Saturday, September 1, 2012

Knowledge -v- Wisdom

What is education for? asks David Orr in a post on the Context Institute website.  This is not a new question of course, but Orr's premise is that education has gone seriously wrong as the most educated of us are the ones who are destroying the planet.  He writes:
After a typical day on planet Earth ... the Earth will be a little hotter, its waters more acidic, and the fabric of life more threadbare.  The truth is that many things on which your future health and prosperity depends are in dire jeopardy:  climate stability, the resilience and productivity of natural systems, the beauty of the natural world, and biological diversity.  It is worth noting that this is not the work of ignorant people.  It is rather, largely, the result of work by people with BAs, BSs, LLBs, MBAs and PhDs.
He argues that many people confuse education with wisdom and explains some of the myths associated with this:
  • ignorance is a solvable problem - in fact he writes that the advance of knowledge always carries with it the advance of some form of ignorance
  • with enough knowledge and technology we can manage planet Earth - again not true because the complexity of Earth and its ife systems can never be safely managed.  He writes that we need to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet, not attempt to reshape the planet to fit in with our infinite wants.
  • as knowledge increases so does human goodness - Orr cautions against mistaking an increase in information with an increase in knowledge and wisdom.  He argues that some knowledge is increasing while other kinds of knowledge is being lost.  In addition, learning does not necessarily make us ethical.
  • we can restore what we have dismantled - by this Orr refers to the fragmentation of knowledge into subjects and disciplines.  He writes that most students graduate without any sense of the unity of things.
  • the purpose of education is to give you the means for upward mobility and success - those who are upwardly mobile are not necessarily those who live well or who have moral courage.  
  • our culture represents the pinnacle of human achievement
David Orr's plea for recognising the importance of wisdom rather than knowledge has implications for education.  He writes:
  • all education is environmental education
  • the goal of education is not mastery of subject matter but of one's person
  • knowledge carries with it the responsibility to see that it is well used in the world
  • we cannot say we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their communities
  • students respond to the power of examples over words - educations need to model integrity, caring, thoughtfulness
  • the way that learning occurs is as important as the content of particular courses
Since this blog is about how technology can transform learning I have been thinking about the idea of digital wisdom.  In the 21st century, what is the link between technology and wisdom?  In thinking about this I came across the following by Marc Prensky which I think highlights the role that technology can play in developing wisdom.  I have thought about these words a lot today:
Digital wisdom is a twofold concept, referring both to wisdom arising from the use of digital technology to access cognitive power beyond our innate capacity and to wisdom in the prudent use of technology to enhance our capabilities. Because of technology, wisdom seekers in the future will benefit from unprecedented, instant access to ongoing worldwide discussions, all of recorded history, everything ever written, massive libraries of case studies and collected data, and highly realistic simulated experiences equivalent to years or even centuries of actual experience. How and how much they make use of these resources, how they filter through them to find what they need, and how technology aids them will certainly play an important role in determining the wisdom of their decisions and judgments. Technology alone will not replace intuition, good judgment, problem-solving abilities, and a clear moral compass. But in an unimaginably complex future, the digitally unenhanced person, however wise, will not be able to access the tools of wisdom that will be available to even the least wise digitally enhanced human.
Photo Credit:  Apple Earth iPad Wallpaper by JD Hancock, 2010 Attribution  

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