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There are moments when philosophy captures the educator's attention. Such an occasion was the opening night of the 1990 annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching. Ernst von Glasersfeld gave a highly stimulating lecture on "radical constructivism." Radical constructivism is an epistemological philosophy that divorces knowing from any notion that reality is the referent of knowledge. Radical constructivists argue that adopting this view, rather than realist views, will help teachers improve science instruction. This, however, would mean a dramatic shift away from critical realism which has deep historical roots in Western thought, and which arguably was critical for the development of modern science. Furthermore, one must question what effect radical constructivism would actually have on science teaching. Many would argue that there is little reason to think that ontological beliefs are a more critical factor in teacher behavior than social and material factors. Nevertheless, ontological belief is an interesting aspect of culture and could be incorporated into a general discussion of cultural issues during a program of science teacher education. The thorough discussion of ontological issues, however, is probably best left for graduate education.


SLCSP Paper # 81

Published Citation

Cobern, William W. "Educational Research Will Not Profit From Radical Constructivism." Arizona Education Research Organization. Tempe, AZ. November 1990.