Reflecting on Meek’s *A Little Manual for Knowing*

Just prior to every semester, the excitement grew. As an undergraduate, I knew that I was going to sit in a room with an expert over fourteen weeks. I knew, no matter what the topic, that I was going to change, hearing age-old terms popularized in culture with new ears—a new grasp, with depth, of an old world. After Introduction to Psychology, “anal-retentive” was no longer a word to be giggled at, but a term with a history, story, and trajectory. I could place it, as it were, in a field of other unseemingly related people and ideas: from Freud, Erikson, and Piaget to “phallic,” “fixation,” and “psychotherapy.” The old world I had known since birth was new, alive with meanings and implications. What, exactly, happened to me? Of course, I was the same me before and after Introduction to Psychology. The world was the same too, but I now saw it differently.
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As a college professor myself, I need to understand exactly what happens in the weeks of a semester. Beyond having a grasp of the content, I need to understand what happens to my students and me. A Little Manual for Knowing taps quickly and deeply into that process and helps me to grasp the process of knowing in order to steer it in the classroom. As anyone who teaches knows, it’s tricky. Being a subject matter expert is only a small step toward transforming students into good knowers, capable of “dancing” with the skills we impart in class. LMdelightfully and quickly lays out the constituent parts that we often neglect in order to rest on the laurels of our expertise.

As a young adjunct professor, I was struggling to teach a philosophy course and was frustrated by some of my students who did not want to encounter the material. If I can be honest, they wanted to do what was required in order to make the grade desired and not much more. I resisted their attempts to figure out my grading patterns and they were frustrated with me. Upon sharing this with Esther Meek, she asked me quite pointedly, “Do you love your students?” She explained that if I did not at least care for them as humans and learners of whom I had the privilege of teaching, they should not trust me because I had not invited them to learn. Hence, they were only willing to play the grade game with me.

Meek lucidly extols, not just explains, the reality of knowing in all its human complexities, messiness, and profound liberties. She distills in LM what she has laid down more extensively in other works. As a professional educator (and former pastor and IT manager) myself, articulating the structure of covenantal relationship helps me to avoid common pitfalls in the road to knowing, especially when bringing others along with me. Meek carefully opens up and itemizes the entire experience of coming to know—front to back. She then weaves the parts together so that readers understand the importance of each in their place.

As a brief example, we’ve all had teachers who delight in bringing us to the precipice of an epiphany. Who doesn’t love seeing an “Aha!” moment on a student’s face? Many of us have also had a popular teacher who only brought us to a series of epiphanies strung together like pearls on a necklace, which mostly serves to keep us students in awe of that teacher’s intellect or insight. Like a TED Talk, it feeds us the epiphanies we crave without ever intellectually “teaching us to fish.” However, LM helps readers to understand why they cannot merely drop a student off at an epiphany. It helped me to decipher why the elements she calls “love” and “pledge” require me to bring students beyond my own personality and insight—allowing them to feel the implications yet-to-be-fully-grasped, to try out the ideas for truth, and to experience the epistemic rest of knowing something well. Meek helps me to understand the import of these for the student, but also for me.

Semesters are even more exciting for me now because I understand—front to back—my own pedagogical responsibilities, my desires for students to comprehend, and how knowing actually works as a part of the way we were created to be. Meek’s text successfully helps me to understand myself as a privileged part of that process!

I especially liked the questions at the end of chapters. I think they really make it feel more dialogical (even more so than LTK). I especially liked the chapter called “Invitation.” In some ways, it seems that Meek needed to write Loving to Know in order to write this book. I really think this book is what was needed. When I walk undergrads through LTK, they get it and feel the implications. However, rarely can they wrap their mind around the whole thing. LM seems to offer the whole thing quickly and clearly, which will be very helpful for many.

I’m very excited to get this into the hands of undergrads who often cannot figure out why I’m making these (what seems to them) bizarre claims about reality, truth, and our access to it. The problem is often that they are trying to categorize my thinking. Or, in reality, they are trying to do meta-epistemology. LM requires the reader to “do the exercises,” which means that they are doing epistemology itself, reflecting on how they actually know things.

Originally posted: http://www.longingtoknow.com/symposium.html

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