A Dot on a Page

Photo by David Davies

If the page on which this blog appears represents all of the knowledge that is available to day, how much of it do you know?  For me, the period at the end of this sentence is probably too big to  represent accurately the range of my knowledge.


To make it  more confounding, the volume of that knowledge is expanding exponentially (by some estimates it doubles every 84 days) so the period at the end of the sentence becomes increasingly smaller by comparison, and increasingly less significant. 


Indeed, according to the futurist Ray Kurzweil, the technological revolution (whereby technology doubles in power each year and declines in size and cost) will lead to exponential growth to the point that the amount of knowledge will have increased one billion-fold by 2049.  That is beyond my ability to imagine. 


For much of my life I was passionate about history, in particular European and African history, and that ardor gradually enlarged to include education in general.  (As an aside, my degree, with majors in history and geography, did not include so much as one course in American history!)  I soon realized that if I taught only what I knew then I was confining students to one miniscule period on a large page, a drop of water amid the ocean of knowledge.   The challenge of the educator (as compared to the teacher) is to arouse students’ curiosity so that they begin to explore the  water for themselves and find, hopefully something about which they will feel passionate and someone about whom the feel passionately to share it with.  In the words of the Jewish proverb, “Confine not your children to your own learning, for they are of a different generation.” 


When we teach students what to think rather than how to think (and standardized tests can all too easily reinforce this – what is referred to in some countries as ‘the tyranny of the test’,)  we are drumming our knowledge into them rather than developing the mental skills they will need long after they have left our care.  


The word ‘education’ comes from ‘educare’ which means to draw forth, not to pour in.


Am I saying that there is no room for basic, fundamental knowledge? Of course not, as long as that is not all there is.   And even at some of the best institutions of learning in this country there is evidence that the scales weigh more heavily in favor of the 'what' rather than the 'how.' 


And then twelve years ago I discovered honey bees, or perhaps they discovered me.  And gradually another dot on the page came into focus.  It was a new area to explore.  Certainly I had  enjoyed biology at school and always had an affinity for nature, but never before was there this invitation to jump into the deep end, to get gloriously wet.   


And gradually the dots began to connect themselves, patterns emerged, a ‘network of learning’ that was enticing and rewarding.  The content, the challenges, were new to me, but the principles (analysis, synthesis, evaluation and application) were the same, and the skills that I had tried to develop in others could be applied to this new droplet of glistening water. 


The rewards are never ending and, like blowing up a balloon, the more air (ie. knowledge) that is introduced, the greater the surface area that is exposed to the unknown.  It is not overwhelming; in fact the challenge is appropriate.  Besides jig saws I also enjoy doing sudokus and crosswords ... but not if they’re easy.  If they are, it is simply routine, no more than rote memory using the lower order thinking skills (recall and comprehension.)  To be satisfying there is a need to be extended, to be stretched and challenged.  There is nothing quite so fulfilling as reaching an apparent impasse and using the higher order thinking skills to move past it.


The same applies to keeping honey bees.  At first I was satisfied just to learn, to keep them alive over winter, to find the queen and read a frame.  Now the joy comes from choosing to extend myself, essentially by reading, by attending good conferences and rubbing shoulders with others who are similarly inspired, and by listening. 


In this respect the bees have been great teachers for me, not least about life, both mine and theirs. 



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Latest comments

27.11 | 16:01

Moustache, wax? Of course. Now if all of the drones had mustaches ...

27.11 | 12:43

One of our club members says he got into beekeeping in order to make his own mustache wax. There's the explanation for the bearded/mustached ABF attendees!

13.08 | 05:43

Good morning Mr. Barnes, I'm so pleased to see the best of history teachers is still going strong! Looking at your website brings back some great memories

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