What Do You (Actually) Know?
When I was a teacher, I would often be frustrated when teaching multiplication facts. We would spend weeks teaching children to memorize 3 x 3 = 9. Eventually, they got it and when given a speed test, they could calculate their times tables in record speed. The frustrating part was when we got to the word problems. A student could easily know their multiplication facts, but it is a completely different skill to understand when to use that knowledge and how to apply it to the real world. You may know that 3 x 4 = 12, but when I give you a scenario with three baskets, each holding four balls, you have to have an understanding of how that piece of information will help you calculate the total.
This illustrates the difference between simply knowing something and having knowledge about a given topic. True knowledge comes not through memorization of facts, statistics, or talking points, but through practice and becoming familiar with the application of a given subject matter. When we educate our children, either in school or at home, it is so, so important that we teach our children not only information, but application.
This skill can be practical. For example, in martial arts we practice hyungs, which is Korean for "forms". These are a pattern of movements and techniques. While they are beautiful to watch and an important part of our art form, their purpose does not only lie in the beauty of the movements. A black belt may know many forms, but unless they know the application of the techniques, they will not be able to defend themselves.
Teaching application can also be more abstract. It is very easy to tell our children rhetoric like "treat others the way you want to be treated" but to actually dive into a conversation about why empathy is important takes a lot more work. Teaching martial artists a pattern of movement or telling children morals they should live by are simple facts that can be retained by anyone. But having knowledge about how to use those facts requires a deeper understanding. And that is the goal of our instruction: to help kids understand more deeply, to gain not just information, but knowledge.
Teaching a Deeper Understanding of Knowledge
When you go to college for education, you learn about something called "Bloom's Taxonomy". It is a simple framework that outlines different levels of understanding for how a student's understanding and application of knowledge progresses. But there is a much simpler way of understanding how to teach our children to know more deeply, and it uses interrogative words.
That may sound complex, but you already know these words. They are who, what, where, when, why, and how. The first four words (who, what, where, when) are simple. If you ask a question beginning with one of these words, the answer will usually be a few words. It requires you to state a simple fact. For example, if I ask, "Who should you be kind to?", the answer would be simple: my siblings, friends, parents, etc. But the last two words (why and how) require a deeper understanding. If I ask "Why should I be kind to others?" or "How can I show kindness to others?", that requires more thought of how to apply the concept of kindness.
When we teach children (or even adults) to have a greater understanding of knowledge, we should shift our questioning to use those higher level interrogative words. If you do this, you may find that what you know is a lot less than what you thought you knew. I don't mean that in a disrespectful way, but our goal is to not just know facts or rhetoric, but to have true knowledge, that is, a deep understanding, of the world around us.
What's interesting about this discussion is that when we talk about how to teach knowledge, it begins with questions. Using words like "how" or "why" show that we don't have a full grasp on a topic. Perhaps the first bit of knowledge we should acquire is the fact that we don't know much. Assuming this posture of humility, combined with the desire to grow and improve, will set you and your children on a path to success. I mentioned Bloom's Taxonomy before. Do you know what the highest level of the framework is? It is not the ability to analyze or evaluate, but the ability to use our knowledge to create. If we gain true knowledge, we can use it to create wonderful things, perhaps even a better world for generations to come.
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About the Author
Master Matthew Eyler is a 5th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do and a New York State certified general and special education teacher. He has over 20 years experience practicing self-defense and teaching students of all ages and abilities.