Who we are is more than what we know

Education is surely about more than stuffing our heads with knowledge. Yes we do need to know things but it’s what we do with what we know that really counts. The best schools and universities, and homes for that matter, are in the game of teaching the application of knowledge as much as they have a responsibility to impart that knowledge.

Wisdom is applied knowledge. To make wise decisions you have to understand (“know about”) the subject. Or know where to find someone who does. An “expert”. Politicians may have in depth knowledge but generally that’s not why we vote for them. We want them to use their intelligence to brief themselves and then do the right thing. We are mostly disappointed.

The best teaching is broader than the inculcation of facts.

When knowledge plays prejudice all too often the latter wins. There is an iteration here. Politicians are highly selective in their use of facts ( a key element of “knowledge”). Or they make things up.

I spent much of my career in a fiercely knowledge based business – highly technical and scientific. My own skills, such as they were, were more qualitative. Lateral thinking and judgmental rather than quantitative. This dichotomy links to the Left/Right hand side of the brain factor.

It’s not better to be narrowly creative or solely evaluative. We are all a mix. Real Wisdom comes when we get the balance right. Ground breaking scientists are those who have the capability to think outside the box of their knowledge.

Who we are as individuals is a complex mix of personality and intelligence and knowledge. To be the “Smartest guys in the room” (the phrase used to describe the crooks at the top of Enron) wasn’t much help without integrity and principles.

An education system has to focus in part on imparting knowledge but as I say it’s more than that. Reading about schooling as recently as the nineteenth century is scary ! This is because religion was the driver of education. In those days morality was Christian morality. So a “fact” (e.g. that the Earth was created in six days) was taught even though it may clearly be nonsense. Anything that challenged the Christian belief set was disallowed and rejected.

We enter a classroom with a portfolio of “facts”, opinions, prejudices and reason in our heads. The teachers role is to deepen and widen the fact portfolio, but also to add process (how you think) and structure. And to equip you to be sceptical and be prepared to challenge. That, for me, is why schools and universities must be secular. Thinking has to be free of superimposed and arbitrary rule books.

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