Volume 3, 1999
Philosophy of Education
Catherine Z. Elgin
Education and the Advancement of Understanding
Understanding, as I construe it, is holistic. It is a matter of how commitments mesh to form a mutually supportive, independently supported system of thought. It is advanced by bootstrapping. We start with what we think we know and build from there. This makes education continuous with what goes on at the cutting edge of inquiry. Methods, standards, categories and stances are as important as facts. So something like E. D. Hirsch’s list of facts every fourth grader should know is slightly silly. What makes for a good fourth grade education is not the set of facts the fourth grader knows, but the level of understanding she has achieved and the resources she can deploy to advance that understanding. Facts are part of the story, but so are fictions, methods, standards, and categories. A major part of understanding is recognizing what problems remain to be solved.