How Do We Know What We Know?

Joni - Shelbyville, Kentucky
Entered on April 24, 2008

How do people, particularly students, come to know the things they know? Is there a “good” way of teaching that will allow students to gain the knowledge we are attempting to instill in their minds? I find myself struggling to find an answer. When I look at myself I feel that my knowledge about life in general comes through my insight, personal judgment, and through my faith. But, when I look at my students I think their knowledge comes through observation and that observation is directly correlated to their sensory experience. So, what do I believe? In my teaching, I have to agree with Aristotle and say that the way of knowing is based on sensory experience and empiricism.

What philosophy of education do I feel I possess? I also struggle in nailing down a certain philosophy. I teach English II to sophomores and I think that the subject you are teaching is directly linked to ones philosophy of education. If I was teaching science or math I would, without a doubt, say that realism is my philosophy. Knowledge is fixed and based on natural law. Reality is objective and is composed of matter and form. But with English, I would most likely say that knowing is rethinking ideas and is mental and unchanging. This philosophy is more inline with the beliefs of Plato.

I have come to the conclusion that my beliefs on the ways of knowing and my philosophy of education conflict with one another. I feel that you gain your knowledge from observation and through you what you see, hear, and feel. But, at the same time I believe that one should teach with the idea that knowing is the rethinking of ideas and more of a “comes from within” approach. This approach is directly linked to my subject area. I want my English students to write from their hearts. I want that writing to be a spiritual experience. I want them to use their insight and personal judgment. But where they got that insight and personal judgment many times came from their observations and their sensory experiences. So, what do I believe? I believe that Aristotle and Plato need to talk. They need to see that they can work together and with that work they can see what I believe.