We go about our day and tasks based on our knowledge of what we need to get done through the day. Some of these tasks are where we apply our thinking, but many are routine, and we get conditioned into doing them. Conditioned to the point that we believe them to be true and have adopted them as our habit, allowing these early formed understanding to block any new learning.
We receive knowledge from who we consider at the time, the more knowledgeable other. That could be our parents, teachers, peers, analogue or digital media. The benefit of received wisdom is that it does not add to our cognitive load because we don’t have to re-interpret every situation to understand it. This is the shared knowledge that we have received, and it helps us to create our own personal knowledge, which in turn we feed back into shared knowledge. It just saves time.
Now, the problem arises when we use this received wisdom as true and unchangeable. It then has the potential of creating biases. Biases that stop us from change, from thinking and innovating.
For example, it is widely believed that students must follow a timetable in school and that the class that the student goes to must be decided on his age. Received wisdom, which we follow almost all the time.
A couple of years back, I changed the format of doing lesson observations. Again, a received conventional wisdom that during the lesson observation, you observe the teacher to see how the lesson is transacted and of course how students learn. But what I wanted to observe was not just the teacher but the students. So, the observation scheduled was set to shadow the students of one particular grade for two days from the start of the day to the end of day.
Observing students and their reaction to different subjects, teachers, the effect of the time of day on their alertness and interest, going through the rhythm of studying four or five different subjects in a day was a revelation. The evidence gathered allowed us to have worthwhile discussions, debates and propose changes.
Conventional wisdom will work sometimes but not always. At least don’t let it stop you from thinking. In fact, be ready to refute them sometimes.
You can’t use an old map to explore a new world.