| Here’s a problem for you: We all recognize that we’ve got problems today, but we don’t seem to recognize that a deeper problem which we have, is the problem that we don’t recognize as being part of the problem that we do recognize we have. Clear? No…? Ok… well, try looking at it this way: Have you ever had one of those moments where you hear a comment that sounds good, you nod your head, maybe even high-five it… followed soon after by a ‘wait… wut?‘ as a growing stew of doubts begin bubbling up in your mind? That gets at what I’m talking about, and it happened with me not too long ago, after a friend posted some common sense observations that began with,
, and continued along the lines of:
“Wisdom begins in wonder.” ~ Socrates (Plato)
, together with some pointed comments on how far too many people who have had no experience in acting on their own judgement, behave as if what they’ve been certified as having learned in school, makes them knowledgeable and wise enough to not only make their own decisions, but to make our decisions, for us, as well.
You probably recognize that problem. But there was one line in his post about knowledge and wisdom as pertaining to youths, which was the line that doubled back and wut’d me:
“They can be smart and knowledgeable, but not wise.”
My first reaction was the obvious ‘yep, Book smart, Life dumb‘, but something in that line soon began nagging at me and sowing doubts, that began springing up like weeds throughout the rest of my day. It wasn’t the obvious intent of the statement which seemed doubtful – that wisdom comes with age & experience – that’s a valid point which was already old when Aristotle made it again 2,500 years ago. No, there’s something else going on within that line that unsettled the ol’ grey matter and began doubtfully bumping up against other things I knew to be true, such as that most ‘ordinary’ people of our Founder’s time, which included the likes of Ben Franklin & George Washington, routinely entered into adult lives while in their early teens, demonstrating both knowledge and wisdom in ways that were not at all uncommon for youths of their time, to do. My friend’s comment was by no means baseless, but as our brains haven’t changed between their time and ours, something else clearly has – what is different?
Still more doubts raised still more questions which began rubbing up against still other thoughts that I’ve come across in seemingly unrelated posts and comments, to the point that I’ve now got to make my own post here, before I can get on with finishing the other series of posts that I really wanted to leave behind in 2020 [looks at calendar... 'the best laid plans'].
If you’re still pleasantly doubt free on this, maybe I can start slipping some unease into your noggin by putting this question to you:
“Can you be knowledgeable about a subject without having wisdom regarding it?”
That’s a very different thing from ‘Book smart, Life dumb‘, and ‘Book smart, Life dumb‘ is not what I’m not shaking my head ‘no‘ to, or rather, it’s that fact of life which I’m saying that the real issue, is hiding behind.
It’s not the age of the youths we’ve credentialed to have knowledge and wisdom, that is at the root of the alarming lack of knowledge and wisdom we are being afflicted with in our world today, but the abundance of trivia & ideological positions ( ‘Book smart, Life dumb‘) which we mistake for being knowledge and wisdom, because of what we’ve been taught to think that ‘knowledge‘ and ‘wisdom‘ are. That, and how it is that we go about attaining, and being credentialed as possessing ‘knowledge‘ and ‘wisdom‘, is what has plunged us into the swamp that we’re striving with today. Poke about with that last question, and you too may begin exposing some serious flaws that are rooted in our popular assumptions about those terms – and what was not meant by them in Franklin & Washington’s day – and more to the point: what we often don’t bother to think of when we’re busily building our thinking with those terms in our minds, every single day.
Learning a Learned Helplessness
More than just a metaphor, ‘Building thoughts’ is what we do with the words, terms & concepts that we form our thinking from – how sturdy can those thoughts and assumptions we build with them be, if those building materials we use are unsound, unsteady, and prone to leaking and collapsing under pressure? That question, in answering itself (self evident?), found still more fertile soil in the concerns that I’d heard a school teacher raise on a separate thread, where she worried that:
“Is it possible that we have taught our students over the years that if they don’t understand something in class (something in the text they read for example), that if they just wait long enough, or raise their hand, the teacher will give them the answers or reteach it a few more ways? Have we contributed to promoting learned helplessness in our students?”
If we focus a moment upon what might be involved in ‘promoting learned helplessness‘, it puts an important focus upon the nature of what our students go to school to learn, and specifically to have learned, and in particular to how effectively those youths which my friend’s post was referring to, are credentialed via multiple choice tests, True/False, and fill in the blank worksheets, as having the ‘knowledge‘ and ‘wisdom‘ which their grades & degrees certify them to possess.
