K is for Knowledge

| March 29, 2014
1. In the field of education, knowledge is traditionally seen as something that can be attained by students. Students come into the class and their heads are filled with this abstract ‘knowledge’ (i.e. facts, dates, interpretations, etc.) that they are then able to stake a claim to. This completely disregards the process of how one learns and the philosophical claims one can actually make regarding knowledge.
2. On an educational level, filling heads with facts and figures is by far one of the most least enduring forms of instruction. The little retention students might gain from instruction that focuses on ‘giving students knowledge’ through facts is of little help to the students’ lives. These facts merely populate the brain until a test and then they are gone.
3. What constitutes knowledge in the first place? The entire philosophical discipline of epistemology has wrestled with this question for centuries. It seems odd, then, that in school we are taught that knowledge is concrete and unquestioned. Knowledge, this system tells us, is easy to attain.
4. In the movie “Planet Terror” a kid plays with action figures and has one of the figures state “Gonna eat your brains and gain your knowledge.” To a kid, this might seem like a perfectly reasonable way to gain knowledge from someone else. It’s a cannibalistic theory of knowledge.
5. We are not often asked to understand how we know what we know. We sit in history class and are given stories of how things happened. How do we know that these things actually happened? This thread of knowledge has been passed down and distorted and diluted by myriad factors until we sit in the classroom and absorb it.
6. Knowledge in schools must be recognized as a slippery and dynamic territory that we engage in through education. Knowledge is not something that can be simply attained and stored away. Knowledge is both elusive and present. Elusive when trying to nail down a definition and constantly present in the way we live our lives. We live as though we know things (I act as if I know the sun will come up tomorrow, or that my MetroCard will work, or that the computer I type on is actually here in front of me) and without this semblance of knowledge we would find it difficult to do much of anything.
7. In order to discuss what we know we must discuss how we know the things that we know.