Textbooks and Knowledge3

Textbooks, Information and Knowledge

Jayashree Ramadas: On your claim that textbooks contain coded symbols and these need the mediation of a human agency to convert into knowledge; I feel that you have left out a lot in this. The human agency could be the child herself or himself. The need for a teacher and the need for peers have not entered into your argument. Peer interaction is a means of social construction of knowledge. I think it is most important in the classroom, and in the way that a textbook needs to be used in a classroom. These coded symbols that the textbook consists of do need to actually lead to that kind of an interaction. They need to necessitate peer interaction and the interaction with the teacher. That is one point.

The second point is that when talking about these symbols – you have talked about a purely cognitive mind-based process. But there is an element of action. And the action could include, for example, observation. The text might necessitate that the child observes something, the child comes back and discusses it – recounts the observations, argues, draws inferences – perhaps several students draw several inferences; and there is an argument. So this kind of action processes are both verbal as well as they involve doing things with other parts of your body – the hands being the main element of it. So, all these are means of acquiring knowledge. And these means of acquiring knowledge need to be enabled by the text.

And these aspects are missing – that it is not just a purely mind-based process, it involves other people, and it involves the actions of that person – which includes, apart from talking and arguing and inferring and so on, the mathematical aspects – taking data, tabulating etc.

So, there could be various ways of organizing knowledge – if they are enabled by the textbook and if they lead to an action from the student that could be the way that knowledge is acquired.

Bala: Rohit-ji, a pleasure listening to you, as always. I am inclined to go with your argument that it is difficult to represent knowledge in the way that you have stated in the textbooks. And I see the problem being that there are these connections that we make in our minds and there is a difficulty in representing those connections. Does this hold good for all disciplines and forms of knowledge? How would this vary according to the form of knowledge? That is one question.

The other is: What role can technology play in this? Today we have all kinds of technologies. One of the preconditions you said was that there is a human mind which has made these connections in itself (perhaps an adult or the teacher). And the interaction between the child who is trying to decode the information represented in the textbook along with the adult who has already decoded and has ‘knowledge’ in his mind – what role will technology play in filling that gap?

And the third one is on your three parameters for evaluating textbooks. Of the three conditions you said – the process of creating information, the veracity of the information that is represented, and its adequacy; the first two – which is the process and the veracity of the information – are fairly justifiable. What are the means of justifying the adequacy of information? How much is enough and how less is enough? Are there any ‘objective’ standards to it at all?

Hardy: You have three main components – you have the symbols, you have the knower and you have the mediator. But I presume the mediator can be a larger word – it is not just (that)? That is one.

But my question is about the caution in repeatedly using the word ‘modern’ – as if education, at some point, could have been without these considerations. So I am trying to understand why you are putting that caution repeatedly?

Rohit Dhankar: First, about this term ‘modern’. This is just to save my skin; because someone might stand up and say that there was a society at such-and-such time and someone has done historical research – I don’t want to get into that debate. Therefore I am simply hedging myself.

Now I will start from the first question, because this was a very simple thing. I agree with Jayashree. You see, what I am doing is – very narrowly focusing on the textbook. And I am doing so from a particular epistemic angle. I am no talking about many other aspects of education or textbooks etc. But I am deliberately talking about specific things because there seems to be something which is slightly unclear and comes more or less with the same result. I was not using the word textbook in a restricted sense. I am using it in a very wide sense – that is, in the sense of ‘any text’. I don’t think that activity is a textbook. Activity could be indicated or represented in the textbook, but it is not the textbook. It is something the textbook demands of you. The textbook is that text which is more or less fixed, and it is there. So that is how I am using it.

On the point of the need for the teacher – I think I emphasized quite a lot on this. I actually thought that I am going overboard with that emphasis. I said that in primary classes – particularly in the beginning – the textbook is a useless thing unless and until there is someone who puts the child on the path of understanding it. And that path of understanding cannot be contained in the textbook. That has to be outside – in the shared life with the teacher. And the teacher, through the mediation, gives the child that equipment – that conceptual equipment – which makes it possible for him to decipher what is there in the textbook, up to a certain extent.

And I am going a little further. Till approximately the end of elementary education, that is roughly 7th – 8th standard – I am slightly hesitant about the exact age – it is not possible that children become self-reliant in digging out the assumptions which are not stated in the textbook, and in forging connection and offering sequential description or justification of anything which is supposed to be (hidden or) embedded in the textbook. Someone to point out those connections through a variety of means – through observation, through action, through examples, through more than one kind of articulation – is needed. That is what I am calling the gap. Therefore I am not discounting the role of the teacher. I thought I am emphasizing the role of the teacher.

