Do their students get it? A teacher doesn't wait until exam time to find out; that will be too late. Instead, he observes their reactions and takes them into account...or not. Between the attentive attitude sought and the apathy of an entire class at the end of the period is the space of instructional interventions.
Knowledge is about connections, assessments, and contexts. Difficulties arise when trying to connect new knowledge to previous knowledge that is absent, wrong, or whose context has changed and is no longer valid. To learn the new, one must practically unlearn the old, which is hardly appreciated, especially if one has to admit one's error, stubbornness, or ignorance.
It is so easy to avoid discussion and display surface acceptance. One then settles for a pseudo-knowledge, marked out with arbitrariness and arguments of authority, which can even extend to the group level. Not always easy to share knowledge, as Guy Béart reminds us, "The first one who speaks the truth, he must be executed" - The Truth. And he's not even talking about Galileo.
Coming to grips with "what they don't understand" is also about confronting "what they don't want to understand." By addressing the "evaluation" aspect of knowledge, philosophy demonstrates its utility. The ability to judge improves the possibilities of understanding: "Not all statements have the same value and judgment is exercised in a context". To teach philosophy is to teach understanding.
On another level, it is also difficult to understand what one does not perceive. Hypersensitive people see and understand things that are just suspected and those around them struggle to understand them. The proposition is reversed: it is we who do not understand what they understand and which differs from what we think we know. Welcome to the world of neuro-atypicals and artificial intelligences.
What does a mental anorexic understand? His observation is apparently distorted and comes to another conclusion; "even emaciated I am fat". Connection, evaluation, context...something is preventing re-cognition. We could as well extend this kind of analysis to our collective blindness in our relationship with nature and even with other humans. What don't we understand ?
We still have a lot to learn...and teach.
Denys Lamontagne - [email protected]
Illustration : The known world in 1436, Andrea Bianco