Writing About Education And Life

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Three Forms Of Knowledge

Today, an education may not educate. Many are the impressive-looking educational institutions in the world touting that they impart knowledge and life-changing paradigms for students enrolled. Is this the truth? Or just another marketing tagline? Sadly, the more I interact with society, I discover how little many of us think deeply about things big and small. In fact, many of us have not really thought about the term “knowledge”. What is knowledge? Do schools impart knowledge? Why then do most of us admit that much of the knowledge we receive from school is not useful in the real world? Is the so-called knowledge we learn from school no different from information, like the information found in a telephone book?

I will not define “knowledge” but you should ponder about what knowledge is and differentiate “knowledge” from “information”. In this article, I hope to turn your attention to forms of knowledge that are sometimes overlooked. The highest form of knowledge has evaded many of us. In fact, some of you may even reject this knowledge. However, it is my intention to prove to you that the 3rd form of knowledge exists and should be sought after.

I classify knowledge into 3 forms – Book Knowledge, Street Knowledge and Camouflaged Knowledge. Book Knowledge is the lowest form of knowledge and is commonly found in school. This knowledge is really a mixture of knowledge and information, and one need not go to school to receive this form of knowledge. With the rise of the shadow education phenomenon, so-called modern man is commonly stuck with Book Knowledge and only a minority will ascend much higher than this. This shadow education phenomenon is caused by another phenomenon which I term the “learning-for-assessment” syndrome. (Let's leave this tiresome realm where endless arguments sometimes blur the minds of some experts and academics.)

Street Knowledge is prized today (and has always been prized). What is Street Knowledge? It is the knowledge, usually learnt through experience, about the insights of doing things effectively, especially when related to human behaviour. Sun Tzu’s Art Of War is a book version of Street Knowledge and it contains very insightful observations of human behaviour and warfare. A contemporary, whom I respect for his Street Knowledge in business, is Harvey Mackay. If you read his book, Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, you will find that it contains nuggets of insights that may blow you away. No amount of Book Knowledge can compete with Street Knowledge.


Let me cite an example to demonstrate this. One day, Mackay bought an envelope company which was losing money. He did not know much about envelopes at all. Well, if Book Knowledge were a person, what would his advice to Mackay be?  Book Knowledge, in the person of Business 101, would probably have told him to create a business plan, be clear of his products’ winning features, etcetera. However, this gentleman had Street Knowledge. Streetwise, he tailed his competitor’s delivery truck to the offices of several clients and noted down their addresses. On another day, he met and offered them difficult-to-refuse prices for his envelopes. Overnight, Mackay gained a significant number of clients. Wow! A demonstration of street-wisdom! A demonstration of insight that is highly prized in the world. Unfortunately, few institutions teach Street Knowledge and those that do do so behind closed doors and high price tags. 

How streetwise are you? Do you know that Street Knowledge is important in every field of life? Take teaching for example. A new teacher without Street Knowledge suffers in school because she does not know how to manage a classroom of energetic students effectively. Failing so, a Degree, a Masters Degree or even an expensive PhD can offer you nothing. Do teaching institutions all over the world teach teachers how to manage their classes practically and effectively? Or do they give out notes on classroom management that have little practical value? However, if the new teacher knew about the existence and importance of Street Knowledge, she would be determined to seek it out. If she were fortunate, she would stumble upon Harry Wong’s First Days Of School, which is a streetsmart book on the science and art of teaching. 

I would like to tell you about the third form of knowledge but Street Knowledge advises me against doing so (because this article has gotten a little long and I know when it does, some readers may lose interest.)