Knowledge vs Learning in the Age of Standardized Testing

Imagine two piles containing everything that is knowable.  The one on the left is smaller than the one on the right. It represents everything you know.  Every day, as you learn more, this pile grows.

large pile of grain with more being piled on top

We usually don’t think a whole lot about the pile on the right.  The easy assumption is that as the pile of our knowledge on the left grows, the pile on the right shrinks–that, in essence, we take from the pile on the right to build the one on the left.

Stuck in Comfortable Boxes

This is especially the case in our modern Western world, with its diminished sense of mystery, its distrust of anything that can’t be quantified, and its arrogant and naive faith in its scientific and technological prowess.

We have conflated knowledge and learning. In the process, we have reduced our educational system into a producer of facts for students to rehearse and spit out on standardized tests.

When true learning happens, the two piles take on a much different relationship.  As your own smaller pile of knowledge grows, you recognize that the much larger pile is growing, too, and at a faster rate. The more you learn, the more you realize that you don’t know.

Even more disconcerting, you recognize that sometimes your pile on the left shrinks a little, because things you once thought were true sometimes turn out not to be.

True Learning Promotes Humility

True learning promotes humility, which is essential for wisdom.  A healthy spirituality—what Sigurd Olson called “the search for meaning”—does the same thing.  By helping you to rediscover awe, wonder, and mystery, the search for meaning leads to a much better sense of the smallness of your own once-exalted pile of knowledge in comparison with the grandeur of creation.

You even come to realize the various ways in which you try to put your understanding into comfortable boxes.  In realizing the unbounded grandeur of the universe around you and of the wilderness within, you begin to grow in humility and wisdom. 


Used with permission from a fellow NAAEE Member David Backes in the Singing Wilderness Blog. 

Photo source: Elijah Hail, Unsplash.