For Your Consideration E501

In E501 we are discussing whether there really is such a thing as the solitary author, alone with discrete knowledge, with reasoning manufactured from within without outside influence? Or is the idea of all work and knowledge as collaborative and defined by social negotiations, as Kenneth Bruffee proclaims, true? Is the writing we do just recycled knowledge debated and accepted within our discourse communities? Is knowledge only a product of collaboration?

About the same time as I read Bruffee in E501, I read something corresponding in a reading assignment for E637. I got a nice refresher in American history. And, as often happens in my grad program, information I read in one class is relevant for another. Enter John Locke and his theories on how humans acquire knowledge.

John Locke (1632-1704) wrote in, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, how we acquire the materials of knowledge-epistemologically speaking-basically finding out how we know what we know. In Locke’s theory the mind is a tabula rasa or blank sheet, waiting for us to inscribe knowledge through experience and reflection.  (Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy)  Sound familiar? Bruffee gets close to this notion of the lack of individual knowledge by saying we eventually experience learning through collaboration…

Of course, this theory of the mind as a tabula rasa, or clean slate, remains a controversial topic as other social groups have picked up the theory as a way to explain the absence of intrinsic knowledge. Often the theory’s tenets are twisted and it just comes across as discrimination as can be read in “The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination: Racisim in America” by Jean Lau Chin.

In American history, the founding fathers applied Locke’s theory as a persuasive ideal to build knowledge on an erased Nationalistic slate, a clean start, after British repression. They implemented the ideal of a “do over” for the populous as a positive.  Along with this social clemency, they taught a moral philosophy of civic virtues, then adopted and dispersed it to the colonies as a means to unify a nation under one identity.

In E501 we read Kenneth Bruffee’s Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind’ where he makes the claim that we only have knowledge once we collaborate in groups. Do we each have stand alone knowledge or do we have to wait until we find a few people to talk amongst (Here’s a topic!) and figure out where we stand? Of course not, we all have unique knowledge but we might learn more, or add to our knowledge, by moving around in social groups, collaborating, pooling knowledge and experiences. Maybe one person’s experience will add a dimension to our own, thus shedding light on new avenues of thought. Sounds mystical, but in many ways the mind and how we learn is unfathomable. We just don’t know. But theories, like Bruffee’s, give pause and allow us to be open and ponder another viewpoint. I look forward to more discussions on collaboration this week.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. journalpulp
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 13:16:46

    “In many ways the mind and how we learn is unfathomable. We just don’t know.”

    There are still things we don’t know, of course, but this doesn’t mean that the human mind unfathomable. It’s true that at any stage of learning, no matter how erudite any one person becomes, there’s always more to know, and knowledge by definition — by virtue of what it is — accumulates gradually. And yet, just as we’ve come to understand everything from the circulatory system to the Northern Lights, we will come to understand how the mind works.

    Regarding the nuts-and-bolts of concept formation, which is the building blocks of learning, Thomas Aquinas, with his theory of relations, has, I think, provided a crucial key, and many of the neo-Thomist philosophers have as good an understanding of epistemology — the science of knowledge — as any one of whom I’m aware.

    Great post, great writing. Keep on keeping on.

  2. composingrhetoric
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 08:47:57

    I completely agree with your idea that collaboration is a great way for people to learn and that everyone is different. There are so many different and unique ways that people learn and we can’t just pick one and claim that everyone will learn in that same exact way.
    It is very interesting as well, as you mentioned, to hear other’s points of views and to have an understanding of how people differ in their learning techniques.
    Great post and can’t wait to read more of your writing 🙂

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