Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Things you don't know you don't know

Long ago, I had a teacher who decried (then) modern schooling as simply "giving student's names for things they do not understand". In my own teaching I emphasised personal concept formation but always acknowledged the importance of having a label that allowed you to describe what you thought you knew. Today I have found a new name that will help me to sound far more learned.

The daily activities of a family historian are mainly about confronting his or her own ignorance. Each step backward in time or each new document type reveals as much about our own (mis)understanding of the world as it does about our ancestors.

Every day I learn something new. On most days it is something that I had not even imagined. In the now notorious terms used by Donald Rumsfeld, they are "unknown unknowns – [...] things we do not know we don't know."

Now, by courtesy of Deutsche Welle Word of the Week, I know that I am confronting my Bildungslücke, literally "education gap."

Bildungslücke are not obscure or arcane pieces of knowledge. They are those things that "everybody else" knows but you do not.

Have a conversation about popular culture with your children and you will quickly see that there are significant gaps in the assumed knowledge on both sides.

Each day you engage with genealogy, you are in a conversation across many generations. There are many things that your ancestors would have taken for granted as being common knowledge, but for you they are … well, they are Bildungslücke.

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