Two views of knowledge

Here’s another idea to get out there right here at the beginning: there are two basic views of what knowledge/learning is all about.

The first is that knowledge/learning is a set of true things (facts, you might be tempted to call them) that are true things everyone needs to know. It is the teacher’s job to get those true things into the head of the child so that the child can be an educated person. Because without knowing those true things, one can never be a functioning member of a great democracy.

The second view is that knowledge/learning is a process. The learner constructs knowledge, as someone (I think it was me) once said, and that construction goes on all the time. It is the teacher’s job to manage that construction so that the child is learning things we have chosen to write into the curriculum, rather than those things the better-funded and more focused corporate world has chosen.

The two views are complementary, of course, but where we sometimes find conflict is when those who believe in View #1 think that View #2 is just fuzzy, feel-good liberal hogwash. Yes, it’s true, the proponents of View #1 tend to be conservatives, with a focused worldview of the way things are ‘sposed to be: back in their day, student sat in rows, quietly, didn’t give no backtalk, and they by God learned 100 facts about the Civil War every day. Plus ciphering.

The problem is that View #1 tends to produce very low level learning, simple recall of extraneous facts that don’t stick. Everyone knows how to cram for a test so that the information sticks just long enough to be regurgitated back onto the test. It’s a very hard way to learn, and it’s not very effective. It’s called taxon memory, and it works by repetition. Simply scratch hard enough and long enough, and you can engrave the 100 facts about the Civil War onto the hard surface of the brain.

Here’s an image I’d like for us to disseminate: whenever someone uses the well-worn phrase regurgitating facts, let’s respond with just like a cat hacking up a hairball.

Disclaimer: There’s nothing wrong with learning facts, taxon memory is essential to our learning processes, and not all people who vote for John Ashcroft and Donald Rumsfeld share their limited view of how an educated person gets that way.

Enough for today. More thoughts on View #1 this afternoon.

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