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Re: Learning Paradox

The learning paradox is a pretty sticky one. As Mike notes, Bereiter write
about it in the mid-90s in an article in Educational Researcher. I talked
to him a few years later at AERA and told him I'd found the article
interesting, and he laughed it off and said that he'd already recanted
everything he'd said in the article. I'm not sure if he's written about
his new conception--anybody kept up with his thinking on this question?

As I understand the paradox: If it's true that all learning is based on
prior knowledge, how do we learn or create something new?

I'll offer a couple of possibilities that resonate with a CHAT
perspective.  Vera John-Steiner and Terry Meehan, in Creativity and
Collaboration in Knowledge Construction (in. Lee & Smagorinsky [Eds],
Vygotskian Perspectives on Literacy Research), talk about creativity as
new juxtapositions of existing ideas. Similarly, I just finished reading
David Bakhurst's article in the 2001 MCA (Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 187-199),
Ilyenkov on aesthetics: Realism, imagination, and the end of art. A
pertinent quote:

Ilyenkov argues that aesthetic sensibility, as he understood it,
essentially involves the exercise of creative imagination. By imagination,
he means not just the capacity to envisage what is not, but the ability to
see particular facts in a way that simultaneously captures their
uniqueness and reveals how certain general schema are applicable to them. 
as Ilyenkov puts it, imagination enables us to see the "universal
individuality" of the facts. This is illustrated by the kind of creative
recasting of an object in certain acts of discovery.  Suddenly, a way of
solving a hitherto intractiable problem emerges by, as it were,
reorganizing the facts. The facts acquire a new "shape"--a new profile--in
which what was formally salient has receded, throwing new features into
relief. In like manner, imagination is also at work when we grasp how
various features, hitherto perceived as distinct and isolated, in fact
constitute parts of an organized whole.  Imagination enables us to see
significance in things, significance we grasp as an act of perceptual
apprehension rather than through ratiocination.  The history of art,
Ilyenkov asserts, is a treasure trove of examples of the creative exercise
of imagination so conceived, and it presents for us a gallery of problems
we may solve only through the acquisition of imagination. p. 193

I see both of these perspectives to shed light on what I understand to be
the learning paradox--new ideas emerge from seeing things in new ways.
Garth Brooks is regarded as innovative because he applied aspects of pop
music performance to country and western music. In our field, to give but
one example, Jim Wertsch has developed "new" and provocative ideas by
juxtaposing Vygotsky with Bakhtin.

The trick with a paradox is that it somehow works, even if it seems it
shouldn't.  I think that these perspectives help to explain why, if
knowledge springs from knowledge, how new knowledge is possible.


> There is a reasonably large literature on the learning paradox going back
> about 25 years in cog sci with which chat has been in dialogue, Michael.
> Its
> an excellent issue for discussion. Might you provide us with a summary
> of some of the key texts/statements?
> I am thinking here of Fodor's posing of the issue as a challenge to
> cognitive
> science in about 1981 in Modularity of Mind. Carl Bereiter wrote on this
> issue. Newman, Griffin, and Cole have a chat-based discussion in *The
> Construction Zone*, a Dutch guy (boom,broom?) as a response somewhat
> later.
> I fear taking on the issue piecemeal in the summer time among the other
> matters
> on our plates, but perhaps its only my plate that is full! I think you can
> be pretty sure there are arguments for a learning paradox. the question is
> whether the paradox can be superceded.
> mike