Steffe & Kieren (1994)

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The article Radical Constructivism and Mathematics Education was written by Leslie Steffe and Thomas Kieren and published in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education in 1994. The article is available from JSTOR at


Our intention in this article is to provide an interpretation of the influence of constructivist thought on mathematics educators starting around 1960 and proceeding on up to the present time. First, we indicate how the initial influence of constructivist thought stemmed mainly from Piaget's cognitive-development psychology rather than from his epistemology. In this, we point to what in retrospect appears to be inevitable distortions in the interpretations of Piaget's psychology due primarily to its interpretation in the framework of Cartesian epistemology. Second, we identify a preconstructivist revolution in research in mathematics education beginning in 1970 and proceeding on up to 1980. There were two subperiods in this decade separated by Ernst von Glasersfeld's presentation of radical constructivism to the Jean Piaget Society in Philadelphia in 1975. Third, we mark the beginning of the constructivist revolution in mathematics education research by the publication of two important papers in the JRME (Richards & von Glasersfeld, 1980; von Glasersfeld, 1981). Fourth, we indicate how the constructivist revolution in mathematics education research served as a period of preparation for the reform movement that is currently underway in school mathematics.

Outline of Headings

  • Cartesian Epistemology
    • Readiness to Learn
    • The Classical Dualism and Research in Mathematics Education
      • The Piagetian studies
      • An emerging shift in understanding
      • Nativism vs. constructivism
  • The Preconstructivist Revolution
    • A Turn to Behaviorism
    • Erlwanger's Benny
    • A Shift in Normal Science
    • Constructivism Made Explicit
  • The Constructivist Revolution
    • The Construction of Reality
    • Modeling the Constructive Process
    • Discussion and Debate
      • Empiricism vs. constructivism
      • Interactive mathematical communication
      • A competing paradigm
  • Final Comments


Steffe, L. P., & Kieren, T. (1994). Radical constructivism and mathematics education. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 25(6), 711. doi:10.2307/749582
author = {Steffe, Leslie P. and Kieren, Thomas},
doi = {10.2307/749582},
journal = {Journal for Research in Mathematics Education},
number = {6},
pages = {711--733},
title = {{Radical constructivism and mathematics education}},
url = {},
volume = {25},
year = {1994}