Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
–From T.S. Elliot’s The Rock
I never claimed to have studied education reform. I’m just a parent of two high school aged children who, except for one year of around-the-world “road schooling,” have been in the public school system. But I have formed some opinions about public education that can be summed as, “I think there is more right with our public education than there is wrong.”
The goal of any parent is to introduce a functioning adult into society. Formal education is only one tool in the tool chest for that job. Let’s take a look at some of the other tools available.
During our year of traveling around the world, I learned a powerful lesson. Just because I know a subject doesn’t mean I can teach it. My son Jordan was trying to learn long-division. I knew long division; why couldn’t I teach it?
Although I may have failed at teaching simple arithmetic to Jordan, he observed how street kids in Cambodia could make change in three currencies without referring to a calculator. Gratefully, a professional educator was ultimately able to teach Jordan long division.
But it was I who was able to help him see that hungry street kids in Cambodia relied on math to live.
Public education excels at delivering information. Knowledge, at least for purposes of defining Elliot’s poem, can be thought of as grouping bits of information to perform a task. Most teachers are probably better equipped than most parents in teaching children long division, or how photosynthesis works, as well as a vast array of other topics. But parents are in a far superior position to mentor their kids so that information can be put to meaningful use, such as to double a recipe or grow a garden.
To function in the Information Age requires a lot more knowledge than it did in an agrarian society. It also requires a lot more than sitting on a pile of information. It takes time to gather all that information, and even more time and real-world experience to turn that information into knowledge. So the next time you drive over a suspension bridge or send your child to a surgeon for an emergency appendectomy, be grateful that a student spent years sitting in a classroom, and even more years being mentored.
My message is that public education excels at disseminating information but knowledge requires both classroom and real-world experience. One does not need to travel around the world to get real-world experience, one simply needs a mentor. Initially that mentor will be a parent. But for many children, parents alone will not be able to complete the job.
As they say, it takes a village.
Vast stores of information can be quantified. Even knowledge can be quantified. Wisdom, on the other hand, can’t be quantified, nor can it be taught. Wisdom is more than just knowledge; it is knowledge that has been tempered by experience. Attaining wisdom enriches personal lives and serves the greater society. The best way to temper knowledge by experience is to get outside your comfort zone. And that applies to both children and their parents.
Public education is never going to serve everyone’s needs perfectly. It’s but one tool. Use it to help your child gain the full potential that is in them. As a parent, it’s your job to decide when to reach for a different tool.
John Higham is the author of 360 Degree Longitude: One Family’s Journey Around the World. He is now living in California with his family.
This post is one in a series about Redefining Education. The other posts in the series are:
Subscribe to our
RSS feed Like us on
Facebook Follow us on
Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience is a post from: Family on Bikes. Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive your free e-book: Bicycle Touring with Children; A Guide to Getting Started.