Tacit Knowing and Education

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Tacit Knowing and Education

Samantha Martinez

How is tacit knowing or tacit knowledge utilized in the classroom? This has been my question since discovering the term coined by Michael Polanyi and reading the excerpt of The Tacit Dimension as presented to us in our bulk pack. In my previous essays, I reflected on my experiences in a second grade classroom and observations of students being able to or not being able to refer to the tacit dimension in the classroom. In rethinking through Polanyi's assertion that "we can know more than we can tell", I will review ways in which students (children and adults) use intuition and other forms of tacit knowing in the classroom. I will also speak to the detrimental effects of particular school reforms such as the No Child Left Behind Act, which diminish the student's ability to use tacit knowledge in the classroom.

What is tacit knowing/knowledge? It is something that is "implied or indicated but not actually expressed." It is what we already know by way of previous experience, or, habituation that has become second nature. This is not a far-fetched idea. If we go back to Plato's Republic, even he believed that humans have the capability to know the right thing to do because we were born with that information already in our minds. A life of study was a way to reflect on this knowledge and use it for the good of all.

Children respond to material in the classroom using tacit knowledge. All we learn in some way relies on us connecting it somehow to something we already know. Tacit knowledge requires a synthesis of previous experience into the inner workings of the mind and memory. Certainly, other educational theorists saw the importance of this in the classroom. Some ways children use tacit knowledge is in the different interactions between other children and to adults, crying in the classroom to signify pain, confusion, and anger, etc. John Dewey's Experience and Education speaks specifically to this concept. "Every experience is a moving force." I equate "tacit knowing" to having previous experiences. Regardless of our being conscious of the importance of an event, our mind holds on to that experience and becomes a knowledge that we can utilize in the future.

Can tacit knowing be utilized in the classroom? It is my opinion that it is becoming increasingly more difficult, particularly in public schools that must adhere to the strict testing of children for the sake of compliance to the No Child Left Behind Act, to rely on previous knowledge to help students learn in the classroom. Progressive teaching methods such as the theories espoused by Dewey or Paulo Freire are difficult to enact because of the time and energy needed to prepare students for standardized tests. Time, the much-needed commodity, is not available for deviation from scripted curricula. More and more, children are learning for testing, not for real comprehension. It is here that I assume tacit knowing to be dismissed.

One example I can point to is the dismantling of many art and music programs in schools. Music and art are prime examples of the use of tacit knowing. In art, what we cannot say about how we move our hands and combine color to form a beautiful image is precisely what makes us an artist. Practice makes us better, but it builds on what we already know. Music can be spoken of in the same way. Music and art are known to help students learn other subjects, yet they are usually the first programs to be cut.

The concept of tacit knowing is important to our understanding of how students learn and how we can rethink teaching strategies. So many important educational theorists have in some way or another referred to it in their concepts. From Dewey's experience and education to Freire's pedagogy to Eleanor Duckworth's having of wonderful ideas...It will be interesting to see how educators in public schools will circumvent the move from teaching to pass standardized tests to teaching to help students expand the knowledge they already know.

Works Cited:
Polanyi, Michael. The Tacit Dimension. Rpt. BMC Bulk Pack. Fall 2004. Garden City: Doubleday and Co.

Dewey, John. Experience and Education. 1938. New York. Touchstone. 1997.

Duckworth, Eleanor. The Having of Wonderful Ideas. New York: Columbia University. 1987

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