Differences in knowledge not reason

Steven K. Graham

From the archives: Posted on 15th April, 1995

A poster wrote:

“That view implies that the child and adult are equally adept at taking information and “building a model” or whatever you want to call the thought process. Clearly the child has less information, but I think the chief difference is that he doesn’t know what to do with the information he has. Thinking requires a method which has to be learned. To me, that’s what education is, learning how to think.”

Why do you believe that a child doesn’t know what to do with the information he has? Why do you think that thinking requires a method which has to be learned?

As an alternative view, we can work from the idea that a child has less information. To me, learning is building a conceptual framework and adding to it, reorganizing it, etc. So, when a child takes in information, she is engaged in the same process as an adult  – but the framework that she will relate that information to is less well formed (or we could say the theories are less stable and more fragile). As (limited) support for this view, I would suggest looking at areas where a child has as much or more information than the adult. 

Within certain limited domains, a child may well have more information than a particular adult, and when I’ve observed situations such as that I do not feel that the child’s reasoning is in any way less formed than the adult’s. (As long as the topic under discussion does not wander into areas where the adult does have substantially superior knowledge.)

So – if the child does not in fact know what to do with the information – why does it seem otherwise in the case I cited? Or do you disagree with the observation? I certainly haven’t done any painstaking observations to explore the case of a child with more knowledge in a limited domain – but what I described does seem to be quite true to me.

Let me restate the theory clearly. Under ordinary circumstances, there appear to be differences in the reasoning. I claim that such differences are an artifact of the differences in knowledge and not any actual differences in reasoning. (In point of fact, some of the differences are due to the adult’s reliance on entrenched theories, while the child is in fact reasoning.)

Steven K. Graham, 1995, ‘Differences in knowledge not reason’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/differences-in-knowledge-not-reason/