I truncated and added the cherries to make a comment on the
"cherry-picking" debate that Jenna's blog (link below) pivoted
into the conversation here.
There it seems to be about the reputed evils of mixing theories
(of learning and/or development). But I took the lesson
concerning cherry-picking from Fred Erickson, for whom it was,
much more persuasively, about the dangers of selectively picking
just those items of data or evidence that support a particular
I think that cherry-picking (the metaphor means picking just the
sweet, ripe cherries from the tree and leaving the unripe sour
ones) items of evidence to support a hypothesis or a theory is
OK when the theory is very new and needs some benefit of the
doubt so it can be developed and elaborated into something worth
more carefully evaluating. Rather than just trying to kill it
off in the cradle.
Once it's old enough to fend for itself, then it's dangerous to
its future well-being to feed it only ripe cherries and not see
how it copes, or doesn't, with sour cherries that are inevitably
also to be found. Cherry-picking evidence is what happens with
cults, religions, conspiracy theories, political fanaticisms,
and other things that scholarly inquiry tries to avoid becoming.
I have a religious faith that eating occasional sour cherries is
good for the healthy development of useful and interesting new
theories and practices. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger!
But this view of cherry-picking does NOT apply in the same sense
to concepts, ideas, methods, discourse thematics,
representations, and the like. They are the only stuff around
from which to build new theories and practices, and it makes
sense to explore any possible combination of them that might be
helpful. While philosophers may shudder, I simply don't believe
any two ideas are inherently and necessarily incompatible with
one another, or that philosophical purism or canons of
"consistency" are really of much use, much less intellectual
necessities. This stance is generally associated with
postmodernism, but need not be. I think it's better associated
with a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty in the
theory-creation process. And some philosophers certainly seem to
agree (e.g. Feyerabend, Latour, Serres).
Of course I also don't believe that theories ever do, or ever
can, definitively (much less uniquely) explain phenomena. They
are just tools for getting on with the inquiry, or provisionally
guiding practice, until something else comes along.
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
On Apr 7, 2010, at 3:38 PM, Jenna McWilliams wrote:
argue over whether cultural-historical learning theories are as
theoretically rigorous as cognitivist theories. As you might
imagine, the cognitivist argued they aren't as rigorous, while
the situative theorist argued they were. I wonder if you xmca-
I don't know! That's why I've pitched this issue to you guys.
I recently sat on the sidelines watching a pair of academics
ers have thoughts on this.
Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University
On Apr 7, 2010, at 3:50 PM, mike cole wrote:
Jenna-- No wonder you are so quiet on XMCA-- you are busy in
another>> interesting discussion, differently mediated!
So, vis a vis the local conversation, how do constructivism or
relate to cultural-historical theories?
On Wed, Apr 7, 2010 at 10:12 AM, Jenna McWilliams
I'm really enjoying this conversation, as it aligns really
issues I'm grappling with both in my graduate work and in my
research>>> projects and groups.
Though I'm a shameless self-promoter, I normally wouldn't
plug my blog in
such an esteemed listserv--except that I recently published
a post about the
(ir)reconcilability of sociocultural and cognitivist
learning theories (at
constructionist.html,>>> if you want to see). It's the
conversation below the post that interests me
now--a fun debate has started about whether pulling from
cognitivist theories can be called "synthesis" or
"cherrypicking." I fall on
the "cherrypicking" side of things, though I can acknowledge how
rhetorically poor that term is.
I was going to post some of this thread in the comments
section before I
started worrying about the appropriateness of doing that, so
just set forth a plea to anyone who's interested to join in
conversation. My readers and I would be most grateful for
any thoughts you
are willing to offer.
Thanks for this listserv, which is supporting my knowledge
enabling me to participate in knowledge production.
Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University
xmca mailing list