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Knowledge & Knowing

May 26, 2020

In a previous post, I shared David W. Orr’s writing about Fast & Slow Knowledge. And I wanted to share some more from scholars who opened me to different meanings of knowledge & modes of knowing here.

Nancy J. Turner, introducing the book Sacred Ecology (2nd edition) by Dr.Fikret Berkes writes:

“Perhaps the most profound message we can take away is that our beliefs matter in our interactions with our environment, and that knowledge is more than just something that is known; it is also the process of gaining information and wisdom.”

In the same book, Dr.Fikret Berkes recollects from his meeting with Ojibwa tribal resource managers in Ontario as follows:

“…The one thing they wanted to discuss, over and above all else was, how does one talk to elders? How does one learn from them? Now almost a decade later, I think they meant, how do you access elders’ ways of knowing. This is, as Katja Neves-Graça would put it, ‘knowledge, the process’ was what they were interested in; not ‘knowledge, the thing known.’

This got me thinking about how children in our society are educated today; With an emphasis on what they know in their heads without much consideration to how they come to know, enact, or live it. Our children’s lives are artificially divided into a period of gaining knowledge (education) which is separate from a period of its actual application (work) at a later stage in life.

I cannot forget a story that Ramavatar Singh told during my cycle yatra in rural Rajasthan. It was about a conversation Ram had with an elderly gentleman, earlier when Ram used to be a teacher in a village. The gentleman apparently asked him something like:

“Why do you try filling your heads first and later struggle to do something with your limbs? We learn to do with our limbs, our bodies, and we would have learned something in our heads as well. How is your education better?”

I had initially interpreted this as practical/experiential learning, or learning by doing. Now I understand it slightly different - knowledge as a process which is inseparable from the known or even lived.

Talking about knowledge again, Robin Wall Kimmerer, in her book Braiding Sweetgrass quotes a native scholar, Greg Cajete:

“…in indigenous ways of knowing, we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit. I came to understand quite sharply when I began training as a scientist that science privileges only one, possibly two, of those ways of knowing: mind and body.”

How do we want to know? How do we want our kids to know?