Don’t Say Yes Because …
* Bal Ram Adhikari
I was teaching the Anderson model of Declarative and Procedural knowledge to my M. Ed. students. I was sweating to get my understanding across. They too were sweating like their teacher to grasp what I was trying to bring home to them. I could sense their sense of loss heavily in the classroom air from their frowning, staring at the board, hanging their heads and so on. However, I could also sense that there were some who might have grasped some portions of the model. By the end of the lesson, I came to hear, to my pleasant surprise, their communal reply “Yes” to my ritualistic question “Did you understand what it means to convert DK into PK?” My euphoria did not last though. A second thought struck me that they were saving their teacher’s face by replying in the affirmative. They knew what their teacher was expecting to hear. What followed was my immediate and rather frustrating suggestion, “Don’t say YES because your teacher says it, because Anderson or someone else claims it to be the case. Say YES because YOU think so, because YOU have your own logic to accept it. So take your time before you jump to the conclusion. We will continue the model in our next lesson”. Then I heard a voice issuing from the back, “What do you mean by THAT, sir? You say Anderson is right. You also say you agree with him. But you tell us not to say YES”. My suggestion met with a mixed reaction from my students. Some look confused, some irritated, some indifferent and some look as if struck by bright ideas. Whatsoever, the time for the lesson was over. I ended the class with the ritualistic expression, “Thank you for your cooperation. See you in the next class.”
The issue didn’t crop up in the next lesson. I felt like elaborating it but gave up the idea for two interrelated reasons. First, it might not interest all students. Most of them are there in the class to take notes for their examinations. Second, even we teachers might think that why waste ‘valuable lesson time’ on such petty things? All that matters for us is timely completion of the course.
I take this electronic platform to clarify what I mean when I say, often at the end of every class, “you students need not agree with what I say or what someone who you call ‘writer’, researcher, theorist or expert, says.” Here ‘I’ stands for someone who you THINK knows better and/or more than you. By this, we should not conform to the ideas or thoughts simply because they are documented somewhere or stated by someone of the high academic profile, or communicated by our teachers/instructors. You have every right to cast doubt on them. There is no harm in being skeptical. Think however many times you need to think (I cannot be prescriptive here) before you accept someone else’s ideas. No one can be the authority of your knowledge. Surely enough, they can be rich and accessible sources of information. Teachers /instructors have their invaluable roles in serving as the viable means to your goals. Information becomes knowledge only when it enters the experiential and existential zones of the knower. Our goal is to be a knower rather than information accumulator and information porter. Should you be satisfied with the latter role, the Internet and computer technology will soon render you obsolete. But, it disheartens me to see that most of us are information porters. This is what we are practicing in our ELT classes. Our examinations expect us to exhibit our capacity to accumulate more and more information; carry it to the exam hall and lift off the load on the answer sheets. We have failed to perceive the difference between telling and knowing, and the difference between knowing at the intellectual level and knowing at experiential level.
Here I am reminded of Bloom’s ladder of critical thinking–from telling something from your memory at the lowest to evaluating at the highest level with understanding, applying, analyzing, and synthesizing falling between these two extremes. What come from the plethora of sources should undergo the process of thinking. Before I climb the rungs in the critical thinking ladder, I would like to share one of the anecdotes about how I was taught English grammar rules.
When I was a tenth-grader I once asked my English teacher (obviously in Nepali)– Why we use ‘shall we’ with ‘Let’s’ and ‘will you’ with ‘Let us’? Feeling irritated, my teacher counter-questioned me (obviously in Nepali)– You know the answer, right?’ My reply was ‘Yes’. ‘Then why you asking unnecessary question?’ He demanded an explanation. ‘Use shall we with ‘Let’s’ and ‘will you’ with ‘Let’s us’. That’s enough’. I did the same. Surly, my teacher’s suggestion helped me to secure two more marks in the Board Examination. For my teacher recalling and knowing were the same.
Recalling something from our memory and knowing it are different. To recall is to rely on outer sources; it is just to take others as an authority. Others cannot be the authority of your knowledge. They can be the sources of information, no doubt. By denying authority in knowledge, I am not dying, nor am I disregarding other people’s contribution to our academic and creative enrichment. What I am trying to bring home to you is that information is borrowed while knowledge is experienced and generated for ourselves. My only concern is to put information borrowed from the plethora of sources under the searing light of our critical faculty. It is the faculty that can comprehend and recall, understand, apply, evaluate and reflect. Saying my critical faculty is in execution implies that:
- I can recall information and my own experiences
- I understand what these mean
- I can apply them
- I can evaluate them
- I constantly reflect on them
I can recall means I have information or say data at my disposal. It is just like to say I have a knife in my kitchen. I have a certain means to the end. Being familiar with information from multitude of sources implies that I am connected with other like-minded people. I am the part of the thinking community. I can figure out to some extent what has already been achieved in the field and what is awaiting ahead, what others’ strengths and limitations are. Information is important but not sufficient.
The next question I should ask of myself– Do I really understand what it actually means? The answer to this question leads me to another rung higher in the critical thinking ladder: understanding. To understand something is more than grasping of information. Comprehension. I understand something means I can see its semantic, pragmatic (contextual) and functional aspects. I can relate it to my schema. Now the information gradually enters into the intellectual realm of the knower. However, understanding something intellectually is one thing and an experience we undergo with it another. It means intellectual knowledge needs to be put into practice so that we can experience it in action. Knowledge in action lies higher in order in the critical thinking ladder. Knowledge in action is more than the information extracted from outer sources. It gets expanded and extended with the knower’s existing experiences, intuition and insights. Application is experimenting and experiencing with the information appropriated by the knower. For many the journey ends here itself. For others there is still another higher rung of judgment to climb.
Judgment involves giving values to information, its sources and application. Such a judgment is often carried out on the basis of ‘standard criteria’ to give ‘objective fervor and flavor’ to our judgment process and outcome. A word of caution, we should not overlook our own experiences and insights in the name of rendering our evaluation objective. No evaluation is complete and valid without direct involvement of the evaluator himself. Therefore I take evaluation as the most subjective of all critical thinking processes. To accept or reject certain information or ideas only because they fail to correspond positively to ‘standard criteria’ is to become least critical and most conformist. This will be the mere repetition of ongoing patterns only. Let us ask questions of ourselves before concluding something relevant or irrelevant, appropriate or inappropriate – what does my experience say about this? How do these criteria relate to my own contexts? Do my contexts and insights allow me to accept or reject them?
Should we stop at evaluation? No. Even evaluation needs to be evaluated. That is, we need to reflect on all sources of information and processes of thinking beginning from comprehension to evaluation. Reflection is going back and revisiting. It is the process of climbing up and down in the critical thinking ladder. In this process we reflect basically on three aspects: information (object) and their sources, thinking processes and the subjects, i.e., ourselves. In this retrospective practice we interrogate ourselves regarding the nature of information, processes of thinking and our own psychological make-up.
This implies that the journey from information collection to knowledge generation is not straight and linear. It is a conscious and iterative process. It is the process that transforms us from an information-porter to knowledge-potter. So before you say ‘yes’ or even ‘no’, take your time to climb each rung of the ladder carefully, effrortfully and sincerely.
(* Bal Ram Adhikari, an M.Ed and MA, is a faculty in Department of English Education, Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tahachal, Tribhuvan University. He is an editor, translation practitioner and researcher. He has authored some academic articles and books both in English Nepali. He has served SAARC Cultural Center in capacity of the country editor and translator from Nepali into English. email@example.com/ firstname.lastname@example.org)