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Women’s Ways of Knowing – Learning and Teaching (3 of 3)

In the previous post on Women’s Ways of Knowing I offered a detailed summary of each “way” of knowing:

  1. Silence: mindless and voiceless
  2. Received knowledge: able to receive but not create knowledge
  3. Subjective knowledge: knowledge is known subjectively; it is personal private and intuitive
  4. Procedural knowledge: able to apply objective procedures to obtain and communicate knowledge
  5. Constructed knowledge: since knowledge is constructed and contextual, it is created; able to value both subjective and objective ways of knowing.

In this final post, I will offer some basic reflections on the value of the authors’ insights as they relate to learning and teaching.



Pure and Objective Truth

I still remember a time when I thought that what I read in a book was pure and objective truth (received knowledge)… after all, only experts get published. As I read more I realized that these supposed experts disagreed with one another (moving toward subjective knowledge). And occasionally, I even found myself disagreeing with an author I liked. My explanation for this disagreement was that if they did not agree with me and the worldview that was engendered by those in my circle of influence then they were just wrong (subjective knowledge).

For me, truth was black and white and I had little room for grey (received knowledge). Authority was invested in those who were essentially in line with my own beliefs and tradition. Authorities outside of this sphere were viewed with suspicion. While I still highly respect those representing my tradition (which has enlarged greatly), I have obviously moved beyond this way of knowing.

Why Aren’t You Passionate About My Passions? – The Power of Subjective Knowledge 

The transition to subjective knowledge involves a crisis regarding the locality of truth. Whereas it used to be associated with a person, book, or group, it is now dispersed and well… highly subjective. One manifestation of this crisis that was mentioned in the prior post is that people conclude that since it is not possible for everyone to be right about something, no one is “right” and “truth” does not exist.

Another reaction, which I might call the “activist” response, is that one’s own sense of subjective truth bearing becomes so strong that the standard of truth becomes one’s own beliefs and experiences. This will often manifest itself when a person experiences disequilibrium, causing him or her to shift belief or perspective on an issue. For example, someone goes to a foreign country and upon return berates the home country, friends, family, etc because they just don’t care about the children / issues / problems of said country. After a while, the person finds it perplexing that others don’t share the same passion. The missing key, of course, is that these other people did not share the same experience and without it fail to grasp the importance held by the “activist.”

It’s not so much that the “activist” is wrong or that other people are wrong. The “activist” arrives at his or her opinion because of key experience. Especially if a new view involves a major shift of thinking, most people will not be persuaded by an “activist” no matter how passionate he or she might be because the shift in thinking requires something akin to the experience.

The Importance of a Mentor

A mentor plays a key role for learners at nearly every stage. For the received-knowledge learner, a mentor’s / teacher’s praise and encouragement may have a profound impact that empowers him or her in unique ways. For the subjective learner, a mentor offers access in a non-threatening way to the experience that makes the mentor a person desirable to model oneself after. Mentors / teachers play a key role in a learner making the transition from subjective knowledge to both procedural and constructed knowledge.



There are two obvious payoffs from this book. First, it invites you, the reader, to reflect on your own personal journey of formation and locate yourself on the “map” of ways of knowing. Second, it invites you to be perceptive toward women students in your class in particular, but also to be aware of learners (including men) in general.

Are You an Expert or a Field Guide? Constructed Knowledge and Critical Thinking

How one teaches says a lot about one’s understanding knowledge acquisition / appropriation. Some adopt the posture of an expert who mediates knowledge to observers (students). This form of teaching often manifests itself exclusively in memorization, lectures, and the regurgitation of “received knowledge” which has been transferred to the student. The topic of study becomes an object which can be examined and dissected with a certain level of detached sterility (procedural knowledge of the separate knowing type). This is problematic because the ideal of objectivity is impossible to attain since the very act of studying a topic “taints” any objectivity assumed to be present. In addition, this posture of teaching is a poor method of teaching students how to think critically or to realize that all knowledge is constructed.

Others adopt the posture of a field or nature guide. The topic is not an object, but a subject, in relation to the guide (teacher) and the learning participants (students). While there will be some lecturing and memorization, other modes of teaching will be implemented since the teacher does not stand between the topic and the students, but along side them. Not only does this different posture bring students into direct contact with the subject being studied, but it honors the insights and knowledge that they already have. This posture also invites critical thinking, creativity, and freedom since “truth” is not located in the expert and there is no ego to defend (ideally). Ultimately, the posture of the field or nature guide promotes experience with the subject but in a way that efficiently leads the learner through the expertise of the field guide.

Many of the above insights derive from Parker Palmer’s profound book The Courage to Teach, which I highly recommend to all teachers.


Published in Personal Growth


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