See if this question brings the various threads closer together for you:
Does testing a person’s ability to scan a page for obvious facts or to successfully recall what they’ve momentarily memorized, tell us anything meaningful about their knowledge of what is allegedly being tested in those ‘Fill in the blank’ worksheets, or True/False & Multiple Choice tests?
Are you starting to see the problem? What do such tests, test, and why?
What do you mean by ‘Knowledge’? Have you thought about it? Is knowledge, the same thing as the ability to scan for and recall facts? Anyone who has ever slacked off in class, confident that they’ll be able to skim a worksheet or textbook sections for the keywords they’d need to answer quiz & test questions with, both of which are soon after forgotten – answers & questions – should be experiencing some doubts of their own at that. Yet those students who ace such tests, appear in the eyes of themselves and others to be ‘smart enough’ to get good grades, right? Colleges use the likes of SAT scores as a sizable factor in deciding which students to admit – do they tell you who’s ‘smart enough’ for college? Most will automatically nod their heads appreciatively at a high SAT score which shows that they are ‘smart enough’, yet many of those who initially score low on such tests, will take something like a SAT Test Prep, to get their scores up to ‘acceptable’ levels – did those test preps make an unsmart person, ‘smart’? There are Test Prep’s for every course in college – why bother with college? What relation does being ‘smart enough’ have to having ‘knowledge‘ and ‘wisdom‘? If the ability to recall facts and data is not the same thing as having knowledge about what they are facts of, will the short-term memorizing of facts to get A’s on tests, lead to building sound knowledge and the wisdom to apply it, or will it lead to something else? And what are we left with as those short term memories fade away? We tend to appreciatively nod our heads ‘yes’ that test scores tell us something worthwhile about who is, and isn’t, ‘smart enough’, when maybe we should be more vigorously shaking our heads ‘No!’ to the entire notion.
Another consequence of our orienting our educations around tests, is that such tests expect specific ‘answers’, to the specified ‘questions’ that the test taker has been given, questions which are necessarily as meaningless to the student as the answers they are expected to retrieve for them, are. If you’ve learned that ‘answers’ are what are to be found to fit the questions you’ve been told to look for, then finding them is reduced to a trivial matter of either scanning for them ‘out there’ in the materials that someone else has told you to retrieve them from, or by recalling memorized materials from ‘in here’ which someone told you you’d need to know in the future (“This will be on the test“) – those with some experience of life may be having doubts as to whether life’s challenges tend to unfold in such a scripted manner. Such ‘answers’ to ‘questions’ are less learned, than stored, and they are that way because they were always less about developing the understanding of students, than with a *wink-wink* between Tests and Schools (with many students in on the gag) to make each other look good, neither of whom are too concerned that the student hasn’t learned what the given answer means, or why the question was thought to be worth asking in the first place.
Students who are taught in such a way are put in a prime position for unwittingly living out the old truism of
‘appearances can be deceiving’
, which should bring to mind Reagan’s quip that
‘their problem is that so much of what they know, just isn’t so’
, and you should be thinking of that because that is the process by which they come to ‘know’ so much that just isn’t so.
Sure, it is useful to be able to find answers that appear to be needed, but are the questions worth asking, and if so, Why? To that, they rarely have answers and even fewer questions. This entire process which students are misleadingly taught to think of as ‘thinking’, has reduced reasoning to little more than a mental CTRL+F to find an ‘answer’ located ‘out there’ on random pages of popular opinion, as directed by one group or another’s handy-dandy flowchart of ‘critical thinking‘ steps .
Especially in the world today where any information can be found in no more time than it takes to type a request for it into a browser, ‘answers‘ are easy to find, but it’s the questions that are hard to come by. When you’ve developed the sort of familiarity with the underlying matters that comes from a close consideration and reflection upon them, your own understanding will give rise to questions that you’ll think worth pursuing, as well as an appreciation for the sometimes very different questions that others might raise. That appreciation for the questions themselves will bring a purposefulness to the effort of resolving them, and without that… you’re left with the empty act of collecting answers to other people’s questions, neither of which you can have any more interest in than the grade you’re rewarded with for having fetched them.
