Wissenschaft and Kenntnis

How does teachers’ use of multiple instructional strategies benefit students?

Leonard Sax (2007) talks about different kinds of knowing.  He explains that in most European languages, there are two separate verbs for knowing.  In German, for example, “knowledge about a person or a place that you’ve actually experienced is Kenntnis, from kennen, ‘to  know by experience’; knowledge learned from books is Wissenschaft,  from wissen, ‘to know about something’” (Sax, 2007, p. 28).  He goes on to argue, “American education, today more than ever before, is characterized by a serious lack of understanding of, and respect for, Kenntnis” (Sax, 2007, p. 29).  He cites “more than fifty years of research on the importance, for child development, of multisensory interaction with the real world….in order for the child’s brain and mind to develop properly” (Sax, 2007, p. 29).  Combining direct instruction (DI) with indirect and experiential instruction creates better-rounded educational environment.

In particular, adding experiential instruction to a wissenschaft-heavy curriculum creates a much more meaningful context for learning.  Sax says it well, “You can easily find high school students in America today who can tell you about the importance of the environment, the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle, and so on, but they’ve never spent a  night outdoors” (Sax, 2007, p. 30).  An all-wissenschaft curriculum sucks the life, energy, joy, and curiosity from learning.  Human beings are social animals and made of flesh and blood.  To be fully realized, they need social interactions, exchanges of ideas, touch and taste and texture.  Depriving them of these human experiences necessarily reduces the education and the student.  Of course, there are situations and subjects that require direct instruction.  However, even then the learning, breadth of learning, and the learning retention will benefit from a generous integration with indirect learning strategies.

Sax, L. (2007). Boys adrift: The five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men. New York, NY: Basic Books.


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