by Aki Margaritis
Knowledge in itself alludes to the fact that we understand something to such a degree that we are no longer burdened by the chains of ignorance. By the same measure, it is safe to assume that if knowledge results in the concept of understanding, then if we lack knowledge; we also lack the ability to claim competency.
Once a student has achieved knowledge, understanding, and a level of competence, he/she begins the process of thinking about thoughts, known as metacognition, and the control of one’s cognitive processes. With this new level of thinking also comes the duality of objectivity and subjectivity.
Since our knowledge base is made up from the collection of experiences that are based on these two concepts, it’s important that we take the opportunity to identify each of these truths. Our subjective experiences have a direct bearing on how we perceive the world around us. Our objective experiences, on the other hand, are far more difficult to comprehend and to employ. What makes objectivity so incredibly difficult is the idea that for one to be objective, it requires the ability to transcend one’s own views and move beyond the inevitability of bias and subjectivisms that burden us. Therefore, true objectivity is by definition, logically impossible because it involves the shedding on one’s very own persona. No person has the ability to function in a true objective manner, since each of us is made up of a collection of experiences that shape the way we see our world. It is our individual conceptions that determine how we understand our surroundings.
Human brains are incredible. As educators, it is this subjective knowledge that we have a direct bearing on, and which we need to cultivate in our students. Young adolescents are often characterized by this state of subjectivism that surrounds them. They are in a constant state of exploration, seeking not only knowledge, but for the first time they are looking to find their place in their world. Their brains are incredible instruments that are open to ideas. They seek fairness, openness, and most of all they seek for a way to belong.
Through time, evolution has taken the functions of the brain, weeded out all unnecessary roles and has distilled it to one main function – survival. What adolescents seek to understand has a direct connection to the ability to survive. Their thoughts, and actions will be determined by their backgrounds, which in turn are shaped by their upbringing and ostensibly, the culture that surrounds them. They have spent the first twelve years of their lives developing a personality. Now, they enter the stage that will refine the persona they have and the exposure to the variety of opinions and points of view, will be the determining factor of how they will "survive" in the world.
For all practical purposes, I will be referring to this subjective outlook of the world as the biases which will ultimately be instilled in their way of thinking. Biases, can be positive or negative, and every one of us has and breeds preconceived notions based on how we acquire knowledge, as well as the environmental factors to which we are exposed.
Enabling young adults to understand their biases, allows them to accept who they are; liberating them from the burden of being pinned down. It allows them to understand their condition and their identity. Subjectivity and biases allow them to seek their place in the world. Biases are not something that we should seek to subjugate or suppress in them. Gaining effective understanding comes from accepting those biases and placing them in proper context. This in turn, allows them the ability to seek solutions to the challenges they are faced with regularly.
If we accept that true, objective knowledge does not exist, how can we expect young adults to employ objective knowledge when the originating arguments surrounding them are subjective? Human beings know and interpret situations through their social interactions, their personal experiences, and their own understanding of events through their historical context. Therefore, true knowledge and the interpretation of this knowledge is unique and highly individual. Some of this subjective knowledge we are aware of, while a large portion of it we have no clue it exists. We view the world, and we understand it based on the belief that what is true to us is also true for others. We all suffer from this type of myopia. For young adults, this myopic condition is even greater. To truly be conscious of even a very small percentage of all the information that our brains take in would be arresting. The reality is that our brains take in everything that is presented to us, but only stream the information that best fits the model of the world that we have come to create and accept. This is the world that is made up of our subjective knowledge.
Since gaining understanding of a concept means that we must use our subjective knowledge as a measuring tool, other’s biases are always ripe for judgment. Yet, we rarely afford others the same privilege. Returning to my theory of the brain being designed for survival, this organ in turn is biased towards protecting us and our own beliefs by avoiding having to deal with contradictory ideas. Therefore, our brains have an incredible amount of interest invested in ignorance. It is to our best interest to avoid seeing our own mistakes. It is far more beneficial to justify our actions, understandings, beliefs, and decisions and prove to others we are right and they are wrong. Because of this, we look for and gravitate towards those people or ideas that provide us with confirmation that our own beliefs, philosophical statements, and opinions, are contextually true. We exclude and denounce those that run contrary to our own. Our biases are the canvas upon which we are able to paint our observations, regardless of how insignificant or inaccurate they might be, and weave the grandiose picture of generalization. As a result, we are able to pass judgment on others and more importantly affix our label on their beliefs. Simple, singular events that provide opportunities for subjective knowledge, become objectified opportunities by which we simplify our world and attain understanding. Without an understanding of others biases we are able to assign blame and attribute failure to personal shortcomings, rather than situational circumstance.
Do we need objective knowledge to understand something? No, society has done marvelously through the eons by employing every aspect of subjective knowledge. With so much at stake are we able to deprive young adults of the opportunities they need to gain a perspective? If we as educators fail to provide them with those opportunities, will it ultimately result in our downfall as a species? Life, is not an experiment in a test tube. Living is a process that falls beyond our scope and true understanding. It’s a dirty job, and whether we like it or not, we are all assigned to do this job. The way we see our world cannot be defined as right or wrong, evil or good. The biases we carry are there to help us survive. They do however, represent a fundamental method for simplifying the world around us while at the same time making it more understandable and manageable. Adolescents need to be exposed to a plethora of ideas that are counter to their own cultural biases. Perhaps, through this process we can begin to "break down the brain" and allow for tolerance, understanding, and empathy.