The curse of knowledge is insidious, because it conceals not only the contents of our thoughts from us but their very form. When we know something well, we don’t realize how abstractly we think about it. And we forget that other people, who have lived their own lives, have not gone through our idiosyncratic histories of abstractification. Steven Pinker – The Sense of Style
Experience is so easily shackled by knowledge – especially when it is in data.
Why is so much in education so hard to understand? There are times when I look to the heavens and breathe a heavy sigh because it all seems so confusing. I ponder over the enigma machines of writing and politics about ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’ and I despair. Worse still, this knowledge is often controlled by larger than life characters who sit upon these educational almanacs like Kingpins, intoxicated upon the power of gibberish and highfalutin gobbledegook. It seems that I am of a bygone era (Of my own making) and I have lost the ability to function in this brave new world. I am to blame of course. You see, I wrote off many heads that came before me. This must be my just-deserts. As I acquired MY knowledge I ruthlessly dismissed THEIRS. I have no regrets (I now realise it was the only way) but I need to reflect before I bite the dust.
You see… I thought education was simple.
You go to school. You learn to read, write and do arithmetic. You stop going to school as soon as you can.
Therefore, from my perspective, you teach stuff to a multitude of ghosting youngsters who drift past you over many years. You learn from doing this. This is your knowledge and from time to time you can reminisce over these Back to the Future photographs that fade with each passing season. Some you remember, some changed you, others hurt you, made you cry and made you laugh. They come and they go and you struggle to remember most of their names or picture their faces. They have moved to the future where you hope they are doing well. You search your fuzzy mind for hope. Hope that you did them justice…
Knowledge offers hope but hope is a loaded die tampered to tell us what we think we want. The true craftsman knows better. They know that experience is a far better companion than knowledge, especially when acquired in isolation. This knowledge is cold upon the page. It makes perfect sense, classical in its composition. The words are laid out, factual and solid. They make such a strong argument for how it seems. But experience drags you below the waters again and you hold your breath hoping you can keep going.
When experience and knowledge clash over data the elephant in the room is not only annoyed… It is also blind.
I keep having the chicken and egg argument with myself about knowledge and experience. I hate the monarchy of knowledge. I hate how it is so precise, regal and clean. I hate the way it prides itself on being right (even when it is wrong), taking the hard worn credit off of experience. ‘Shoshin’ is a Zen Buddhist concept which means ‘Beginners Mind’ (Yeah, crazy progressive moment incoming!). It refers to openness, eagerness, and a lack of preconceptions when studying a subject. There are many times when I wish this was more prevalent in education. Especially where data is involved.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki
This is the ‘curse of knowledge’ in education. It is like the blue-prints. We fall for it nearly every time. This curse is a knowledge given to us by others. It is usually systematic and theoretical – an applied body of methods and principles that make perfect sense on paper. When applied in context this knowledge clashes with experience in a skirmish of interdisciplinary bloodshed. This is another reason I hate knowledge. I have become the head teacher I am not because of books I have read or even inspired talks I have heard but through experiences I have had. The books and inspired talks have helped me hang my experiences on to something… but I would have reflected on the experiences without them. This is MY knowledge. It may not be perfect (It may even be a little grimy) but it is the only knowledge I have.
I can read about how others do it. I can talk to them, watch them and try to aspire to be like them but my experiences are a unique looking glass in to MY knowledge. I learnt from ‘doing’ and ‘reflecting’ on the consequences of the things that have happened in my world. This ‘other knowledge world’ is often alien to me – with its ‘givens’, certainties and ‘absolutes’. I don’t want to continue doing what I do believing that there is a secret sect of knowledge out there that I have not been acquainted to yet – even when I suffer for it.
So when a letter from my Local Authority tells me I am an Amber school (At risk – considered to be RI) I know that their knowledge is flawed and mine is in context. I know that 9 children did not sit the tests (14% of cohort). I understand why. 8 were at P4 to P7 (because we run a special school alongside our mainstream one where these incredible children are bussed in from all over the county) and one had been expelled from another school and we were doing our best to get him in to school each day (which we achieved). Their knowledge is so flawed. We are a good school (though we are far from outstanding) but knowledge is bent to fit the model it makes the most sense in. I hate knowledge. I loathe people who use it so freely.
Therefore, I will continue to make my way through the world and learn from each and every step but I will tread carefully upon the certainties of knowledge because I know that it is only a matter of time before they fall to experience and are proved wrong…by knowledge.