A Student’s Prespective on Knowledge

This winter quarter at UCLA, I’ve been surprised by some of the little things my fellow classmates don’t know, such as that you can’t see Venus at night or that you can be a lawyer even with a criminal record. Maybe these sort of things aren’t common knowledge. But I’d think if you were going to bring up these topics, you’d at least know what you’re talking about.

The truth is we don’t need to know anything. We have smart phones in the palms of our hands and with a few taps we can find out anything. With the workings of a Google search interface for the mind, soon we may not even have to tap a touchscreen. Even a few professors at UCLA are saying, it’s not about what you know, but what you know how to do. Education should be about learning how to critically think and the application of skills rather than memorizing information. However, you need to have some foundational knowledge before you can apply it. Such as knowing basic math (like addition and multiplication) in order to use derivatives for a real world application, like finding the volume of a pool.

Patrick Deneen is heading for a similar distinction in his article “How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture.” Instead of math, Deneen is interested in history and culture. From reading Paradise Lost to knowing about Guy Fawkes, while these are easily googled, Deneen is concerned with students’ ignorance on these topics. How can you google these works and people if you haven’t heard of them?

There are two issues. One, we do not have the knowledge or what knowledge we do have is inaccurate yet we hold it to be true. Two, what knowledge we are applying is for practical purposes (knowing how much water is in the pool to apply the correct amount of chlorine), instead of greater implications (whether or not a pool should be built there, what the impact of the pool will be on the environment, how much water is being diverted from ecosystems for the maintenance of a pool).

For the second issue, one reason why people do not ask about the greater implications is that they simply don’t care. They’re building a pool in their back yard simply for their own enjoyment. Why should they care about anything else? While the specific practice may not be harmful in itself, the principle of being indifferent to others is.

It seems like a minor clarification that you can only see Venus in the few hours of morning and evening, but understanding this fact and why it is true gives you a spatial awareness of yourself on the planet you live on in relation to the greater universe.

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