Saturday, February 18, 2012


I would like to make a stand for knowledge. We all know in a way what knowledge is. It's what we know, it's what the teacher tells us at school, and when we educate ourselves -we get more knowledge. Most people would probably also believe that knowledge is something we have lots of. I find it paradoxical that today our knowledge society is characterized by the fact that we have so much knowledge that we do not have to "learn knowledge" at school anymore. We teach our children not about knowledge but about where they can find it. We are trying to teach our students at colleges and universities to become good students, not to be wise practitioners.

Previous generations had to learn the hymns by heart at school and they had to memorize multiplication tables. It's not like that anymore in a society where hymns can be downloaded in 10 different languages ​​on You Tube and children attend school as early as first grade with a calculator. This, many today think is progress. But it also has the consequence that children have trouble remembering five things or to solve simple math problems in ones head. This is noticeable even on college level and it worries me.

Many students in college complain when they see the curriculum they must go through when they begin a college education and asks whether they really need to read all the books and articles that are on the reading list. I reply sometimes, ironically, that they can try to sit on the books and see they get  knowledge in that way. It is clear that books and articles must be read, both once and several times. Reading is a demanding job. My experience is that more and more college students have great difficulty in reading. They have trouble reading both in the technical sense (ie, how to read a text) and in understanding the text (ie how to understand what they read, what the text means). And if you have problems with reading, then one also has problems with writing. Reading and writing disability is a growing problem in higher education today. Many students ask also, even those without literacy difficulties, what the text is good for? Does the book they have to read have any practical use? Theory is what is in the books and practice is something else. Many say that they have chosen a professional education to avoid having to read so much theory, that only want to get a profession.

One example: In nurse training, students have to learn about the calculation of medications. They say it's so difficult to perform the calculations. Many nursing students would rather leave the difficult (but essential) medication calculation to doctors. I often meet nurses who work in hospitals and other places that say they encounter doctors who also have problems with medication calculation. Not only do doctors have difficulties with the calculations, but doctors sometimes forget to take into account the patient's weight. Which means that children are at risk of getting doses that are intended for adults. This can be dangerous. When the nurse is responsible for setting the measured dose into the patient's body, they must know what they do and always be 100% sure that what they are doing is right. It is not allowed to be 99% certain, one must always be 100% sure. When it is required that college students can calculate medication, they must always have 100% correct answers on their exam. A student who gets 99% correct, must take the exam over again. They must show that they understand what they are doing and it is not enough to say that doctors can more about this than them. What you do not know, you know not, and what you do not know can put other people's lives and health at risk.

Next question, or rather demand, from today's students is that they want my lectures on Fronter. According to what appears to be the knowledge source number 1 in today's society, Wikipedia, Fronter is "a platform for distance learning and collaboration, developed specifically for education. Fronter is based on a school building metaphor. One enters a virtual school, selects to go into a classrooms you have access / membership to. This digital classroom gives teachers and students the possibility to communicate beyond the normal, scheduled school day. Each user has his own password, which gives each student their private space to work in which  only the teacher have access to." Fronter is a fantastic technical aid, BUT -Students not only demand my lectures and Power Point presentations on Fronter, they demand to have them before my lectures. Students (and teachers) love the Power Point. Being able to produce knowledge on a large screen using pictures. But this often leads to students not coming to class. They prefer other places to look at the pictures we send them. This saves the students from reading the text and they do not have to come to my lectures. When the exam comes, the students often used PowerPoint slides from my lectures, which thay find on Fronter as the source of their knowledge. They often do not use a reference to a text or an author, but a slide that the teacher has made and put out on a website. This worries me.

It worries me that students (and many teachers) increasingly do not know what knowledge is and it does not seem as if our educational system requires students to "learn knowledge". This leads to a growing generation of young people who have developed an attitude that says that they do not need to "learn knowledge" but just learn where to find it so they know where it is if they need it. This has to do with a serious issue: the formation of the self. In my opinion, we fail in this important area both in the upbringing of our children, in the school system and in society at large.

I'll write more later about the formation of the self and reflect on what impact it has when it has lost it's meaning. But first I want to reflect a bit more of five different forms of knowledge. It was Aristotle who wrote about these forms of knowledge 350 years before Christ and the current view of knowledge in Western countries still rely largely on this division:

• Episteme - Scientific knowledge 

• Techne - Art (technical) skills
 • Fronesis - Practical Knowledge 
• Sofia - Philosophical knowledge (wisdom)
 • Nous - Intuitive knowledge 
(Source: Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Book VI, Chapter 2-6)

Excerpts of Rafaels famous painting in which Plato says to Aristotle that knowledge comes from ideas and must reflected carefully over in order to develop knowledge. Aristotle (Plato's pupil) argues against Plato and says that knowledge comes from the observable elements around us and must be studied in a systematic way in order to develop knowledge.

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