No doubt you’ve seen an echo of this on a daily basis, in the many virtual friends you’ve seen become overnight ‘experts’ on the constitution, or viruses, or impeachment, after ‘finding answers’ on the internet – AKA: ‘doing research‘ – while giving little or no consideration to the questions behind them. Not surprisingly, when these experts new found ‘knowledge‘ is questioned, most will erupt into furious attacks on whoever it is that questions them, demonstrating neither knowledge nor wisdom in their responses, but only a pathetic helplessness in the face of what they ‘thought’ they knew. How much different do you imagine it to be when those who go to school – primary, secondary, college and post-graduate – and are ‘educated’ by means of textbooks, fill in the blank worksheets & multiple choice tests, are themselves being taught to find the answers to other people’s questions – what do you suppose that such graduates will most likely experience when faced with a situation where they aren’t told either what questions to ask, or what answers to find? The ‘knowledge’ that their grades will certify them to have acquired, will likely be of a brittle sort that rarely questions its own answers, and routinely lashes out defensively at being questioned by those who lack what they’ve been so expensively certified to know.
What can the experience of such ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’ be, but a kind of learned helplessness? Of course not all students come through our educational system as brittle as that, but they do so because of something in themselves, not because of the educational system that we put them through. The nature of our entire educational system, and the default thinking for those who’ve graduated through it, is one of ‘promoting learned helplessness‘, and it’s with just such cracked & rotten mental building blocks, that the terms and structures of our ‘woke’ world today are predominantly built with.
Do we still know what Knowledge is?
At this point it’d be a good idea to go back to the first rule of logical reasoning (which comes after first having a reasonable understanding of what it is you intend to get all logical over), and that’s to check that our premises are true: What do we mean by Knowledge, and then what do we mean by Wisdom, and are they what we’ve been thinking they are?
The first ‘internet definition’ that pops up for Knowledge, is this:
“facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”[emphasis mine]
Which is a rather pragmatic idea of ‘knowledge’, where the fact gathered and stashed isn’t concerned with it being true, but only that it ‘works’ – whether that be to get an ‘A’ on a test, or applause from the crowd, or whatever else might be served by it. And what about the chasm which that ‘or‘ that I bolded, leaves unbridged? We’ll come back to that in a moment, but be aware that this is not what is, or at least what once was, meant by Knowledge. The current Webster’s online – somewhat surprisingly – gets closer with their definition, the first line of which is:
‘(1): the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or…’
, the next three entries are restatements of that, and then wedged in at the fifth entry is one that harkens back to an earlier understanding
“the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning”
Returning to the ‘or‘ above, it is a very modern assumption that there’s no valid connection between the “…theoretical or practical …”, but the connection between them is that a theory which doesn’t work in practice, is an invalid theory, and it is the faculty of reasoning that is concerned with identifying such connections. Those pretending that there’s no connection between the theoretical and the practical, more than likely prefer to speak of ‘critical thinking’, than capital ‘R’ reasoning, and are more than likely deeply invested in giving elaborate lies the appearance of respectability (hello modern ‘economics’ and ‘critical race theory’). That modern gap is expressed again two more entries below that in a fractured combination of old and new, with the very modern quantitative gathering of facts (‘sum’) with little or no regard to the ‘quality’ of what’s been gathered:
“the sum of what is known: the body of truth, information, and principles acquired by humankind”[emphasis on that reoccurring crack, is mine]
, while a less modern usage of ‘knowledge’ begins to come through from the 14th century, as
“capacity for knowing, understanding; familiarity”
Excuse me if I get too graphic here, but the sense of what Knowledge actually is, IMHO is better conveyed with the last entry’s reference to the old euphemism of ‘knowing someone in a biblical way‘. The process of gathering knowledge isn’t accomplished as one might go about picking up shiny pebbles and dropping them into the empty sack of a mind; the process is more akin to intimately knowing how one ‘fact’ integrates with another, then pressing forward to reveal the hidden aspects that aren’t visible from the surface, pushing in deeper still to further integrate them into the depths of all that you know, and from that act of penetrating into what can be known, the ‘depth’ of your knowledge is more than implied, it’s established. Without that intimate familiarity, you can have no deeper knowledge of a subject, but only the shallow ‘Informational Text‘ that most students acquire about it in their promiscuous acquaintances with random facts & data, made more akin to classroom STD’s, than to lasting knowledge – they may know many facts, but they do not have knowledge of them.
Put less provocatively and more geometrically, if you’ll think of a fact as a geometric point, it will follow that any two points form a line of data, and that any additional point outside of that line will establish a shape between them – a third forms a triangle, a fourth expands to a rectangle or a square, with five a pentagon, and six a hexagon, etc., – each shape enclosing a wider space of information within a plane. With that in mind, and in much the same way that a triangle is to a tetrahedron, or as a square is to a pyramid or a cube, I propose that:
‘Information is to knowledge, as flat geometric shapes are to three dimensional objects’
The question then is, as 3-Dimensional objects have depth through the vertical axis which 2-Dimensional shapes lack, what should we imagine would provide that vertical dimension to knowledge, which the flat plane of information is lacking?
