The Pursuit of Ignorance

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the relationship between knowledge and skills in education, talk which has often been polarised and portrayed as a straight fight between these two purposes or goals. They are, of course mutually dependent, but there is nothing those of us involved in the education business like better than a good argument, or a controversial statement. Which is how my attention came to be drawn to this TED talk by the American neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, in which he explores (and explodes) our common misconceptions about the study of science, and stresses the importance of developing students who are able to keep on asking the right questions, long after their ‘formal education’ has ended.

Unfortunately, according to Fierstein, our current education systems, with their heavy emphasis on standardised testing and memorisation, tend to have discouraged that very natural curiosity long before students have reached that point. Far from arguing that knowledge doesn’t matter, I think what he is suggesting is that knowledge is of no value unless it stimulates a further search for that which is unknown, so the message for schools, teachers and students would be to find the right balance between learning the facts and asking impossible questions. In other words, I guess if he was being strictly accurate, he might have called it ‘the pursuit of informed ignorance’! See what you think.

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