Pursued by Polanyi

Tradition and Discovery 34 (1):54-67 (2007)
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Abstract

In the present essay, I explore some ways in which Polanyi’s concepts can be applied to enrich our understanding of epistemological development and the educational practices that seem to facilitate orsuppress it. Among the concepts discussed are Polanyi’s notion of uncertainty, combined with confidence as driving intellectual activity; the role of conviviality in the collaborative construction of knowledge,· the act of discovery as beginning with a problem that obsesses the thinker and proceeding through the integration of (often tacit) fragments into a coherent whole; the notion of personal knowledge and commitment as transcending the disjunction between subjective and objective; apprenticeship as a personal relationship between a learner and a more sophisticated master, and most important, the assertion that beliefis prior to doubt. Thus, in terms ofthe concepts my colleagues and I have developed, “connected knowing” (a personal approach) is not simply equal to “separate knowing” (a detached, impersonal mode) as a procedure for arriving at knowledge, but is prior to it, “making meaning” being a necessary prerequisite to testing the validity ofa position. Drawing on interview data and memoirs of academic experiences, I argue that because these priorities are often reversed in educational practice, students learn to delete their personal responses from their essays in order to meet what they perceive as the utterly objective standards of the academy. When educators “endorse” uncertainty, students are encouraged to engage in the collaborative making of meaning and the pursuit of problems of personal importance

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