Saturday, August 31, 2013

Understanding (or just knowing)

I know my lovely bride of 36 years (quite well, actually), yet my understanding of her is still in its infancy.  I know the cottonwood tree we planted outside our kitchen window 15 years ago, yet I don’t fully understand the biological processes that cause it to grow and wax and wane.  I know the periodic table (or at least, I used to), yet I don't fully understand the intricacies of its individual components, much less the complex interactions that occur between the elements.  I know how to teach, yet my understanding of how learning occurs within the minds of individuals is primitive, at best. 

Knowing appears to be a superficial coating, a facade, a veneer, to understanding.  In fact, too often the appearance of knowing effectively masquerades as understanding.

In public education policy, we have made a huge deal about trying to measure what students KNOW.  In fact, we spend billions of dollars crafting schemes and developing tools to measure that knowledge.  Those machinations often charade as measurements of intelligence.  Really?  Seems a bit naive to me (but it makes for good press, for advancement of political careers, for good resume polish, for ways to rank and rate and berate students/schools/teachers/communities).  

Perhaps we should be focusing on enhancing our students’ (and our own) understanding, rather than just knowing.  Understanding seems a much richer goal. 

As we change, 
     as conditions change, 
          as the universe changes, 
               as our relationships change, 
then certainly our understanding of each will change as well.  

Understanding is a much more dynamic concept that knowing.


I think we should call the pursuit of understanding the process of LEARNING.

Uh oh!  What if the purposeful pursuit of understanding (over simply knowing) is harder to accomplish?                           Another one of those dastardly choices...

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