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Re: [xmca] (ism) v (ist) and cherries

I've been enjoying this conversation so much that I've decided to emerge from behind my usual lurker stance. (First time poster, long time reader, all that.)

It sounds like these two issues, cherry-picking theories (or, framed more positively, synthesizing or remixing theories) and cherry picking data actually have a pretty dynamic relationship. From what you're saying Jay, it would follow that perhaps in order to effectively synthesize learning theories and/or developmental paradigms, in the beginning stages one might cherry-pick data in order to support that emerging hypothesis before it gets quashed. These two types of cherry-picking are distinct, but have an important relationship between them for those that see it as possible to synthesize theories, a group that I count myself as part of. At the same time, this very relationship might feed the narratives (and, of course, valid arguments) that opponents to synthesis make about the lack of methodological rigor that synthesis work can be characterized by.



Rafi Santo
Senior Program Associate
Online Leadership Program
Global Kids

At 9:37 PM -0700 4/7/10, Jay Lemke wrote:
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 position.

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.


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Apr 7, 2010, at 3:38 PM, Jenna McWilliams wrote:

 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 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-ers have thoughts on this.


 Jenna McWilliams
 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 <jenmcwil@umail.iu.edu>wrote:

 I'm really enjoying this conversation, as it aligns really nicely with
 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

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 sociocultural and
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 instead I'll
 just set forth a plea to anyone who's interested to join in on the
 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 acquisition and
 enabling me to participate in knowledge production.



 Jenna McWilliams
 Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University

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