It might help to imagine (or recall) being told to memorize the dates of the Boston Tea Party, the battles of Lexington & Concord, Bunker Hill and Yorktown, dates which are important facts containing useful information about the American Revolutionary War, but it feels two dimensional, doesn’t it? Even *advanced* classes which might have thrown in still more dates to memorize, and added in a host of names like Franklin & Washington, George III, and possibly even an entire timeline of names, dates & events involved in our revolution; those data points will still lack the depth of knowledge – not to mention interest – of which they are only information of. It’s only when at least one higher level conceptual point is integrated into that informational space, that your understanding realizes a vertical axis to rise above the flat informational plane of mere facts & data, enabling you to enter into the object of what you know. With that, what had been a two dimensional data square of length and width, is transformed into a three dimensional object of knowledge having real depth, and with each additional concept the object of what you know is developing not just in appearance, but in weight and substance, from the inside out, into a pyramidal form, a cube, a dodecahedron, and eventually into a well rounded three dimensional sphere.
Having that conceptual component is what gives the thinker something to think about and room to think about it in, in a way that is not possible to do with a simple flat fact – a date is just a date, even multiple names & dates & labels, are but flat and deathly uninterestingly facts. It’s only when you begin adding conceptual depth to the flat informational plane, that those revolutionary events begin to develop an understanding and interest in the nature and struggle for Liberty (which is… what?) which you’d previously had only information about. When each data point in what you know, itself anchors another 3-D point, it serves as a natural framework for further questions (…at what point does Liberty integrate into Law, and into community) seeking to fill in the inevitable gaps in a person’s knowledge, extending both outwards (… is Law separable from Justice, community, and government), and inwards (… how does virtue extend from education and morality), further integrating any new set of facts & concepts into the spaces between what had been known, developing a more well rounded knowledge through a process that can and should continue ad infinitum, ‘for as long as you both shall live‘.
Importantly, in developing a knowledge that’s worthy of the name, we begin perceiving patterns within the information and concepts running through what we have knowledge of, general rules of thumb – principles – palpably organize and strengthen our understanding of what we know, leading the mind into a deeper familiarity with them, and our ability to learn from and apply the knowledge we have. Such principles, whether they be in mathematics, or science, or the arts, help us in further recognizing a harmony in what we know, and what is discordant with it, helping to safeguard the integrity of our knowledge, i.e., the person who has a knowledge of thermodynamics, will, when presented with a plan for a perpetual motion machine that violates the familiar principles of thermodynamics, they’re freed from wasting further time considering the scheme. Note: That’s not the same thing as saying ‘Perpetual Motion violates the Laws of Thermodynamics, therefore it’s bunk‘, which, although it might ‘work’ in most cases, is more like an ‘answer’ to someone else’s question. Instead, when we are able to see into what’s been proposed, unsupported violations of principles which we’re familiar with, then we’re able & equipped to knowledgeably identify the proposal as a deceptively shallow scheme. Would that the editors of the New York Times 1619 Project, had been able to do the same, but alas, they have far too many degrees certifying the information that they know, while having little or no knowledge of it.
It is an important ‘test’ of knowledge, that when a person is presented with information and assertions which jostle or conflict with what their knowledge is comprised of (such as the 1619 Project’s assertion that America was founded to preserve slavery), they will mentally sense that a link cannot reasonably be made between that which they’re being told, and what they have knowledge of – something in the facts, data, information & principles (if any) that they’re being asked to accept into their knowledge, won’t integrate, and a mental jolt of doubt rises into awareness that something is ‘just not right‘ and ‘just doesn’t fit. Such natural doubts let us know that we need to re-verify, or at least need to think more deeply about the matter, and begin questioning and reexamining what the relevant pieces are, and how to best fit them back together. But those who’ve never learned to intentionally seek & establish that depth wherein one part of what you know, is integrated into the rest of what you know, are unlikely to experience real doubts when fed a contradiction, a falsehood, or a lie (hello again to the anti-American 1619 Project and those witlessly teaching it).
There are most definitely consequences to individuals and to society, when their people who lack actual knowledge of a matter, are asked to accept or act upon that which a knowledgeable person would recognize as being absurdly unwise to do. The ignorant person who’s been led to see their head full of unprincipled information & wishes as knowledge and wisdom, will very likely comply and go ‘rushing in where angels fear to tread‘, even to the point of imagining that good intentions can transform lies into something suitable for teaching to children.
