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Who can teach? Pondering on teaching as a process

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

As per common logic, if one knows and cares about sharing knowledge, one can teach. But this is not a simple statement. What does knowing mean? Who knows and who doesn’t?

There are four kinds of knowing — cognitive knowing, experiential knowing , witnessed knowledge and negotiated knowledge. Cognitive knowing exists in thought; Experiential knowing exists in memory of personal or collective experience; witnessed knowledge exists in history and negotiated knowledge exists in political understanding.

Cognitive knowing describes knowledge that is modelled in thought first. From thought it is translated into action of course. And it is called cognitive knowing because the action is understood as a part of an outcome of action. The action confirms the conceptual knowledge and completes it. The way the action shapes configures the conceptual knowledge differently. This is also called action research — the concepts are formulated by actually analysing the action. There is a wide scope iteration, improvisation and failure. Cognitive knowledge develops with experience, experimentation and discussion.

Experiential knowledge on the other hand is knowledge gleaned from the experience of either self or others. Personal experience is not necessary. Peer or collective experience is as useful for the purposes of learning. Learning from one’s own experience or someone else’s experience both need the action/event to be analysed from the perspective of learning to do it in a better way. Whether better means more efficient, more frugal or more nuanced form depends on the context and the objective.

Witnessed knowledge is slightly different. Whereas experiential knowledge emerges from at least a relationship to the action — the act of witnessing is just related to “being in the presence of.” Presence can mean different things in different settings — either physical or figurative presence through some technological means. Telepresence is an entirely different framework.

In the end, we will discuss negotiated knowledge. As we noted earlier, this form of knowledge exists in political understanding. What that means is that this form of knowledge is gained through constant struggle and activism. It occupies a contested space and has to be negotiated constantly. These truths or principles are not stable. They occupy a fragile space in the contemporary political climate. There are lots of shifts in negotiated knowledge — some progressive, some regressive.

Each of these forms of knowledge and a desire and capacity to share it and further it is a qualification to teach. Scholastic or pedantic knowledge does not qualify us to teach. Because knowledge has to be felt at close quarters for it to be real. Merely postulating ideas is not enough.

Working from these understandings, there are no built-in hierarchies in the structure of who can teach. Some teachers can be young, some old, some physically present, some only remotely present, some academically qualified and some not…

Teaching is both a role and a profession. Qualifications for the role to be performed and the professional responsibilities to be performed differ substantially. For the role to be performed, one needs to know. But for the professional space to be occupied, one only needs evidence of knowing. This evidence is not a personal validation of one’s capacities — although it is supposed to be. None of the forms of knowledge we discussed support or attest these professionally used forms of evidence.

Absence of a system that can make sure that individuals do indeed possess the knowledge and attitude required to genuinely teach and be helpful makes the impersonal and vague evidence system necessary.

Because this vague system is in place, we have to develop the capacity to validate an individual ourselves before we accept them as a teacher. And teachers should have no problem in being tested in such a manner — all the claims they make are based on this act of personal validation.

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