Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ubiquitous (and inexcusable) ignorance in a “knowledge society” during the “information age”

I’m sharing the following, sans substantive comment, from the beginning of Daniel R. DeNicola’s book, Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact of What We Don’t Know (MIT Press, 2017):

“In the familiar metaphor, our ignorance (whether individual or collective) is a vast, fathomless sea; our knowledge but a small, insecure island. Even the shoreline is uncertain: both the history of the human race and psychological research suggests that we know even less than we think we do. Indeed, our ignorance is extensive beyond our reckoning. [….] 

[Moreover,] [d]espite the spread of universal, compulsory education; despite new tools for learning and great advances of knowledge; despite the breathtaking increases in our ability to store, access, and share a super-abundance of information—ignorance flourishes. [….] 

[The sort of ubiquitous ignorance found] “in [our] ‘knowledge society’ during the ‘Information Age,’ … is what might be termed public ignorance, by which [is meant] widespread, reprehensible ignorance of matters that are significant for our lives together. Functional illiteracy and innumeracy are examples. Such ignorance might once be explained, if not excused by lack of educational opportunity; but that seems obtuse when applied to countries with rich educational resources. [And yet these ‘educational resources’ may be subject to grossly inegalitarian distribution for proximate reasons, say, of class and race, so ‘lack of educational opportunity’ need not be an ‘obtuse explanation.’1] Besides, the rate of functional illiteracy may be higher in today’s America than it was in colonial New England.2 Stubbornly high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy are a public shame, no doubt. This is remedial ignorance. The need is for learning—except that many such forms of ignorance thrive despite years of schooling.”
1. And of course even an abundant supply of “educational resources” may not suffice to remedy obdurate problems and obstacles that may be rooted in the regnant philosophies of education and/or pedagogical strategies and methods, as is perhaps suggested by reference to the apparently high rate of “functional illiteracy.”
2. An endnote somewhat qualifies this claim and speaks to the meaning of “functional literacy.”


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