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What Does it Mean to Know Something?

In a world where all the information you may need is right at your fingertips, how much do we really know? Park Street Educator, Chris Heyes dives into the difference between knowledge and information and the importance of encouraging kids to dive deep into their learning. What do you think the difference between the two is?

We’ve all heard the statement “knowledge is power”, and I feel confident enough to state this as fact. Knowledge is endless. With a curiosity for knowledge, you can explore and connect with the world around you, socialize with people from continents away, and find passion in discovering new things. There’s something fascinating about just starting to scratch the surface of a new topic. The large majority of people have more knowledge than the great library of Alexandria in their pockets at all times; yet it’s impossible to truly know everything.

I’ll explain. I can’t speak fluent Vietnamese, despite every Vietnamese word being readily available to me. Similarly, I can’t recite off the top of my head every Shakespearean sonnet ever written. In the case of knowledge, the internet gives us incredible tools to start a journey down nearly any path we want. But it’s only the start. Just because we have all the answers at our fingertips doesn’t mean we know what they are. Today, children are growing up in a world where the line between knowledge and information is being blurred. For them to succeed, educators and parents must help them differentiate between the two. After-all, information is just bits of data. Knowledge is putting them together.

I’ve had many debates with friends and colleagues that end in the inevitable: “Well, let’s just Google it”. If you’ve been in this situation before, what do you remember? The answer to the question you googled, or simply who won the debate? The goal was not to learn more, but to end a conversation. In a classroom environment, if a question starts with “Do you know…” and a student answers correctly, when asked to elaborate, they often follow-up with “I just Googled it”.

Reading words off of a webpage, that are then forgotten does not match the definition of knowledge. When a teacher asks a question to a class, it’s usually because they are about to explain and discuss the concept with the students. In other words, they become the Google Search, they are entering into a discussion that leads to knowledge. Knowledge requires discussion. It includes practice. It includes dedication. Students should always feel empowered to dive into the subject and learn. One of our greatest philosophers was Socrates. It was his belief that the shared dialogue between the teacher and students led to the greatest form of learning. In fact, when teachers pose questions to students as a way to enter dialogue, it is called The Socratic Method. Thank you Socrates! One has to wonder what Socrates would think about Google searches.

The internet is vast and beautiful; however, it is easily misused. I have used Google prior to lessons to fill in the gaps of a subject that I already have knowledge about, or to add a quick fact I just don’t quite remember. If I don't add it to my lecture, write it down, or apply it to anything, chances are I'm just going to forget it again. For example, if a student wants to know the spelling of a certain word and they Google it, they will very likely write it out and move on. As educators, let’s encourage students to sound it out, figure out why it is spelled that way and write it out a few times for it to become familiar. More importantly, when they are trying to understand a concept or a historical reference, we should engage in discussion with them about it. Then the real learning can begin.

Even in the internet age, we should encourage students to dig deeper, to read primary and secondary sources and to experience things for themselves. Children need to learn from their educators that there are no silly questions and a crucial part of discovery is failure. It’s impossible to know everything, but to truly know anything is powerful.

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