Paradigm – loose ends, tidy thinking Part 1

Knowing about knowledge Part 1


Ontology-Epistemology-Axiology-Pedagogy – a teacher’s paradigm.

I’m writing this series of pieces as reflective research; I believe that writing is research, not merely a product of it.  It certainly helps me to clarify my own thinking and I’m grateful to you for your reading of it. The purpose is to get a better understanding of pedagogy in theory and practice, as the professional core of teaching. I feel I’ll be closer to that after this Part 1 and the following Part 2.

Thanks to Nina C Smith ( ) for her gentle comment on my recent post:

Thanks for this interesting post. I would also add axiology to your building blocks of paradigm, just because the value level decisions are the ones that define your other choices. I wrote a blogpost about the dimensions of teachers’ learning process to clarify my thinking about that. It seems to me that you are using information and knowledge somewhat interchangeably, and I was hoping you could clarify the connection between procedural/declarative knowledge in your thinking of pedagogy.”

I’ve been missing something important. I’ve been circling around it and glimpsed it now and again. I’ve had an image in my mind but not expressed it. In my last post I said In teaching, our stock in trade is reality and knowledge about reality. Of course there’s no right or wrong about what reality and truth might be. Everyone has the right to their own beliefs. Teachers are assumed to have beliefs that are generally virtuous as are other professionals, but outside this limitation teachers are entitled to believe as they see fit.” As I was writing this I was also thinking “But what if a teacher isn’t virtuous?” In my work I’ve witnessed a senior teacher being physically cruel to a student in school. The teacher was never held to account; they left the school before a police investigation into alleged systematic cruelty got under way got under way. The school was subsequently closed down.

Nina, trained as a teacher in Finland, says ‘….. the value decisions are the ones that define your other choices.’

We talk about the ethos of a school but what does it mean? What when you walk into a school you can often sense it from all kinds of signs around you, in the corridors, in classrooms, in the playground, in the road outside. Schools often state their values on their websites – how are these values arrived at? I haven’t come across an organized way of thinking about his in my experience in the U.K. as student, teacher and person. I’ve known that we don’t pay as much attention to this side of teaching as happens outside the U.K., since talking to a Norwegian friend in the early 2000s about his training as a teacher in Norway. It wasn’t there in my own PGCE training in 1993 and I think my experience is generally true for other teachers. In reading for the blogs I’ve been writing over the last weeks I didn’t come across the term axiology. Now Nina C Smith has made me aware of it, it’s easy to find.

Axiology is the study of values and of how different people determine the value of different things. Different people can approach the same item and value it in a different way. Included as values are ethics, morals, religion and aesthetic values. Depending on the individual the value he or she assigns an object or idea can either match their reality if it is a valid judgment of value, or distort it such as when too much value is accorded a particular item by others, making it seem to be worth more than it actually is.

To give a value to an item, idea or belief, priorities need to be set in a person’s mind. The person needs to compare the new item, belief or idea to those that are already known or held and then decide which one has more value. All people assign value and they do so in a pattern that is unique to themselves. Axiology studies how people make these decisions and the patterns of value setting that can be discerned. (See

The second point Nina C Smith makes is my use of the terms information and knowledge interchangeably. That was a mistake and I’ve been working to try to correct it.

I support the view that unlike information, knowledge isn’t stored in the brain somehow as relatively fixed material, it’s created in a specific situation. It’s never recreated in the same way again or used in the same way to produce action. For example, take an ice-skater to a frozen river. Whilst the skater has stored useful information on balancing, skating, falling, facts about ice, her skating knowledge is created at the time, on that ice on that day. Another time things will be different and new knowledge will be created to match those circumstances, on that other day, on another frozen river.

Information is raw; the receiver doesn’t act on it. Information is static and can be represented by a conceptual model, a case, a rule, an object. Knowledge is action and can be represented as information in symbols, but the two are not the same. Information does not produce knowledge until and unless it is applied effectively.

Information can be recalled from the memory store. We can’t recall knowledge because it isn’t stored; we can only experience a situation as being similar to one we have already experienced. We can describe the situation but we can’t describe the knowledge associated with it. When we communicate about our knowledge we usually describe the information related to it. Knowledge is fluid, dynamic and tacit. Try riding a bike with your hands crossed and then tell me about it.

That’s enough information about information. Thanks for your company.


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