The second thing is that I do believe that knowledge is formed only by the mind. Yes, we observe, we face the world, we feel the temperature, we feel the pain, we feel the pleasure etc. But the meaning in these sense impressions is made only by the mind. And it does not become knowledge unless and until the meaning is attached to it. An experience – that is another problem which I did not dwell on – experience is not knowledge. Experience could be the basis for knowledge. But experience is not knowledge. And in activity learning, we often talk about it. That is why I was calling this learning, in a sort of loose sense, a false goddess. So experience alone does not constitute knowledge. You have to do something with the experience. You have to process it through the language, articulate it, come to conclusions, symbolize it and crystallize it. Then only, it becomes knowledge.

So, yes I am talking of cognitive things. Means of acquiring knowledge (it is claimed) are many – but there are (in reality) means of acquiring sense impressions and there is something within us which transforms those sense impressions into knowledge. Now, Bala was asking specifically – is it true for all knowledge? Yes. This is true for all propositional knowledge. But unfortunately, in textbooks, all you can have is propositional knowledge and indicators for procedural knowledge. So all I am saying is true for propositional knowledge, but not for procedural knowledge. And bicycle riding is a procedural knowledge.

So I am not saying that it is not useful. But you have very little of that in your textbooks. And you can only indicate – you cannot actually have that. You can have procedural knowledge in textbooks even less than the information that you can have.

There was a question about the role of technology. I don’t know much about technology. So I wouldn’t be able to say much on that. But at this moment, with my limited knowledge of technology, I do believe these gaps I am pointing out – they are of the nature that cannot be filled by anything but a living interaction with a living human mind. Now, if the technology progresses and you develop a chip which you will fix in my mind etc. I don’t know what will happen at that time. But at this moment, after I am on the way of learning and I know these processes of decoding etc. technology can help me a lot. It can give me more visuals of experience – so far it doesn’t give experiences, it only gives visuals of experiences and several other ways of representation etc. It can make it richer. But I don’t think this can fill the gap.

Now, adequacy is a very simple notion in my presentation today. It is simple in the sense that education is done in the context of certain aims of education and a certain curriculum. So the textbook which adequately represents the processes and ‘codified information’ which meets the criteria or standards laid down in the curriculum is adequate to me, at this point. Now you can say – how do people decide about the curriculum and what is adequate and what isn’t? That is a much larger debate which goes beyond textbooks, and a different kind of discussion. We can have that some other day.

Radhika: I do see the point that textbooks don’t contain knowledge. But there are two statements you made which are causing some confusion. You said textbooks don’t contain information – they contain a representation of information. And for something to be information, one has to believe in it to be information. So one: is it a necessary condition for someone to believe in something for it to become information?

And second, you said that for some information to convert to knowledge, I should have a reasonable ground to believe in it. So this notion of believing in something for it to become information and then believing in something for it to become knowledge – this is the question I have. Is it a necessary condition for me to believe in something for it to become information?

Vandana: I too have a similar question. I found these two elements common – information and knowledge. When you stated the condition for information – when you have belief in that and that belief is true – true in the sense that you are having a justification – a rational ground. And when you are saying knowledge as well, the information becomes knowledge when you are having justification – justification on the basis of the evidences that you have. So these are the two common elements that we found – information and knowledge. So how are we categorizing these two?

Sushma Sharma: You said that textbooks mainly deal with propositional knowledge. Of course they can indicate – they can be suggestive of – procedural knowledge. I have a question. Do we – a child as well as an adult – need procedural knowledge as well to succeed in life? And when we talk of emotional intelligence or wisdom does it contain procedural knowledge? Or is it just a propositional knowledge?    

Upendra Reddy: Reality is subjective. I can conceptualize or realize it in very different ways. If a pupil reads anything – or if he listens to anything – some sort of mental representations is formed which makes sense to him. It may not be sensible to us. Then can’t we say it is knowledge for him – or information at his own level? How can we define that this is information, or this is not information? Or that this is knowledge and this is not knowledge?

Rohit Dhankar: You see, people often believe without reasonable grounds. People often believe it if some Baba says that if you keep a handkerchief in your pocket, then you will win the case against your rival in the court. So belief does not necessarily require reasonable grounds. God is the biggest belief which never had reasonable grounds and perhaps is yet the most popular belief.

