Knowledge

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Knowledge
Thursday Thoughts
9 August 2018

In response to yesterday’s post, The Curse of Cursive, I received this comment.

“I have always blamed my own illegible (except – well sometimes – to me) scribble on the hours sitting in college lectures attempting to make a record of what was being said. Consequently, I could only ever record about every 3rd sentence. Something which I claim accounts for all those gaps in my learning.”

This comment merits a Thursday Thought.

First thought: the whole process of note-taking. One of my professors in Bristol University, where I did my undergraduate degree, was in the habit of sipping Harvey’s Bristol Cream while munching his sandwiches, consequently his post-lunch thoughts were always most enlightening. Here is his post-lunch declaration on knowledge: “Knowledge is that which passes from my notes to your notes without passing through anyone’s head.” This statement was followed by a closing of the drowsy eyes and an enormous hiccup.

For me, the art of note-taking goes way beyond the copying down of another’s ideas. As  note-takers, we must sift the incoming information, break it into salient and important features, and get the main drift of the argument down on the page. And not just the argument, but our own questions and challenges as well. Much of what I was taught at the various schools I attended was, frankly, nonsense. However, I learned a great deal about teaching from those who taught me that nonsense. A dictated note from an early geography class, preserved for ever in the young student’s mind: “The earth is geoidal, ie, earth-shaped.” Good one, teacher. “Please sir, if the earth is earth-shaped, what shape is the moon?” “Don’t be cheeky, boy, I’ll see you afterwards.”

When I received my first important teaching award I realized that it came to me on account of what I had avoided (all those inadequate lectures and lessons) and that what I was doing was engaging students and challenging them to challenge me by developing their own questions and ideas, by doing their own background checks, and by establishing their own thought processes, rather than trying to imitate somebody else’s dictated and regurgitated notes with their partial pictures of (in)complete and often antiquated knowledge, and all this often dredged up and recycled in the form of ancient, dusty scrawlings from pre-historic graduate courses.

I realize that this is unfair to several lecturers I encountered over the years who were able to deliver riveting and thought-provoking adresses. However, these were few, very scarce, and much appreciated. Their names and ideas are engraved on my mind. They and their methods are not forgotten, even now, but, as I say, there weren’t many of them.

As for knowledge, it is so personal and becomes an integral part of who we are and what we do. I know people who received everything they knew about life with their first degrees. They thought they possessed everything, the complete tree of knowledge in one rolled up certificate. Alas, many of them spent their lives never progressing, standing still and contemplating their known world, neither learning nor needing to learn anything else.

Our knowledge is incomplete. If we are at all ‘thinking people’, we know this. We also know we can never get enough knowledge. A PhD is great: knowledge Piled higher and Deeper. But often it is Reinforced Ignorance, the false knowledge that this knowledge is the only knowledge, well, the only knowledge that matters to the individual who, at a substantial living wage, ekes it out with great care and tests other people on their ability to reproduce it in its exactitude. “And I never-ever thought for myself at all” (I am the Monarch of the Sea, the Ruler of the Queen’s Navy, HMS Pinafore).

And here we enter the world of clichés: life-long learning, an everlasting thirst for enlightenment, for more light, more knowledge. The only real knowledge that we simply must transfer to our students, our followers, is how they can gain knowledge and even more knowledge for themselves. A love of and a desire for life-long-learning is the teacher’s greatest gift. If the teacher can pass that on, then the world of ideas will not fail, knowledge will not become carved in stone, set in concrete, entrenched in notes ‘that pass from my notes to your notes without going through anyone’s head’.

Here ends my Thursday Thought. A rant, really, and a very satisfying one. Thank you, Roland of Roland’s Ragbag, for turning on the tap and allowing these refreshing waters to once again flow.

Comment: Opening photo, knowledge set in stone. One of the Bulls of Guisando (Province of Avila, Spain), with graffiti carved by a Roman legion.

Thursday Thoughts: Divorce

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Thursday Thoughts
19 July 2018
DDD
[Divorce, Division, Dissent)

Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you realize that you can do no more. So what is it about family split-ups, the pain and ugliness of a disputed divorce, the glue coming unstuck in an already unstable marriage,  a financial settlement that satisfies nobody and splits and impoverishes both sides of a divide? And how do you bridge that divide when you are friends with father, mother, children and the wounds are so deep that everyone of them wants out, whatever the costs and whatever it takes? And what is it about the deliberate wounding of each by the others, the permanent scars that will never heal over, never be stitched over, no matter how hard a third party tries? And what right does a third party (fourth party, fifth party, sixth party) have to step in and try to force issues? And what is it about lawyers, when too many guests gather around the Thanksgiving turkey and the knives are out for everyone to take the choicest cuts and what’s left now but a skeletal carcass, no flesh on the bones, and the guests all hungry still and their empty bellies rumbling for more, more, more … and this isn’t Oliver Twist, “Please sir, may I have some more?” though everyone is heading for the poor house and the beadles are also gathering by bedlam’s door with their handcarts and dogs and the full enforcement of a blue-serge law made to twist and torment, though I have never understood the law, especially when it is left in the hands of lawyers, for “the law, dear sir, is an ass”, a striped ass at that, black and white like a zebra, though grey and costly in the areas that matter most. And what is there to do but rant away about the injustice of it all, the size of the checks and now you must check-out the food banks, the soup kitchens, the meals on wheels, the charity eating and boarding houses, because there’s no more roof over the head and the house is sold and the incomes are split and the children are more-or-less cared for, though rather less than more, and the dog is turfed from his dog house and the pussy cat booted from her feathered bed. Rant, I say, rant and rage away, rage, rage against the dying of friendship and the death of love, because that’s all you can do in this blood sport where even the spectators are spattered with the refined frenzy of friends turned into fiends and foes, and this is a protest, a rant against love that doesn’t stand the course of time, against families that break up, against a society that breaks them up, drives wedges and scissors between people once bound by the puppet strings of love, against relationships that can no longer continue, against the rattling of dead white bones in empty cupboards where the skeletons dance their way into legal daylight and the spectators call for more, more, more, more blood, more money, more blood money, and the engagement diamond is a blood diamond now, a tarnished garnet, and where is the Little Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, that spire inspired needle that will stitch their world back together, and stitch you back together when you have been shocked out of your own ruby-sweet rose-tinted world and torn into little bits in their oh-so-bitter one, the biters bitten and those bitten biting back in return, a new world this world of snapping turtles, turtles standing on the back of turtles, and turtle after turtle all the way down until this carnival world wears its dead clown mask and turns turtle in its turn …

I dreamed all of this last night and woke up this morning and realized … I can do no more.