School and knowledge

Issue 47: 8/12/2023

Last week we talked about competence.

We defined it very briefly, and we’ll have to come back to that, but this week I’d like to talk about knowledge and our relationship to it.

For a long time, the acquisition of knowledge was the sole objective of schooling. As a student, I remember having to learn vast quantities of things with the only goal of knowing them. The challenge could then have been simply to make me an excellent Trivial Pursuit player. Nothing more.

Nowadays, it’s often said that knowledge isn’t what’s important, that it’s everywhere (especially on our phones) and that it’s more important to know how to find it, understand it, evaluate it and so on. There’s a lot to be said on this topic, but let’s not forget that the idea that we should rely on external supports, what some call prostheses, is not new.

In Plato’s myth, the invention of writing tells us precisely that. The god Thoth claims to King Thamos that he has invented something marvellous (writing) that will relieve memory and transform the world. The king, unconvinced, replied that with such an invention we would neglect our memory and that it would serve not to acquire knowledge, but the illusion of knowledge.

As you can see, some of these debates are not new!

And in this debate, let’s also remember the words sometimes attributed to Socrates, sometimes to Montaigne, sometimes to Aristophanes: “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

After all, isn’t making knowledge desirable the most beautiful thing we can do?

Yann Houry
Director of Education Technology and Innovation