How Are Things?


Our educational processes are in fact the upcoming major world industry.

Richard Buckminster Fuller

Every financier ought to be a polymath, because finance is the thread that runs through every aspect of life. It is indeed the knot where all the disparate strands of human existence come together. Business is the common denominator of all activities and enterprises. This, in turn, means there is no affair that does not pertain to the businessman. To him everything is relevant. He is the true Renaissance man. And this is why I gave myself to the pursuit of knowledge in every conceivable realm, from history and geography to chemistry and meteorology.

Not everyone has to approach things scientifically. Not even in business, although one of the characters in Hernan Diaz's novel suggests otherwise. Let the scientist do the science and the entrepreneur do the business, right? We really don't have to be scientists to be able to make a profit - the reward for taking risks with our business, thus securing a particular area of people's lives, or even improving conditions in it. It seems that the goals of science and the goals of business are in some sense linked - in both areas people secure and improve the living conditions of other people - with some risk. The question that arises from these connections might be this: How could teaching aimed at developing scientific knowledge contribute to the young generation's ability to do something useful in business and thus create value? Certainly, the scientific process is not the only way in which young people can be encouraged to create value. Of course, other learning pathways - not just those that rely on hypotheses, observations or experiments - can also lead to young people creating something new, something useful. The particular benefit of such an approach to learning can be to foster the engaged curiosity of a 21st century generation that knows how to focus in a purposeful and controlled way, that knows how and what to observe as well as investigate, that knows the processes by which to find out more, and that knows how to deal usefully with it all. In short, knowing how to look at the world through the eyes of different scientific disciplines, and then how to usefully enter into it.

We say nothing new when we remind ourselves that it is the field of scientific work where exploratory cognition or investigative thinking is applied. Question How are things? stands at the beginning of every scientific endeavour. It is up for debate which is more significant: the findings of how things are or the refinement of the cognitive procedures by which the findings were made.

Let us assume that an adult in the 21st century will possess some measure of scientific culture. This includes both the cognitive procedures for describing the world and the sum of knowledge that has been created and grows with the development of those cognitive procedures. We are thus counting on a developed culture of the individual - a functionally communicating human being who has learned to think in different perspectives and to act usefully also thanks to teaching based on focused scientific discovery. Attention will therefore be understood here as a developed ability to observe something dynamic over a long period of time, the ability to perceive and assess the development of a process in a concentrated way, or to anticipate its continuation promptly. The ability to observe dynamic phenomena, meanwhile, can be understood as a practical component of exploratory inquiry or inventive research that is implicit in the goals of teaching biology, physics, chemistry, or history.

Admittedly, growing beans on cotton wool, muscles in motion, the movement of a plant, and society in its historical development are also relevant as objects of observation in school. In school, it can be both simple observations (what happens to a plastic bottle when hot water is poured into it and then sealed?) and a more coherent perception of change over a longer period of time (how will two different houseplants react if exposed to different conditions?); it can be a reconstruction of the development of the literary canon through the comparison of texts and a reconstruction of a human story from the past through the school's historical sources. Of course, it is not just about observation itself - that has a beginning and an end, at some point it passes and the object of observation is suddenly just a deformed sculpture, a pretty flower on a windowsill, a strange poem or a diary entry of a historical person. It is all about the thought and communication processing of the observation, about the sensory perception of the observed process resulting in a record and interpretation of the data that faithfully conveys the findings - how the process took place, what it led to, how it differed from expectations - in short, the findings of how things really are.

At the end of a teaching process in which teachers lead pupils to make focused observations or experiments, it does not have to be only an academic specialist with a high scientific culture who is at the receiving end. Imagine, for example, a security guard who is responsible for the smooth running of shopping in a mall. Obviously, a substantial part of his work will consist of concentrated observation - an activity that requires a certain concierge stamina - the ability to cope with interruptions - and therefore a certain degree of communication resilience. Active attention is an essential part of the work of a person who has to observe several processes at the same time from several points of view - typical and unusual customer behaviour at different stages of the shopping process - browsing, selecting, comparing, trying on goods. Such a worker bears the burden of selective attention - they purposely sort events (both common manifestations and suspicious customer actions), observe some events in more detail, ignore some purposely, compare actual observations with mediated knowledge and their own observations, draw simple conclusions from them and act on them in a specified way. Both the accuracy of their observation and the appropriateness of their action are conditioned by the degree or quality of their attention. Finally, the protection of the values which are the subject of economic exchange also depends on their powers of observation.

One of the characters in Hernan Diaz's novel notes that his entrepreneurially motivated quest for knowledge has led him to a disciplined curiosity. Yes, at the end of the educational journey in school there may well be academic specialists for whom a planned exploratory approach to the world becomes a way of making a living. But school doesn't have to be only about teachers' contribution to educating people who help sustain and improve the lives of others through scientific means. In an age of permanent digital distraction, it can be about more - about drawing students to the physical world through their exploration of it, about fostering the cognitive patience without which valid and memorable findings cannot be arrived at, about developing the disciplined curiosity that, since at least the Renaissance, has been involved in ground-breaking discoveries, carefully considered inventions, and innovative solutions. The reward for such teaching efforts can be an educational stake in a generation that can consistently perceive and sustainably create the values on which the present of humanity will depend for its continuation in the future, and whether the future itself will not remain an unverifiable hypothesis in which it will no longer be possible to do anything useful.

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Karel Dvořák PhD. – DaCoSiDe expert tasked with the creation of A2/B1-level methodological guidelines and certification tools


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