Knowledge Series Part 7: In Conclusion

Changing My Mind

It is hard to change your mind. Very hard.

When presented with information that disagrees with your point of view, it is easy to feel attacked. I recognize that process in myself, when I receive feedback on, well, anything. Initially defensive and resentful, I often need to let the ideas cook before I’m willing to acknowledge I’m not perfect.

Studies completed in the 1970s at Stanford first exposed how unreasonable people could be. Once a particular view was formed, it was very resistant to change, even when the evidence that originally formed the view was shown to be false.

This is partly physiological, as the two sources linked above show. When we are faced with information that supports our point of view, we get a surge of dopamine, a rush of pleasure. When we are faced with information that contradicts our point of view, the same part of our brain responsible for pain is activated.

Continue reading “Knowledge Series Part 7: In Conclusion”


Knowledge Series Part 6: Why It Matters

This is not a strawman argument. It is easy to find examples of people who argue that search engines and other new technology has eliminated the need for knowledge. It is much harder to find schools that are knowledge-free; indeed, even school leaders who promote the idea that Google has replaced individual human knowledge will keep some content in the curriculum.

However, considering its importance to education, knowledge cannot be kept as an afterthought in our schools.

We shouldn’t rely on chance or incidental development of this knowledge, for children to pick it up from their surroundings or their privileged background. This may work for the high-achieving students, but leaves the low-achieving students further and further behind.

Knowledge in our curriculum should be intentional and thoughtfully considered.

Continue reading “Knowledge Series Part 6: Why It Matters”

Knowledge Series Part 5: Response to Counter-Arguments

They Can Just look It Up

They can, but will they? And will doing so actually help them?

I’ve already explored the impact prior knowledge has on reading comprehension and on learning new information, both of which are relevant to students’ abilities to just look it up, but it merits revisiting here. To make use of the information online, we need to possess a foundation of knowledge. To quote Hirsch:

There is a consensus in cognitive psychology that it takes knowledge to gain knowledge.Those who repudiate a fact-filled curriculum on the grounds that kids can always look things up miss the paradox that de-emphasizing factual knowledge actually disables children from looking things up effectively. To stress process at the expense of factual knowledge actually hinders children from learning to learn.Yes, the Internet has placed a wealth of information at our fingertips. But to be able to use that information—to absorb it, to add to our knowledge—we must already possess a storehouse of knowledge.That is the paradox disclosed by cognitive research.

There are other factors at play here as well. First, let’s start with their ability to find accurate information. Having background information on a topic helps students assess the reliability of a source. Yes, you can teach students about corroborating sources and doing research on the source itself, but having some knowledge on a topic helps as well. Michael Fordham demonstrates this with two passages on historical events, both with the same amount of misinformation. Read the article for yourself; I think you’ll find the inaccuracies easier to identify in one over the other, and this is because of the background information you possess.

Continue reading “Knowledge Series Part 5: Response to Counter-Arguments”

Knowledge Series Part 4: In Defense of Knowledge cont’d

Knowledge Supports Lifelong Learning

I like to think of myself as a lifelong learner. I read books, mostly about teaching. I read a lot of blogs, mostly about teaching. I’m trying to replace my Netflix binges with documentaries. I took some online courses this summer. My motivation for this lifelong learning certainly comes from having the freedom to pursue whatever topics catch my interest. This appears to support allowing students to pursue their own interests and independent study. However, my ability to do so comes from my education, my reading ability, and the mental schema I have already developed.

Much of the information available for lifelong learning is in text-based form. Yes, there are MOOCs and Ted-Ed Youtube videos, but students shouldn’t have to rely on information being carefully curated or colourfully animated in order to be accessible. They should be able to seek information in all forms, including dense, challenging text. As already argued, knowledge underpins reading skills, and if reading is important for lifelong learning, then knowledge is as well.

Knowledge also begets more knowledge. If students already have robust schema in their minds for a given topic, it is easier for them to learn and remember more about it. This is because there are more connections that can be made between the new information and the schema in long-term memory. Picture this as putting up a large poster in your classroom using blue sticky tac. If you only use one little ball of sticky tac (one connection), your poster will fall off the wall. If you use twenty, it will probably stay up.

Continue reading “Knowledge Series Part 4: In Defense of Knowledge cont’d”

Knowledge Series Part 3: In Defense of Knowledge cont’d

Knowledge Serves as the Foundation for Creativity, Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

There is lots of emphasis on teaching problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking in schools, and discussion of how employers look for these traits in future employees. That, in the 21st century, these general learning outcomes (GLO) should be developed, cultivated, and the focus of education, not knowledge. However, they cannot be taught without knowledge. Critical thinking, problem solving and creativity are not generic skills; they are domain-specific, and rely on knowledge in that domain.

Knowledge gives students something to think with, when solving problems, constructing arguments, or thinking innovatively. David Didau states it well, when he argues that the “more we know about something, the more sophisticated our thinking.” If you don’t know much about a topic, you are not going to thinking critically about it.

This is something I’ve felt in my gut for a while; when I saw it explained, it made a lot of sense. I make better connections between ideas and concepts, and think of new ideas in the process, when I’m pulling information out of my long-term memory. It helps me see when one author’s ideas agree with or contradict those of another. It helps me make connections between theory and practice in my teaching. It helps me see patterns in human behaviour over different time periods in history. My knowledge. In my head, not in a book or on a screen. That’s what I use to think effectively.

Continue reading “Knowledge Series Part 3: In Defense of Knowledge cont’d”

Knowledge Series Part 2: In Defense of Knowledge

Knowledge is Important for Reading Comprehension

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being able to read well. Reading is so central to my life, in my leisure time, and in how I pursue ongoing professional development and lifelong learning. It is equally crucial for our students, for them to enjoy literature, pursue further education, and access information online.

Because reading is important, knowledge is important, as knowledge improves reading comprehension. In one study, students’ comprehension of a passage on baseball was correlated, not with previous identification of them as poor or strong readers, but with their knowledge of baseball. Another study looked at how students’ background knowledge on birds affected their reading comprehension of a storybook featuring birds; the difference between students with more knowledge and the students with less disappeared when the storybook was about a made-up creatures called wugs. Simply put, it is easier to read books and articles on topics for which you already possess knowledge.

Continue reading “Knowledge Series Part 2: In Defense of Knowledge”

Knowledge Series Part 1: Introduction

Maybe you’re sitting through some PD or training. Or a member of administration is trying to be inspirational during a meeting. Or a video is circulating through the school e-mail.

The presenter pulls out a smartphone: “The students of today don’t need to have their heads filled with knowledge, when they’re carrying a computer in their pocket. All the knowledge they need is right here, at their fingertips.”

I can’t remember when I first heard this. I can’t remember when I first started to doubt it. But I do know that, now, I firmly disagree. The accessibility of information today makes knowledge more important, not less, if we want to equip students to navigate the raging river of information, think critically about it, and use it to engage intelligently with the world.

Continue reading “Knowledge Series Part 1: Introduction”