I’ve often brought up Voltaire’s observation,
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”
, and this is exactly the sort of situation where it comes into play, where a person or people who have only a two dimensional grasp of facts, data and information, and no knowledge of what they mean, are unlikely to see the absurd in what they’re told, and the door is opened that much wider to repeating the worst lessons that history has to offer.
So now let’s continue on with checking our premises by going back to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which is situated at the border between the classical and modern worldviews, for its definition of knowledge. The 4th entry has that modern sense which we should be wary of, presenting knowledge as a shallow ‘acquaintance with any fact‘ – especially useful for ‘good grades!‘ to those that care for nothing more than a trivial grasp of the facts & data of ‘Informational Text‘. Left with being neither knowledgeable nor wise, though believing themselves to be, they’re unable to identify or avoid the absurd or the atrocious, which fosters an attitude of cynicism and skepticism towards all knowledge and wisdom – that society which rests and relies upon them as their ‘best and brightest‘ is led into accepting those absurdities, and eventually committing those atrocities, which Voltaire had warned against.
On the other hand, the first entry in that same definition from Webster’s, offers us a clue to the way out:
1. . A clear and certain perception of that which exists, or of truth and fact; the perception of the connection and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of our ideas. We can have no knowledge of that which does not exist…”
, as does the second entry’s reference to a tragic line from from Shakespeare:
2. Learning; illumination of mind. Ignorance is the curse of God, knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.
Those two classical references do point the way forward, while the ‘modern’ definitions lead down the shadowed path of pro-regress. There’s a dangerous ambiguity in thinking about the terms of knowledge and wisdom as being flat and disconnected items ‘acquired‘ along with other terms, less like even Lego blocks, than smoothly interchangeable slabs lacking in those three dimensionally connective qualities that enable your thoughts to align with, link up to, integrate into and permeate throughout all of the rest of what you know.
As our standardized tests make abundantly clear, it is easy to quantify our ability to recall facts, but as the degreed fools plaguing us make clearer still, whether or not those facts have progressed within your mind to the point of having the quality of knowledge, and how much wisdom can accompany them, is a very different and more difficult issue to determine than any multiple choice, fill in the blank, or True/False test will ever be capable of measuring.
With that in mind, it’d be wise to take a closer look at what it is that we mean by wisdom.
Is thinking of ‘Wisdom’ as a thing to be acquired, wise?
A person – young or old – can acquire facts and information and have no wisdom in regards to it, and that is what I think my friend had in mind with the comment that had ‘wut?‘d me, but I question whether they can gain the quality of Knowledge which is an ‘illumination of mind‘, without also gaining wisdom relating to it, and that brings me back to my question:
Can you be knowledgeable about a subject without having wisdom regarding it?
Even with those ‘book smart, life dumb’ folks firmly in mind, I’ve been shaking my head ‘no’ to that, and it’s time to start looking at why. If we look for ‘Wisdom’ on the internet (ahem), the first definition found is,
‘the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.’
, which although not too bad, gives the impression that ‘Wisdom’ has all the depth of being awarded a merit badge for having successfully acquired some useful things. Even the 1828 Webster’s only pokes around the edges,
“1. The right use or exercise of knowledge; the choice of laudable ends, and of the best means to accomplish them. This is wisdom in act, effect, or practice. If wisdom is to be considered as a faculty of the mind, it is the faculty of discerning or judging what is most just, proper and useful, and if it is to be considered as an acquirement, it is the knowledge and use of what is best, most just, most proper, most conducive to prosperity or happiness. wisdom in the first sense, or practical wisdom is nearly synonymous with discretion. It differs somewhat from prudence, in this respect; prudence is the exercise of sound judgment in avoiding evils; wisdom is the exercise of sound judgment either in avoiding evils or attempting good. Prudence then is a species, of which wisdom is the genus.”
,but this more describes what those who are wise do, than it describes what Wisdom is, which is a typically modern reversion to the sophistry that Socrates found himself battling against, for just as knowledge is more than facts and data and information, Wisdom is more than knowing what one should and should not do. Prudence and Practical Wisdom are contained by Wisdom – species of its genus – but far from being stand-alone skills, they are the results of that wisdom which gives rise to them, and treating either one as the ‘thing itself’, reduces the whole into being less than the sum of its parts, and dangerously faulty structures will be built from that, both within, and without.
