Ugly Constructivism

Read an article for Learning Theory the other day that explored the “many faces of constructivism” — the classic good, bad and ugly. Perhaps tellingly, it was Phillips’ “ugly” face that stuck with me. He says:

“As in all living religions, constructivism has many sects–each of which harbors some distrust of its rivals. This descent into sectarianism, and the accompanying growth in distrust of nonbelievers, is probably the fate of all large-scale movements inspired by interesting ideas.”

Wow. No one could deny that large-scale movements inspired by interesting ideas do have a striking tendency to schism; feminism…environmentalism…the civil rights movement. And each of the resulting factions arguably believes itself to be the true guardian of the interesting idea, and the others to be [to some degree or another] apostate from it.

I guess my question is; what is the alternative? Of course, we could laud the merit of a monolithic paradign shift, consumately self-assured and genial. But, is that even possible? Can you really have a movement if the people who start it have not defined themselves in contrast to the prevailing ideal with sufficient clarity to justify movement? Can an idea really be interesting enough to start such a movement if it can still accept and embrace the alternatives? It seems to me that the creative energy and passion requisite to a truly interesting idea and the simple critical mass requisite to a truly large-scale movement of necessity produce what Phillips calls “sectarianism” and “distrust.”


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