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Doubts and Criticisms, and Responses


Critic: I question the accuracy and validity of these materials and the value of the enterprise: Analyst: Of course, and I need to respond to your questions because I want you to take this work seriously.
C: Where to begin? Questions come crowding around like relations at a wake! A: Splash a little whiskey on the corpus then, and see if it rises. (A Joycean jest is the only reasonable response to such a rhetorical flourish.) What’s first?
C: The videos on this site are often dark, of insufficient resolution, and not crisply focused on the most important issues. A: Right, but not without reasons. Consider:
1. Sony Port-A-Pac was 1970 video technology; The equipment was flakey.
2. Media conversions went from Reel, to VHS, to DVD, to DV and H.264. Improving video quality is still on the agenda.
3. Videos were to capture “life” segments, organized by ideas; “experiments” were planned, but strongly responsive to child behavior.
4. Video editing in iMovie has rendered both video and audio more accessible.
C: One entire category of your “data” is made-up, the occasional jotting of yourself and your wife, neither of whom were professionally trained observers. A: Don’t say anything against the lady. She was the only mother the children had, their intimate companion during the periods of the study, and a very bright woman. “Ocassional” can be agreed to, if it means “driven by developmental events in the child’s life.” Although irregular in timing and flawed in places, the vignettes were not careless nor taken lightly. Nor should it escape notice that for most of these Vignettes, the Builder wrote a short summary of the perspective from which the notes themselves were viewed as significant: heading “Relevance.” Even if imperfect, this attempt to capture the point of view of the engaged observer is a kind of “observational hygiene” that others might well imitate. This short response is no place for my Apologia pro vita sua (see CS&C), but I remark that the task was experimental epistemology, that I was familiar with infant language studies and with Ecological Psychology, classical case studies, and had guidance from some of Piaget’s closest colleagues. For relevance, note Experimental Epistemology was a core issue of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where I was a graduate student after a decade as a programming consultant with IBM, specializing in operating systems, database and telecommunications software.
C: But your method, Case Study, is notoriously subjective and unscientific! A: We aim to fix that. I’ve followed Feynman’s formula for doing science: “Find a really good, hard problem, and solve it anyway you can.” The problems in focus? How is everyday knowledge learned? How could experience with novel computing facilities change natural learning? (See Papert’s Conjecture.) For a discussion of how epistemological studies relate to doing science, see LC0bA4 Consider the Particular Case. About subjectivity. The strategy is to embrace it and thus permit accounting for it. That is one raison d’etre for the Natural Learning Case Study Archive.
C: Other questions surely will be raised. It seems what is intended here, in this post is a public list of problems, recognized as serious, but not yet adequately addressed. A: Exactly so (with a tip o’ the hat to the legendary ‘Doc Edgerton’). Speaking for the house, I say we hope for serious and creative criticism. That will aid a new generation of case study analysts do better than we have.
It was Edgerton’s practice to pick one of those problems as a focal theme for study and research at the beginning of each yearly cycle. Perhaps the formation of an internet-realized study group would be useful
C: What are you suggesting? A: It’s YOUR turn. Let’s make a list of problems to solve and get to work on them. If you have a question we need consider here, or one that you think many will ask, let us know by email to Please criticize specific things done or not done, with your reasons, and suggest enriching ideas and perspectives or alternative points of view.


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