Step 4: Understanding

Step 4: Understanding

While knowledge on its own may be useful in games like Trivial Pursuit® and Jeopardy® or even in getting better test scores, real learning must incorporate the implications and applications of this knowledge i.e. understanding what does this knowledge mean to me.  .  The details of history learned for the sake of passing a test will have the unfortunate consequence of “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Sir Winston Churchill.

The need for understanding holds true on two levels.

Firstly, understanding is necessary to be able to generalize principles for it would be impossible for a teacher to go through every example conceivable in each subject.  For instance, a teacher could not go through every possible combination of numbers to be added, or subtracted, or multiplied or divided and so on.  A student must be able to learn the concept of addition and apply it independently with an unfamiliar set of numbers to demonstrate understanding.  A speech therapist cannot practice every instance of accurately pronouncing a single sound, such as /o/ as in “hot”, “stop”, “knob” … you know this list goes on and on.  Once the client demonstrates mastery of pronouncing this sound the therapist will move on.  The same holds true for all concepts that require generalization such as spelling, cooking, wood working, driving, etc.

Secondly, there are certain subjects where application is even more important.  Is philosophy to be learned as an academic exercise or for moral application?  The same would apply to the learning of history, as mentioned above.

We have discussed previously the importance of reevaluating the curriculum to ensure it includes content more important than mere academics.  Most of those items are character building traits such as resilience, persistence, honesty, cleanliness, responsibility, etc.  Many of these can and should be included on the report card.  Character development is a lifetime’s work.  Grades for character traits needs to be included beyond the preschool report card so that students understand their continued importance.  This should be evident given how the immoral conduct and abuse of power by those in positions of authority has been dominating the news recently.  This travesty does not only reflect badly on those who acted immorally, but also on those who enabled this behavior to continue by doing nothing to stop it when they knew it was occurring.  It takes courage and strength of conviction to speak up, especially when you are afraid of the personal consequences.  Where does a person learn courage and conviction when it is not on the curriculum and not listed with the other “to-dos” such as soccer or piano practice or tutoring/therapy sessions?

Furthermore, the amount of people who are seeking professional help, due largely to a lack of self-awareness and understanding of others is staggering (particularly psychological understanding such as the ATMs we discussed in a previous post).  Think about how bullying is handled in your school and home? What can  you do to foster understanding in your students, stem this tide and empower them? 


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