Back to the context of education, similar questions arise throughout the years people spend going at school. Among all the questions that form the daily life of a student, three of them deserve getting a closer inspection. With each question comes a transition of how education is perceived. From these three questions, the most shocking transitions occurring in the process of learning from childhood to adulthood can be segmented into three parts. It is ironic how education itself reflects this segmentation by being split into roughly three categories : primary school, secondary school and tertiary (higher) education. The fourth category of pre-schooling could be accounted for as an introduction to the necessity to learn in community and outside of family. In the interests of ease of expression – and for no other reason – I have chosen to refer to all generic instances of a teacher or a learner as ‘zhe’.
During the first part, the child usually does not consider the veracity of zher teacher’s sayings as being possibly ill-founded or dubious. Zhe tries to follow the instructions being given to him as tightly as possible and distinguishes the wrong from the right in the light of the feedback he receives in return of zher efforts.
It is only later in zher teenage years during the second part that zhe gradually begins to doubt about the competence of zher teacher’s ability to teach, and sometimes even to know really about what zhe is teaching. This phenomenon is often subsequent to the contradictions or interferences between adult opinions that are revealed to the attentive standpoint of the child. When a teacher says something, then another one says it differently; the young pupil considers the scene as if zhe had to choose zher side. Who is zhe going to listen to ? Most probably, zhe will adhere to the most charismatic person. Charisma from a youngster’s point of view has a plethora of different colours. In any case, there is no exception to this first observation that changes the perception of the teacher as an archetype. By the brink of secondary education, everyone will have deemed some teachers to be worse than others. Everyone will have considered thinking that some teachers speak nonsense most of their time, while some others, on the contrary are respectable and hard to challenge.
The questions linked to such change of educational perception are : “Does the teacher know what zhe says ?” and “Does zhe know how to explain it correctly and unambiguously ?”. These two first questions are often intertwined even though they are fundamentally of a different nature. The boundary between secondary and primary school is not well defined either. In many countries, secondary school begins after the age of twelve (ex: Czech Republic, Slovakia, etc.). In France, Norway, it is the secondary school that is split (lower and upper), as if to ensure that pupils had enough time to discover and reflect on both questions. The order and the time by which the two questions come about is a matter of fortuity. Usually, the young pupil will consider that anyone who does not say the same as zher parents do; speaks nonsense. Once zhe realises there is a difference between knowing something and saying the way it is, zhe will deem zher teachers with questions about their pedagogy, which at that time being means for zher :“the way to say what we know”. Nonetheless, it could be the other way around. For instance, children who learn more than one language will first realise that there are more than one way to express things, and thus that truth is not inseparable from terminology.
Then, when higher education starts, the charm is reiterated. University professors, by contrast, are perceived as a living thriving source of nearly endless knowledge and comprehension. When the complexity of the “truer” side of knowledge is unfolded, the young student suddenly gains some respect towards some high-school teachers zhe disclaimed during zher younger years, because zhe realises that things might not be as “simple” as they first appeared to be. However at this stage, the most shocking transition is still to come. Ultimately, after few years of thinking and debating in the midst of a higher education community; there arises a third question, although of a completely different nature than the first ones. This third one holds an epistemological ground on whether there actually exists something called “knowledge”. What does it mean to know ? What is the difference between information and knowledge ? Does someone retaining a lot of facts truly know something at all ? How would zhe differ from a data basis ?
Whatever subjects the student studies, zhe realises that knowledge is everything but steady. In philosophy, rationalists oppose to empiricists. In sciences, theories dispute over their domains of validity. In psychology, assertions challenge the recognition of the reader. In law, the nature of justice still cannot be agreed to be absolute or conventional. In medicine, methods of treatment are often balanced off by the side effects they cause. In languages,… well : languages confront their logic between and within themselves.
The first acquiring of conscience – does my teacher know ? / can zhe make sense out of it for us ?- is perhaps just a disappointment and is often cured merely by interacting with a more skilled pedagogue. The discoveries and new paths that were unveiled on the psychology of learning during the second half of the past century form a solid ground for effective teaching techniques that are being used at the present time.
The second acquiring of conscience though – what is it to “know” something ? – truly causes distress. When someone ceases to think of knowledge from an absolute perspective, that is objectively, zhe is left in dismay.