Does Knowledge Make Us Wise?

10 December, 2018

Eyeglasses on Open Book

We all seem to be getting quite obsessed about a knowledge-rich curriculum and the efficiency with which it can be taught and caught. A pseudo-scientific cult seems to be elevating methods such as; sequencing, spacing, knowledge organisers, eye tracking, micro practices and assessment rigour into vogue. This is mainly driven from psychological research using attainment as the proof of successful outcome.

Attainment of what we must ask? Will that be attainment of securing knowledge on exams and tests?

We must remember that the definition of intelligence is that which intelligence tests can measure.

So if we take learning to be securing knowledge into long term memory in such a way that it can be retrieved for the purpose of a test then we have a definition of success.

Suppose that definition of learning was limited. Suppose what we call facts are limited in their truth.

Suppose by focusing on building facts we are building temples to false or part idols? Just because facts are learned does not necessarily make them truths.

        ‘95% of what we teach and test in schools is surface knowledge’

What if by concentrating on learning knowledge we use the limited resource of our working memory to process stuff that turns out to be relatively easy and relatively useless. Academia loves its facts. Those successful at passing exams zoom up the system and call back from their ivory towers in expressions of superiority as to how the youth of today are not being taught properly.

Yet so much of what we need to learn as humans is not facts at all. How human life was created and where we go to when we die and fundamental issues around our existence are not facts. How humans integrate, cooperate, learn to trust one another and grow together are not facts. Individual identity has to be experienced. The way we breathe, deal with our thoughts, make decisions, thrive with our multitude of emotions, love and express fears aren’t simple modules of knowledge. Nor are they easily measurable. Even the realisation that stress is a chemical interaction starting from inside ourselves. that as every one of us is unique we need to find our own ways of firstly owning our own destructive emotions, secondly learning not to project the echoes of our insecurities and thirdly to show compassion to those exercising their demons.

This says nothing of agency, enterprise, rhetoric, conversation, the ability to express our core essence through dance and song and creative expression.

And what of transfer? Even if we gather all this knowledge we know so little about how to make use of it.

       ‘Knowledge as foreclosure’

Knowledge begets and secures knowledge is the new mantra. But some of what we call knowledge is not true knowledge at all. We call the force gravity because we can observe its effects and use it as the basis of calculations, so gravity becomes a fact. Yet 250 years since Newton observed the apple we still can’t prove gravity exists, only that an effect can be observed. And that it’s measurability varies with seasons, positions on the earth and over time. And what of time. Conveniently it becomes a linear measurable construct to our young learners so it fits to logical views. But can we prove it exists? We can measure it but then we are back to time being what a clock can measure.

We can only really hypothesise. History was largely written by the victors. Just look what old history books wrote about the British Empire. What evidence is there that the pyramids were built by the Pharos? Just because they put some signatures on them? Graffiti artists don’t build bridges, they get arrested for violating them with their tags. We still can’t explain how the millions of huge blocks were placed with such accuracy and at such speed by people barely out of the stone age. The flaws in knowledge have such great holes we need to tread carefully.

        ‘History is written by the victors’

Young eager minds hoover up facts only to be later told forget what you learnt earlier, it was a ‘necessary approximation.’ It made learning knowledge easier. It is too often a foreclosure.

And what the future. We know that AI is coming. We know it is currently based off binary preposition and algorithms. Words are based off that same dualistic notion of Thinking. Could it be that AI will one day replace what we today call knowledge. And if it does what have we done?

We will have left a generation biased to facts, ready to be taken over, not using the far greater human skills of which they are capable.

     ‘Knowledge is a means and not an end in itself’

Tread carefully before we err. Knowledge is neither truth nor omnipotent. It is but one component in our toolbox. Our limitation is our ability to process. Knowledge is a means and not the end in itself.

So when we design knowledge-rich curriculums let us not stuff them so full that those other components have no space to breathe. Knowledge may be power, knowledge may be easily testable but let us look at few other things that deserve space.

Understanding ourselves, states of balance, inter-relatedness, cooperation, transfer, agency and personal responsibility. As the planet becomes more and more crowded we drown out diversity of other life forms and nature itself to our potential detriment and destruction. Simply knowing this will not be enough. Binary and dualistic knowledge may enable us to stave off some of the worst excesses but for what? Greed? More facts? A competitive edge when we don’t know what the competition will be? Or because that harbinger of truth and trust?

Then let us add compassion, ecstasy, aesthetic, action, altruism, empathy, peace, bliss and humanity and not forget it is what we do and not what we know that makes us special.

Experience builds memory at least as fast as knowledge.

Knowledge with sophistication please. Be wise… and compassionate.


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