Knowledge Versus Information

Dear Reader,

In School Education Charlotte Mason makes a distinction between knowledge and information:

“Information is the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc. . . . knowledge, it seems to me, implies the result of voluntary and delightful action of the mind upon the material presented to it . . . The information acquired in the course of education is only by chance, and here and there, of practical value. Knowledge, on the other hand, that is, the product of the vital action of the mind on the material presented to it, is power; as it implies an increase of intellectual aptitude in new directions, and an always new point of departure.” [pp.161-2]

Information is what we aim for and what we het when we use fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice types of assessments. It is memorized and forgotten easily. But knowledge sticks with a person. It is not an end in itself but is a beginning in that it can be used and manipulated:

“Because knowledge is power, the child who has got knowledge will certainly show power in dealing with it. He will recast, condense, illustrate, or narrate with vividness and with freedom the arrangement of his words. The child who has only got information will write and speak in the stereotyped phrases of his text-book, or will mangle in his notes the words of his teacher.” [p.162]

It seems like it should be pretty easy then to tell whether our children are really taking in what they study. Are they able to talk about it competently? Are they able to use the knowledge? Apply it to new situations? Cast it in different forms? Narration of course aids in this process because it requires the child to reframe the knowledge even as they are taking it in.

It’s so different from how traditional schools educate, isn’t it? Not only do they test based on information, they try to get that information in with clever tricks, by trying to make it seem interesting, by casting everything in the right light so to speak. But it should be the opposite– let the children take in what is before them and they can be creative with it. Schools serve bland, pre-processed filler with lots of parsley on top to try and get kids to eat it. What they should do is serve nutritious, delicious food that is unadorned. Then they measure success by how much the child can eat, not caring what actually stays down (okay, this extended analogy is getting gross) or if it contributes to overall health.


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