Thursday, February 23, 2012

Practical knowledge

I learned how to ride a bicycle and swim when I was 5 years old. I learned this not because my parents read books about bicycling and swimming for me. They had to learn me on a personal level, by holding me, supporting me, showing me, being patient over time, practice and practice until I "suddenly" did it. I have trouble explaining how I "suddenly" did it. It just happened that way. Practical knowledge is characterized precisely by this. Any theory of practical knowledge must necessarily be indirect. You can read about interview techniques, writing exam papers, driving a car, mountain climbing, child rearing, and more. But such things requires that you do it in practice.
Making violins is such a practical knowledge. Noone could make violins as Antonio
Giacomo Stradivari. He lived from 1648 to 1737 and made the world-famous Stradivarius violins. The few instruments that are left after Stradivari (about 660 pieces) costs a fortune today. Ole Bull had such a violin that was built in 1687, and it is called Lady Blunt. It is amazing that it was sold in June 2011 for 88.600.000 Norwegian kroner (15.894.000 U.S. dollars). How did he learn to create such wonderful instruments? Not by reading a book about it. He was an apprenticed for 13 years with a violinmaker, the maestro Nicola Amati, in the years 1666 to 1679. Stradivari learned the craft on to his apprentices (including his two sons), but then the maestro/student tradition died away and today no one can make violins as Stradivari did.

Lady Blunt
Aristotle writes in Nicomachean Ethics Book IV that practical knowledge is all about collecting experiences over time so that you can build up a capacity to act in specific situations. This is important to have in professional education, which I myself am a representative of. Students need to practice what they learn in school in practice periods so that over time they receive this practical knowledge. They also need teachers and mentors who act as "maestros" in the subject they are learning. They need models to follow. This is something that is often given low priority as academical subjects. But in academia, students need both to learn about the "maestros" in their academical fields and they have to have access to role models from which to learn from. I wish for a new renaissance  for the Teacher (Maestro) / Pupil way of learning practical knowledge. This is a big challenge for academia today.

No comments:

Post a Comment