What is it that gives rise to what wisdom is? Let’s spiral in towards the target by going back to an earlier and once common understanding, with a line from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics:
“wisdom is a combination of both the virtue of science and the virtue of understanding”
(Book 6)[emphasis mine]
, note the synthesizing ‘and‘ there, and not the disintegrating ‘or‘ of the earlier quote on knowledge. And bringing us right up to the edge of the bullseye, is Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s comment:
“Hence wisdom is a combination of understanding and science: Wisdom, in declaring the truth about principles, is understanding; but in knowing the things inferred from the principles, it is science…”
Thomas Aquinas [Commentary on Aristotle]
Now with that description of what Wisdom is formed from, we can begin to poke at the bullseye of what Wisdom is, and what it emanates from, through this passage from Aristotle’s Metaphysics, noting that,
“…the point of our present discussion is this, that all men suppose what is called Wisdom to deal with the first causes and the principles of things; so that, as has been said before, the man of experience is thought to be wiser than the possessors of any sense-perception whatever, the artist wiser than the men of experience, the masterworker than the mechanic, and the theoretical kinds of knowledge to be more of the nature of Wisdom than the productive. Clearly then Wisdom is knowledge about certain principles and causes…”[emphasis mine]
There are a couple points in that to look closer at. First being that as “… Wisdom is knowledge about certain principles and causes…”, then someone who has true Knowledge of a matter cannot be entirely lacking in what knowledge provides to Wisdom, right? For just as Knowledge takes lower level facts & data, raised and organized by concepts to reveal principles, Wisdom results from using those principles that are revealed by knowledge, as a rich and complex musical chord is able to resonate and reverberate out of the several individual musical notes that comprise it, wisdom sounds from those deeper first principles that it is the science of.
And that brings us to the 2nd point from that passage of Aristotle’s: Did it seem odd to you that Aristotle placed the artist above the man of experience in wisdom? Is your immediate reaction to that, that it seems backwards to you? I’ll suggest that that is more a result of the modern corruptions and inversion of understanding, than in Aristotle having gotten it backwards. No doubt as well, that those parents and teachers today, will, with their students in mind, be baffled by the very first line of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, which is:
‘All men by nature desire to know’
, but they would serve their students better to question the nature and quality of what it is that they’ve been taught, and the materials it’s being taught with, rather than the natural desire of students to develop knowledge and wisdom.
Because the Pro-Regressive nature of modernity has reversed matters, put ‘Descartes before the Horse‘, as it were, it seemed reasonable for my friend to remark that youths may seem to have knowledge, but not wisdom, but the truth is because the two are inseparable, they have the appearance of the one, and none of the other. It’s not that students today have lost an ability to have knowledge and wisdom, but that what we teach them as being knowledge, isn’t, and so they don’t have the wisdom that would’ve accompanied it, and as their educations aren’t centered around either… well… here we are.
The smart youth whose head is full of little more than the facts & data that they’ve been trained to recall and regurgitate, do not have knowledge, and without knowledge there can be no wisdom, only at ‘best’ a certain cunning and craftiness that is taken as being ‘smart enough’. The process involved in acquiring capital ‘K’ Knowledge requires employing mental effort in the reflection upon, and contemplation of a matter in such a way, that questions about it naturally arise in their own mind, as well as a desire to seek for answers which extend ‘the facts’ they know of deeper into the rest of what they know about that subject. Understanding what gives rise to such questions that are worth asking, and what is involved in the asking of them, realizing the implications of pursuing them, that not only takes, but leads to knowledge and an ever deepening grasp of what it is that you understand that you do know, and seek to know still, and Wisdom naturally results from that.
What wisdom does not result from, are lifeless textbooks and fill in the blank worksheets, because they do not lead a student to contemplate the material being learned, nor will they prompt worthwhile questions to arise within them and prod the learner to seek answers in principles, in a process that spirals and resonates through the mind of a person who is being or has been educated.
The natural habit of mind of one who desires to know, is abruptly put a halt to by the application of True/False, Multiple Choice tests and Fill in the blank worksheets which do little more than install ‘the answer that kills the question‘, and sows the weeds of ‘learned helplessness‘.
The skilled regurgitators of facts, who’ve never learned to question, consider & reflect upon what they know, and who instead develop a pragmatically dismissive attitude towards principles in general, and their relation to the rest of what they know, are led into the illusion of thinking that the facts that they were required to acquire, were all that they needed to know (needed? Why? To make something ‘work’, no doubt, ‘for the moment’, not to understand why it did, or its implications). However, when not indoctrinated into viewing facts as flat and isolated trivia, the student who is habituated to the process of learning as a knitting together of facts and data and ideas and principles, into three dimensional structures of knowledge, enjoy a continual inner prompting towards further understanding, and in being introduced to contemplative and active reasoning, they are naturally brought into an awareness of the wider implications and considerations which pertain to what it is that they know. For them, when receiving a question about what they know, it is taken as less an attack, than an opportunity for further exploration.
