What counts as knowledge, and how might we redefine this — whether in an elementary science classroom or inside the walls of a prison?
This question lies at the center of a recent episode of Wisconsin Public Radio’s “University of the Air,” on which UW–Madison’s Rosemary Russ is a guest. Russ is an associate professor in the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and the faculty co-director of the Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence program.
The episode, titled “Knowledge Turned Upside Down,” examines how we know what we know, who we see as “knowledgeable,” and how we decide what knowledge matters.
Referencing the episode’s title, program host Emily Auerbach begins by asking Russ why this is important — why “turning knowledge upside down” matters.
To answer this question, Russ talks about what she’s seen happen in classrooms. “Teachers hold all of this knowledge, and then they just give it to their students,” Russ says. “And oftentimes when that happens, particular kinds of knowledge are valued. And then that means that only particular students who have that particular kind of knowledge are valued.”
It is is a real problem “when some people are seen as ‘knowers,’ and some people are not seen as knowers,” Russ says, referencing a book that is titled “Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing,” by Miranda Fricker.
She explains that it’s a problem, “obviously for the people who aren’t seen as knowers… They are really dehumanized, (and) they don’t have the opportunity to share in (the) knowledge exchange that’s happening in a in a specific space.”
Russ adds that those not seen as “knowers” may lose “intellectual courage,” which she explains, “is the opportunity to share their knowledge and not back down.”
“So you can imagine if someone is not seen as a ‘knower’ in a particular context, they might not feel comfortable engaging in a disagreement with someone,” Russ says.
To learn more, check out the full episode at wpr.org.