Radhika: The second question was that – is it a necessary condition for me to believe in something for it to become information?

Rohit Dhankar: There is a bit of a normative criterion in this. But please try to understand – if I don’t believe in something, then what use is that information for me? How does it affect my life? Let us take the statement – that leaves make their food in sunlight through photosynthesis. If I don’t believe this – this might be information for someone who believes in it. Is it information for you, if you don’t believe in it? It will become misinformation when it is false. But if you don’t believe, is it information for you? Does it make sense to call it my information?

Let me put a very simple question to you. At this moment, we are not trying to pass exams; we are doing some serious business of living in the world. So what I am saying is – does it make sense to you to say that this is my information but I don’t believe in it? Then where is your information in this? When you claim something to be your information, then you are putting something on it. This is an epistemic responsibility. You are putting some stake in it. That is why I am saying this. If you don’t want to accept it, that is okay.

Vandana, I am saying that a belief, being true, is not necessarily justified. So I can acquire a true belief. You see, I do believe that matter could be changed into energy and the equation that explains this is E=mc2. I do believe that. Do I have justification for that? I don’t. So this might be my true belief, depending on what physicists have told me. But I don’t have the justification for it at this moment. I don’t know those equations. Why do I believe it? If you consider it justified enough that if some reliable scientist says this that is justified – then through testimony, I am justified. So you have to take this kind of justification.

Now, there could be a possibility that some people who I think are reliable are not really reliable. And in that case, I am not justified. So believing and being true is no guarantee that the knower is justified in believing that. And as I already said we believe in many things which are not justified – including the great god.

Textbooks mainly contain propositional knowledge, yes. Let us understand that the kind of knowledge which could be expressed through language and statements of claims about the world automatically becomes propositional knowledge. But there was a question whether procedural knowledge is needed. It is very much needed. We can’t live – we can’t even drink our tea without procedural knowledge. I can’t even lift this chair – I can’t even sit down on this chair. And I cannot do anything without that. This is needed true. But unfortunately, this cannot be represented in the textbooks. So you have to do something. That is why I was saying that textbooks are essentially incomplete. There have to be more things that go in it. In the curriculum, you might have procedural knowledge. And therefore you have to do something more. Please don’t try to do everything through the textbook. The world is bigger than that.

Emotional intelligence – I am sorry; I don’t know what it is. I know emotions, I know intelligence, but I do not know what ‘emotional intelligence’ is. And I am not making a joke of this. It seems to me that emotional intelligence is a self-contradictory concept. I am not saying that there is a contradiction between intelligence and emotion. I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that perhaps segregating intelligence into emotional and several different kinds of intelligence is a mistaken theory. A particular suspect in that is emotional intelligence.

I do not know how many of us know that (Daniel) Goleman wrote this book in half-joke. He wrote this book as a jest in the beginning. And then it became very popular. Therefore the idea of emotional intelligence – not only emotional intelligence but emotional quotient – caught on. And in India, there was some NCERT Director – not the ones you know – an NCERT Director who came up with the idea of spiritual quotient. Let’s please rein our horses and don’t jump on the bandwagon. So I am sorry – I don’t know about emotional intelligence. If you are talking of being reasonable in my emotions towards people, controlling my emotions or, in appropriate places, having those emotions, or relating to people, I am all for that. But I do not know whether that is a separate emotional intelligence or my usual rudimentary garden variety of intelligence that does this job. That I don’t know.

The last thing – about reality is subjective. I don’t know about reality. And if nobody knows, nobody knows whether it is subjective. But the real question is – and it is coming from the constructivist paradigm – does any kind of construction that a child has in his mind become his knowledge? There are two or three serious problems. I might get this construction in my mind that if I flap my hands, then I will fly. And it doesn’t happen. Should I consider it knowledge? This is contradicting my experience directly. Similarly, I might come to various kinds of constructions. When I was in the 6th standard, there was some – I am sorry it’s a bad example, but it just came to my mind so I’ll say it – there were some Albino boys in the school. I thought that they are Angrez (English). This was my construction. Was it knowledge?

If every individual has his or her own knowledge and all knowledge is equal; and if all knowledge is good enough – why do we have education? Why do we have a curriculum? Why do we have textbooks? We can all sleep easy. Everyone has knowledge; everyone can construct this kind of things. So we will have to have a longer discussion on this. But (the claim) that any kind of construction I have in my mind is knowledge is not going to work for me because there are several problems with that.

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