Art Graesser
Is Siegfried Schmidt's Constructivism Alive and Well Today?

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My conversations with Siegfried at the IGEL conferences have always had the perfect combination of pleasure and intensity. As we talk about the theoretical and empirical trends of recent years, there has always been a deep connection and mutual admiration (at least I hope it's mutual). There has always been an intensity because everything matters and both of us quickly get bored with dilettantes. Even our laughter is intense. One of the first questions I ask myself and others at any IGEL conference is »What's Siegfried up to these days?«.

Nevertheless, a pure eulogy is not as interesting as a good argument. So I must confess that it is the disagreements that I have had with Siegfried Schmidt that have been particularly stimulating and sustaining over the years. Interestingly, a surprising number of these arguments have been with his colleagues rather than Siegfried himself. I suspect that these disagreements are a result of our growing up in different continents, countries, cultures, and intellectual traditions. Perhaps we would have been intellectual clones if I had grown up in Germany. A couple of disagreements immediately come to mind and hopefully are worthwhile to share.

First, we have a disagreement on what constitutes a theory. What Siegfried calls a theory, I call a meta-theory. For me, a good theory tries to explain a complex phenomenon (like text comprehension), but also does so with enough specification and decisiveness that it generates predictions on what will happen in a particular experiment or empirical study. For Siegfried, such predictions are somewhat beside the point and miss the big picture. Sometimes I even wonder whether he believes that experiments are beside the point and miss the big picture. I have always wished that there were enough time for Siegfried and me to resolve this question, perhaps over a case of good cognac and two boxes of cigars.

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