[FoRK] Agnotology

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sun Apr 24 18:56:59 PDT 2011

Nice. Too bad I was ignorant of it.

> What don't we know, and why don't we know it? What keeps ignorance alive, or allows it to be used as a political instrument? 
> Agnotology—the study of ignorance—provides a new theoretical perspective to broaden traditional questions about "how we know" to 
> ask: Why don't we know what we don't know? The essays assembled in /Agnotology/ show that ignorance is often more than just an 
> absence of knowledge; it can also be the outcome of cultural and political struggles. Ignorance has a history and a political 
> geography, but there are also things people don't want you to know ("Doubt is our product" is the tobacco industry slogan). 
> Individual chapters treat examples from the realms of global climate change, military secrecy, female orgasm, environmental 
> denialism, Native American paleontology, theoretical archaeology, racial ignorance, and more. The goal of this volume is to better 
> understand how and why various forms of knowing do not come to be, or have disappeared, or have become invisible.


Too bad we missed this:

On history & ignorance:
> While graduate schools of education offer courses on "teaching mathematics" and "teaching science," history instruction is thrown 
> into a mishmash called "teaching social studies," Wineburg says. Over the years, social studies has "morphed into a catch-basin 
> for every single social fad. [It] has lost its compass," he says. "When you embrace everything, you embrace nothing." A social 
> studies teacher may be a psychology or child development major, despite the fact that almost every high school offers courses on 
> American and world history. In Pennsylvania, Wineburg notes, an adult is qualified to teach high school American history having 
> last studied the subject in the seventh grade.
> In contrast to lax teaching requirements, higher and higher standards are being demanded of high school students. In the late 
> 1980s, California changed the name of its high school social studies curriculum to history/social science. "That was 
> revolutionary," Wineburg says. To mirror this change, when Wineburg joined the School of Education faculty in 2002, Stanford 
> became the first university in the country to change the name of its social studies course to "Teaching History/Social Science."
> Today, students in the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) know they need to have studied some history before taking 
> Wineburg's course. "If people haven't studied history seriously at the undergraduate level and they have this stereotypical notion 
> that history is boring, and it's all facts and it's all known ­ this dead chronicle that you've got to get kids to commit to 
> memory ­ they will perpetuate such attitudes to a future generation of students," he says. "If you don't understand that history 
> is argument and clashing interpretations, and have a firmament of knowledge to depend on, you're going to resort to this form of 
> instruction."
> Wineburg wants high school history instruction to dump the minutiae scored in multiple-choice tests and return to core notions 
> that help students construct a usable narrative that can inform their understanding of contemporary affairs. "When the majority of 
> kids leaving school cannot date the Civil War and are confused about whether the Korean War predated or followed World War II, how 
> far do we want to go on insisting [they] know about the battle at Fort Wagner, Young-hill Kang's East Goes West ..." he asks, 
> referring to questions found on standardized tests.
> In a footnote, Wineburg notes that even professional historians do poorly outside their research specialization. In a 1991 study, 
> Wineburg found that when historians trained at Stanford, Berkeley and Harvard answered questions from a leading high school 
> textbook, they scored a mere 35 percent ­ in some cases lower than a comparison group of high school students taking Advanced 
> Placement U.S. History. "Technology may have changed since 1917, but the capacity of the human mind to retain information has 
> not," he writes.


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