Alan Cromer’s Connected Knowledge

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Alan Cromer’s Connected Knowledge A prospective reader casually thumbing through the pages of Alan Cromer’s Connected Knowledge: Science, Philosophy, and Education, would probably expect the book to explore how science and the philosophy of science should inform educational practices and pedagogy. Indeed such an exploration takes place, but the reader might be surprised to find that it is in the form of a vehement crusade Cromer wages against constructivism with science and a scientific habit of mind as his sword and shield. In battle like style, Cromer starts on the defensive, trying to debunk the postmodernist interpretations of modern physics often used to declare science and thus all other academic pursuits “subjective.” After defending his own territory (Cromer is a physics professor at Northeastern University), Cromer goes on the offensive against those he deems largely responsible for constructivist thought--the “highly fragmented” sociological disciplines. First he sets out to demonstrate that by using a scientific habit of mind he can create a social theory of human behavior valid across a wide range of cultures and social contexts. In other words, even in the social sciences, everything is not relative. Then he aims to use the tools of psychologists, maze rats and intelligence testing, to discredit constructivism in favor of standardized education. The Defense The amazing transformation the study of physics underwent in the two decades following the turn of the 20th century is a well-known story. Physicists, on the verge of declaring the physical world “understood”, discovered that existing theories failed to describe the behavior of the atom. In a very short time, a more fundamental theory of the ... ... middle of paper ... ... and in-class performance mediates movement between the groups. Response As the tone of the above discussion probably made clear, I rather enjoyed the first part of Connected Knowledge, which challenges many of the popular misinterpretations of modern physics. Cromer’s arguments are cogent even for the non-scientist, and it is clear that this is his field of expertise. But when Connected Knowledge ventured out of the realm of physics into that of social science, I found the discussion somewhat arrogant. In his attempt to discredit constructivist thought, Cromer offers only one way of understanding the world. I find such a view too narrow and too restrictive. I am not a relativist in that I think all approaches are equally valid, but I don’t believe that science provides the only route to understanding and should be the basis of every decision we make.

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