Hierarchy Wisdom...Data LO3805

Wed, 22 Nov 1995 12:30:26 -0500

Replying to LO3734 --

>And what should these services provide in the way of wisdom? We feel
>that Staudinger, Smith, and Baltes best defined the qualities of the wise
>person -- and by extension -- the wise knowledge provider as one having
>general knowledge, procedural knowledge, understanding of the relativity
>of values and the contextual nature of "meaning," and, of course, the
>acceptance of change. The providers of the above will get our vote and,
>we believe, the votes of many, many consumers.
>Best regards, Gordon


I enjoyed your discussion of "point-sensitive knowledge," "agile
providers," and the current political situation as it relates. It seems
to me, however, that nearly all of your comments dealt with the
acquisition of quickie information, while the quote with which you
concluded makes much of "deeper" matters--general knowledge, the
relativity of values, the contextual nature of meaning, etc.

Your relative emphases seems to me to parallel that which marks
traditional education--good words about the value of the perspective
provided by general knowledge, etc., but day in, day out instruction
concerned far more with the immediately useful and what's perceived as

The neglect of that "general" component--its causes and consequences--has
fascinated me for decades. The first and last paragraphs of the draft
(first) of an article I've been asked to do for a journal bear on both:


"There's an old joke, the punchline of which is, "You can't get there from
here." For the general education curriculum, the line is apt. If where we
want to go in curriculum is to a conceptually integrated, holistic
educational experience for students, we can't get there by going in the
direction we're headed. We've tried for more than a century to marry the
disciplines to make them more accurately model the systemic nature of the
real world, and we're farther away from the goal than we were when we

"Our minimal expectations for students leaving school should be clear.
They should be able to identify the major elements of their mental models
of reality, explain the nature of the relationships between those
elements, and demonstrate that they can put what they know to practical
use. Nothing they can know is of greater value; yields more insight into
self and situation; is more capable of freeing thought and spirit; is more
central to continuous personal and societal growth.

"Innovations in education come and go. Most enjoy a measure of success.
Sadly however, that success usually has less to do with the merit of the
innovation than with the Hawthorne Effect. Students respond to most
innovations positively because more attention is being paid to them,
because someone cares enough about them to go to the extra trouble, and
because what's happening is almost always better than the sterility and
irrelevancy of the alternative.

"That's good, but not good enough. We've hardly scratched the surface of
student potential, and we won't until every school moves beyond random
innovation to a holistic curriculum. The means to that end are ours for
the taking. All that's required is an expansion of mind, an acceptance of
the proposition that what students need more than anything else is an
awareness of the conceptual frameworks which underlie their thought and

"That's basic education."


The eductional establishment's claims to the contrary, I don't think we
_have_ anything which can properly be called "general education," and out
of that emptiness comes many of the management and other sorts of problems
discussed on this list. We have what educators sometimes call
"distribution requirements"--a bunch of odds and ends of introductory
courses which are assumed to collectively provide a general education.
These "parts" never even come close to adding up to the whole.

I can get as excited as anybody about the potential for providing "point
sensitive" knowledge. However, I'd maintain that the _real_ need is:

>general knowledge, procedural knowledge, understanding of the relativity
>of values and the contextual nature of "meaning," and, of course, the
>acceptance of change. The providers of the above will get our vote and,
>we believe, the votes of many, many consumers.

Another time, maybe we could talk about the implications of the choice of
the word "consumers." For now, let me suggest that information providers
are failing in the most fundamental sense possible to provide a general
education, and that if they were to meet that responsibility it would
almost certainly radically change perceptions of their role and value.

Incidentally, it's interesting to speculate about the impact of a _real_
general education on the kinds of specific data that consumers would ask
providers to provide.

Incidentally, I've a home page that deals with these and other matters,
and reflects feedback from many on this list. If you're interested,
you'll find it at:


Marion Brady