Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Work of Knowing

Academics are people whose job it is to know. It is important in a society that some people take this work upon themselves. Every morning they get up, and then get down to the business of knowing things. It is true that everyone "knows" things all the time in their own way, but it's not everyone's job to do so. We will all also find ourselves, at one time or another, having to put out a fire, and we'll (hopefully) find we are able to do it. That doesn't make us firemen.

Everyone can dance.

The work of knowing includes, essentially, the work of research and the work of teaching. Some academics work to know about medieval poetry, some work to know about sub-atomical particles. Some work to know "Donna me prega", some the Higgs boson. Each knower has his or her set of objects. Our professional knowers are expected to continuously revise and update their knowledge by engaging with the class of objects for which they are responsible. And they are expected to pass on what they know to a new generation of knowers who will continue the work. Some things we already know about the Higgs field, and must simply be taught. Much still needs to be discovered. We will never know enough about "Donna me prega" either.

It is very important that our knowers be given good conditions under which to work, to study and to teach. These conditions, of course, depend on the state of our universities. As a society, we must always ask ourselves whether we are providing our academics with conditions that are favorable to the work we are asking them to do. And academics must also always ask themselves whether they can work under the conditions we provide them. Not just "work", of course. Anyone can look busy.

Are we able, under these conditions, to do the work of knowing?

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