Epistemology comes true


by Susanna Tesconi -


Mindstorms is so rich of powerful ideas that it is really hard to choose and pick one or two.... Reading the book is like taking a walk among almost every interesting concept I learned in my life, or, said in other words, meeting old friends again like Galileo, Aristoteles,Tarski, Poincare, Piaget and Bruner, all bringing new source of inspiration thanks to the powerful interpretation of their theory given by Papert. I’m particularly fascinated by Papert’s contributions about epistemology and its relationship with learning. It’s something related to my personal experience as primary school teacher with a background in theory of knowledge.

I’ve studied philosophy. During 5 years I used to spend my time enjoying the study of epistemology and logic of natural  language. It was wonderful passing the day in the library, reading, connecting abstract concept, playing with theories, comparing paradigms, analyzing my own process of learning and using language.  

At the same time I was starting to feel a strong interest for education as political practice.  I discovered critical pedagogy and I got involved in several groups promoting child’s rights and new forms of  teaching/learning. I decided to convert this political passion into a job mixing my theoretical background with new practical pedagogical knowledge, and taking the challenge of promoting educational change in low income public school.

At that time I didn’t know that my epistemological background and my desire for educational change were strongly related and they were  part of my teacher’s “tool box”. At that time I was considering epistemology as something platonic, I mean idealistic, far from the ground,  not  a tool to use in education,  but just a tool to understand the history and development of knowledge.  

I was convinced that the change needed in education was more about participation, human relationships, respect, freedom, and cooperation than about the structure of knowledge. I didn’t understand yet that how we think about knowledge affects how we think about us.

The teaching practice made me discover a new reality, more complex, less ideological and more epistemological. I started to enjoy using models in order to help kids become conscious of their own mental process, or physical activity in order to work on logical topics. The separation between my theoretical background and the practice was gone forever..epistemology, mental experiments, scientific paradigms, modularity, cognitive science,  history of science were everyday by my side, helping me making kids happy and comfortable about the knowledge they were building.


Below some Mindstorms ideas that I found very helpful for every teacher, not just math’s, to become conscious of the empowering effect of epistemology in learning and also to  limit the production of “cultural toxins” and  related damages on people.

  • We need to promote a new sense of the child as a thinker, even as an epistemologist with the notion of the power of powerful ideas.  
  • It is necessary to encourage the child to become expert in recognizing and choosing among varying styles of thoughts, to acquire  multiple epistemology in order to build his own knowledge.
  • Procedural thinking is a powerful mental tool needed for multiple epistemology.
  • A domain of knowledge is a community of powerful ideas.
  • To know a domain of knowledge is much like coming in a new community of people. The teacher plays the role of a mutual friend who provides introduction.
  • How we think about knowledge affects how we think about us.
  • The discrepancy between our experience of ourselves and our idealization of  knowledge has an effect: it intimidates us, it lessens the sense of our own competence and it leads us into counterproductive strategies for learning and thinking.
  • The learner’s thinking is more like the mathematician’s than either is like the logical ideal.
  • Powerful ideas help us grasping the world and have the capacity of helping us organizing our way to think about a particular class of problems. We don’t have to reorganize ourselves in order to use them. We put our skills and heuristic strategy into a kind of tool box- and while the interaction can, in the course of time, give rise to global changes, the act of learning is itself a local event.
  • The importance of Tinkering: learning consist of building up a set of materials and tools that one can handle and manipulate.