Un-knowing to Learn

Through my teacher training study I came into contact with Vygotsky who placed a significant importance on language as something that shapes the world of the developing mind. But is language really the strongest, most appropriate tool with which to understand and indeed construct our social world? I have to acknowledge the power of language and I also acknowledge many of the principles of structuralism: I do think language is an important factor in the creation of our social reality. But what constitutes ‘high-quality’ language? Can an academic study, for example, really understand a street-social culture with knowledge, educated discourse and extensive dialogue whilst only talking between academics with academic language discussing academic concepts? Can the language of the street, of the doorstep or the estate be seen as high-quality if it serves its purpose well (a different purpose to that of the classroom).

I have trained in Primary Teaching and understand the difference and importance of ‘Standard English‘ and colloquial language: both serve their purpose. This discussion is more an exposition of the idea that to understand a cultural perspective, if language is so important, understanding may not be able to be transposed into another context. The complications of meaning being ‘lost in translation’ for a local social study are as relevant (if not less stark) than if translating into English the experiences of a child speaking Madarin growing up during the Cultural Revolution.

If language creates a social reality then shouldn’t we use that language to understand it? I would suggest that understanding can never be complete without being culturalised within the language of that culture – this is perhaps a logical argument based on the idea of language as a structural concept but does that not mean that true understanding from outside of a culture is impossible? I’m not saying we shouldn’t try: I try understanding a culture through language every time I go France, with mixed results…

I will conclude my thoughts with the idea that answers don’t always come from building a tower of knowledge based on previous knowledge. Could we also not learn by un-knowing ideas? Do we get to a more core, fundamental ‘truth’ by knowing less – by deconstructing our preconceptions and re-learning within the paradigm of our study subject?

I think it’s importsant for me to recall these thougths when planning methodologies and creating conclusions.

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