To have knowledge in that form is to have an adequate acquaintance with both facts and their relations to other facts and ideas in their understanding, and some wisdom unavoidably accompanies the development of that, acquainting them with further principles which leads to their becoming a ‘principled person’ – not as a priggish performance, but as a result of what they understand to be true. Such a person is also far more likely to have the wisdom to recognize (know thyself) that their knowledge and wisdom is incomplete, and to realize that what they do possess, is a very different thing from the degree of wisdom that typically comes only from the experiences of having put their knowledge and wisdom to the test in the moment (prudence), and of consciously reflecting upon the successes and failures which follows from doing that (practical wisdom), which is something that those who’ve only acquired facts by answering other people’s questions, will not and may never have.
In short, wisdom, with its thoughtfully penetrating grasp of first principles, is a principled means of seeing beyond the immediately obvious, to seeing causes that may not yet even be visible to the naked eye, leading them to anticipate results which those lacking their knowledge and wisdom have no obvious reason to expect. The wise person has naturally come, as Blake put it, to
“… see a world in a grain of sand And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand…”
, which can only come from having a principled understanding of how one thing relates to another in ways and manners that never occur to those who are lugging around a sack full of facts, data and information, and lack that wisdom which comes from first having knowledge of them that is more than certified as being ‘knowledge’ in name only.
To have facts alone, and not their relations, is to have very little knowledge, and worse, those who’ve been credentialed as knowing what they need to know, are unwise enough to think themselves not only wise, but wise enough. And never having heard of Practical Wisdom, Prudence, or those experiences which it (hopefully) results from, are typically unwise enough to rush in where angels fear to tread.
How Americans lost America
The question which my friends post raised, and led me to the worried teacher’s comments, also connected up with another comment in another thread which highlights the motive power that brought us to where we are today, and that is a tragically common assumption which has ensured that we remain very far from knowing ourselves, and it is well expressed in this too common complaint that college should be about helping you to get a good job, and worse, that your tuition should not
“… force you to fund other departments (arts, english, etc) …”
, or go towards requiring or supporting non-technical classes and curriculum. If you’d like to pinpoint that moment when Americans began to diverge from our Founder’s generation, it came at that intersection of having willingly exchanged meaningful knowledge and wisdom, for trivia & ideology, and having accepted the notion that a student should go to college (or any school) to get a ‘good job’. Rushing down that path is what ushered in the pragmatic innovation of primarily acquiring facts and data and of testing for the ability to retrieve them, the STEM darling of ‘Informational Text‘, being preferable to outmoded notions of ‘knowledge’ and the left turn through which the world we deal with today became a tragically guaranteed fate.
There is of course nothing wrong with acquiring marketable skills, or in spending time and money in doing so, but that was once understood to be something that you gained experience and knowledge of through apprenticeships, and not by going to college. Going to College wasn’t where you somehow ‘got an education‘, it was where you deepened the education you already had, and a very sound education was had, and is still easily attainable by most anyone, by the time of their early teens, which is one which would naturally and continually deepen in and throughout their adulthood.
I suspect that Mike Rowe’s idea of sending most students to technical schools to learn a trade, would not have bothered our Founder’s generation at all, they probably would have quickly understood and enthusiastically supported the idea of establishing technical schools for learning the skills, habits and important information needed to excel in a job or profession.
Most of our Founders’ generation (not all, there were a few of them who actually, though unwittingly, put us on this path – Noah Webster (yes, the Dictionary guy who pointed our dictionaries and textbooks towards becoming what they are today), Dr. Rush, and others) would have been stunned at even the possibility that Literature, Math, History, Arts COULD be referred to as somehow being ‘other departments’ of a college – those subjects were what the colleges were!
It would’ve been equally stunning to them (because it is a supremely stupid idea) that everyone should go to college, or that it would even be useful to most people, let alone to everyone. Our Founders’ generation would also have been shocked at the notion that a people could live in liberty without having a liberal education, as is expressed in Thomas Jefferson’s statement that:
“…if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be…”
and no, there is no contradiction between thinking that only a few should go to college, and thinking that everyone should be educated! Jefferson’s statement was not meant as a call for higher SAT scores and diplomas! College was for deepening the already solid educations of those who showed an unusual interest in and knack for diving deeply into the details of a liberal education in order to get a deeper and more intense understanding of those subjects than they could’ve managed to get on their own. There was and is no need or point for those who aren’t both inclined to and adept at, to go college, and sending those with only one or none of those requirements, is a foolishness which makes us all dumber and poorer for it. Knowledge and Wisdom are not synonymous with getting ‘good grades’, and becoming Educated is not simply a matter of attending school, and it never needed to become anything like the now twelve year slog that all are subjected to today, let alone the miserable fourteen, sixteen or even more years, that the ‘educated’ are made to suffer today.
