Sunday, May 24, 2009

Creating New Knowledge or Perpetuating Established Knowledge?

Continuing on this thread of pedagogical posts, I came across an interesting student paper by kcofrinhsa titled "Evolving Views on Education and the Nature of Knowledge." on the Serendip blog from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. It's an interesting piece that deserves a close reading. Here are some points that resonate for me.

1. The concept of our brains being "creators of new knowledge" or "mechanisms meant to perpetuate already established knowledge." When we think of our own pedagogical concepts as educators, which is more important for students? Clearly there is knowledge that needs to be passed on, but it's what students make out of that knowledge that constitutes true learning. We, as educators, need to be acutely aware that allowing students to construct their own meaning is key, especially as we continue our journeys through the conceptual age.

2. Allowing students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum is a key component in education. Are the basic tenets of our curriculum geared toward the dominant group? Are other groups institutionally marginalized? An interesting metaphor is cited from Emily Style's article "Curriculum as Window & Mirror:"

"If the student is understood as occupying a dwelling of self, education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected (21).

The paper goes on to say that many schools are attempting this by adding such authors as Toni Morrison to their literature classes. However, the author makes a great point when he/she states that these "new types of literature have been added to the curriculum without changing traditional methods of literary study" (Vinz). The author goes on to cite a case where a "class discussion reveals a forced discussion where the teacher inadvertently dismisses student's ideas about the novel." We need to move past the idea that the teacher is the font of knowledge who regulates the interpretations in the classrooms and knows just what the author is intending in a work. I've always wondered how teachers know the meanings that Henry David Thoreau is putting forth in Walden or exactly what Walt Whitman means in "Song of Myself?" Isn't it more fitting to allow students to construct their own meanings and allow them to back up their ideas with evidence and analysis rather than state they are wrong right off the bat? This would suggest that while adding these new titles which reflect other groups in society is a good thing, we also need to change our teaching strategies around them.

This paper is worth a read and some heavy consideration. It also stands as a prime example that our students can construct their own meanings and make excellent points just as kcofrinsha has done here.

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