culture philosophy


I used to work in sales at a lumber yard, where we sold all kinds of (mostly residential) building materials from lumber, to paint, to plumbing, electrical supplies, hardware, doors/windows, roofing, power tools, etc.  I grew up working with quite a few of these things, as my Dad was a residential framer.  Nonetheless, there were various things I knew very little about, having never used them.

Given a few years, however, listening to the advice given by co-workers, and listening to problems encountered (and solved) by customers, I ‘learned’ how to answer common questions.  I had never put in a p-drain myself, but I learned how to answer most questions a customer would ask!  Even more humorous, I had a co-worker who had almost no hand-on experience with anything we sold – yet nonetheless, she too learned to answer the common questions (often word-for-word what her co-workers had said the day before!).

I think this kind of learning is fine for what it is, but in various discussions I have, I often feel that others are (and I’m guilty of) operating with ‘knowledge’ they’ve gained from eavesdropping in this or that conversation or forum.  “Ohh, Aristotle was such and such…”, and “yeah, science has shown that…” or “Democracy was designed so that…”

This is the Wikipedia/Google-based knowledge that informs so many pool-of-ignorance building conversations.  People that know just a weeee little bit about a whole lot of things, pretending to be experts at it all.  “I remember seeing somewhere that…”

We… (cough) I… need to learn to just say, “I have no idea about that, to be honest.  Let’s both read up on it and get back to one another in [not 2 minutes, but…] a few weeks.”  Now that would just require far too much patience.

4 replies on “eavesdroppers”

Great post and I agree entirely.

I think the source of the problem is the current model of education used almost everywhere – my pet peeve! Modern education is all about rote-learning facts, which is tantamount to eavesdropping on knowledge as you aptly put it. As long as you can remember facts you will do well in the education system.

A far more useful model of education would focus on how to learn, not what to learn. Critical thinking and the ability to recognise what you know or to honestly admit you don’t know are both just common sense imo. This is particularly true in an age where facts are ridiculously easy to get hold of.

Unfortunately, following on from our current education system, society punishes those that don’t know and rewards those who do (tests, game shows, employment etc) – not a very strong position given the average person knows such a negligible percentage of what there is to know that, with rounding, they could realistically be said to know nothing :)

(I could rant about this all day… lol)

As far as I can remember, older style education was dominated by content learning rather than teaching critical thinking skills. Though earlier than my educational experience, high schools offered the subject in logic, which definitely wouldn’t go amiss in today’s world!
Previously, the content of education related directly to a more stable society and knowledge base. The job you may have had in mind while you were at school still existed by the time you graduated. However, modernity and the post-modern have changed all that. Today job categories disappear overnight!
The problem with any education system is it leaves significant sections of the population sidelined. They just don’t fit in.
Critical thinking skills are paramount and are taught, but sometimes way beyond the grasp of youngsters and using content beyond their ken.
Unfortunately, this is countered by policy demanding the use of cut and dried standards which become the hoops through which teachers and educational administrators have to leap to qualify their students a grade. Real education gets buried in beauracracy, policies and politics!
The education policy of the ’90’s touted the ‘Knowledge Wave’. That was a misnomer because it emphasised the use of computers in schools as the golden bullet to problems within our education system. Surely computers are like pencils, just tools used within education not education itself!
As far as giving advice is concerned, people do expect an instant solution and not just a fob off. However, it’s hard to please some people when you admit to them you just don’t know the answer and direct them elsewhere – they want the answer here and now and they take your response as though you just don’t care.

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