The point of getting an education was to become capable of, and worthy of, living in liberty (‘educare’, to lead out of oppressive ignorance) which can only be secured by knowledge, understanding and wisdom, without which a person would too easily become a thrall of another, and that core purpose was easily accomplished for most people in just a few short years (“Reading, ‘riting & ‘rithmatic”), and most people – remember, the Federalist Papers were written for the average man-on-the-street, even the letters written by the soldiers in our Civil War, were far more literate than Jill Biden’s ‘doctoral thesis’ – pursued a deeper education on their own and with friends, while some others sought out more specialized tutors, and a few applied to college (where most were rejected for not meeting the minimum requirements).
Replacing Knowledge and Wisdom with Facts and Data leaves only Ideology
What we today should rebel against, is confusing the attaining of such skills with getting an education. The notion of going to college to get trained in technical skills ‘to get a good job‘, should appall us, and the notion of having a Liberal Education (in the sense that is almost non-existent today, even and especially in so-called ‘Liberal Arts Colleges’), being made to play second fiddle to a student acquiring technical skills, would’ve been recognized by our Founders’ generation as being the darkly counter-revolutionary ideal that it is. The leading edges of what was to come were already a huge controversy in the early 1800′s, when Harvard, and then Yale, began offering ‘Law school’ as part of a college education, followed soon after by Harvard’s dis-educational innovation of encouraging students to choose ‘elective classes‘ – a student becomes a student so as to learn from those who know better what they lack understanding of, and not as a means of picking tasty treats from the end of a cafeteria dessert line of ‘*knowledge*’. The notion that getting an education could come second to that of getting trained in useful jobs skills, would’ve caused even more violent riots than what followed from the first attempts to convert colleges to something like that, prior to the Civil War.
The endarkened world we live in today is the realization of their well founded and worst fears of what such innovations would bring to pass. Where once we had knowledgeable youths who lived lives worth living, we now have credentialed fools who are afraid of and hostile to the thought of other people thinking differently than they do.
The truth is that the point of modern education has always been – no matter how well intentioned it may have been in its beginning (which is questionable) – to redirect students from developing a proper familiarity with knowledge and wisdom, and to focus them instead on utility, pleasures, and economic power, which is now cloaked in terms of what is ‘politically correct’, or ‘woke’ virtue signaling. The knee-jerk response that most have to such schools today, has been to pull students out of public education and send them instead to private, charter or home schools… but if they then use the same textbooks, worksheets and tests, are they really being taught anything fundamentally different than they would have been taught in a standard public school? I’d say no, and if you want to protest that private, charter or home schools, teach those materials more effectively than they do… is that really a good thing? Think about what you mean by knowledge and wisdom, and what will and will not lead a student to them!
|Ideology doesn’t lead you out, only in|
One result of slighting an education that actually educates and ‘leads out’ from those easily ignorant habits and misconceptions which enslave, a consequence of trivializing knowledge and the wisdom to apply it, is the growth of what the quote from Vaclav Havel’s ‘The Power of the Powerless’ at the top of this post came from, and that’s ideology and its philosophical handmaiden, Pragmatism. The wider passage which that quote came from, is this:
“…Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe….”
The barbarous abomination that is our ‘educational system’ today, is an entirely modern concoction, which began to be fully realized upon us through the pro-regressive ‘progressive’ era (especially the 1890′s+) and is guaranteed by its approach, content and style, to do exactly what it has done: To Pro-Regressively produce a nation of uneducated people who go into debt (thralldom) to others for the privilege of being credentialed with work papers (‘Diploma’) which permit them to ‘participate’ in ‘our’ system, ruled over by experts ‘for’ us.
If you want your kids, or yourself, to get an education today, don’t go looking for it in our establishment schools – you won’t find them teaching what they don’t believe in and viscerally oppose. If you’ve got kids in establishment schools – public or private – getting them out would be the wise thing to do. Don’t pursue regress, pursue knowledge and gain wisdom, and don’t accept what leaves you lacking in both.
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