Guest post by Claire Ramsey. Claire is the author of The People Who Spell, Gallaudet University Press 2011.
I’m not a philosopher and I dread to think how many years it’s been since I read Searle. But I’ve spent years not only trying to transmit knowledge and prod the youth of America into some kind of understanding but doing it on the actual topics of knowledge and understanding. In some models (I think ed psych but I could be wrong) they talk about different kinds of knowledge – declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, conceptual knowledge and probably other kinds, I think some models include temporal knowledge, all of the time-related parts like sequence, and duration. Obviously declarative knowledge is just knowing what something is = that is a shoe and that other thing is a nectarine. Procedural knowledge is knowing procedures to accomplish something – it might be strategies for memorizing vocabulary or how to fix a carburetor. Conceptual knowledge is knowing the “why” of something – that’s the sky and it looks kind of blue and here’s why we see it that way even though it’s not really blue. I think both procedural and conceptual knowledges lead to a kind of understanding. All of this stuff unrolls inside an individual’s head, which is mostly what ed psych is interested in grasping.
Then there’s another kind of understanding that is key for being a good teacher and, I’d argue, a good talker, citizen, person, writer, story teller. In other words it’s the kind of understanding that we develop – some more than others – so that we can be in the social world w/other people and do things with them, like have a conversation. In education circles there is a jargon term – “Pedagogical Content Knowledge” – I think this business is the basis of many other interactions in life, not just teaching & learning & explaining. It means knowing something so well from all angles that you can figure out (even predict) where another person (a learner in this case but it could be your interlocutor or your reader) stopped getting it and why, and figuring out another way to explain it so that it’s clear or figuring out what the background info or sequential info or whatever to add that the other person does not seem to be getting . . . and that is the stuff that takes empathy plus a big dose of knowing what you’re talking about.
In the tortured arguments and/or explanations of the MRA and the atheist sexist pests, their seemingly intentional pretense that they know what X means drove me nuts because it’s an example of intentionally being anti-social and anti-understanding while pretending that they aren’t. I hate that shit. And I think that’s why. We’ve all run into people who pretend that the whole world is completely literal (in their way) and all of that other stuff doesn’t matter. Well, they are wrong. And they don’t know jack about how conversation works or how language operates in social interactions.
Anyhow, like I said, I’m not a philosopher or an epistemologist or even a psychologist. I’m a sociolinguist who gets annoyed easily by those who mishandle language. Then I just want to start slapping them.