Ain’t nothing new about the post-truth world

In one way it is great to see the focus on post-truth at the moment, but laying the blame at facebook and journalism is wrong, it is not their fault.

It is the fault of instructionist teaching approaches.

In Situating Constructionism, Seymour Papert makes two arguments for constructionism, his flavour of student directed inquiry learning, as opposed to instructionist learning:

1) “The weak claim is that it suits some people better than other modes of learning currently being used.”

2) “The strong claim is that it is better for everyone.”

Starting with Papert’s asserted stronger claim, why does he believe that inquiry approaches are better for everyone? Papert, correctly understands, that different learning approaches view learning through from different perspectives, and that these vastly different perspectives result in vastly different outcomes, for the student as an individual, and as society as a whole. To reinforce, why this stronger claim was indeed so strong, Papert referenced the hope of feminism and Africanism. In his talk, “Perestroika and Epistemological Politics” which was presented in Sydney in 1990, Papert explains this further when he claims that instruction cannot ever combat racism, discrimination, misogyny, and other ills of society. Rather, instructionist approaches reinforce what we have good or bad.

As such, Parpert argues that constuctionism is better for everyone because it is likely to bring about justice and equity. While instruction reinforces inequality, inquiry challenges it. In our technology amplified post-truth world, our prejudices and beliefs are never challenged, our erroneous beliefs are constantly reinforced from friends and others who hold similar beliefs and perspectives. Papert argued that this was also true in 1990, before the Internet, Facebook and Twitter.  Papert though, did not belief that truth (as opposed to post-truth) could change society, why, because it never had. Instead, Papert believed that the only way real change could happen is by using new ways of thinking.  For example, Papert believed feminist pedagogy and feminist ways of thinking were the only ways to challenge and overcome sexism and misogyny. For example, Papert believed the only way to overcome racism and apartheid (remember Papert was speaking as a South African in 1990) was to adopt Africanist ways of thinking.

Turning to Papert’s weak argument, who are the people that constructionism suits better? Of course, that’s clear from the stronger argument, constructionism suits the disadvantaged and the discriminated. The inference of the weaker argument is that instruction does suit some people well. Some people benefit from the sexist elements of our society, such as being more likely to be paid more, and promoted more often. Some people benefit from racism. Some people benefit from instruction as well.  Yet, Papert would argue that these people who benefit from instruction, would also benefit from inquiry approaches.

Whether we are concerned with the world’s move towards the right, or any other of the ills of society, I’m siding with Papert, rather than trying to rewind the post-truth world, we need to embrace new (inquiry-based) ways of thinking.

All other solutions have never, ever worked.

3 thoughts on “Ain’t nothing new about the post-truth world”

  1. Great post Richard. The question that stumps me again and again is how you support those without the sufficient foundation in literacy and numeracy? From my limited reading of Reggio Emilia, I would have thought that inquiry is not some sort of Middle Years intervention, but it seems to be the argument that we come back to again and again.

  2. Sorry Aaron, only just saw this comment. The short answer is I don’t think foundation literacy and numeracy skills are incompatible with inquiry. In fact, I believe we’d see higher test scores if we focussed on helping students to think for themselves rather than forcing them to regurgitate stuff.

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