and citizenship. But, at the same time it leads to a momentous discovery about themselves. Besides that, it raises questions about what does teaching and learning mean, and also about how to be a healthy member of the community.