174. Knowing

Now that I’ve written about ignorance – about the importance of allowing and encouraging yourself and children to admit that they don’t know everything, let’s consider what you do know. There’s a lot of things you and children know – more every day, in fact. After years of learning, whether you’ve been doing it seven years, forty-seven, or eighty-seven, you know a lot.
Part of the challenge of teaching is getting people to realize that they do know a lot. That may seem like an activity that’s supposed to come after teaching, but knowledge isn’t necessarily as obvious – even to the knower – as some people think. The Latin root of the word “education” ( “educere” – to bring out) – is sometimes a very appropriate way to think of education; as teachers, our job often involves bringing out knowledge that is, in a way, already there.
For years, and to some extent, still today, I was and am curious about refrigerators and air conditioners. It made no sense to me that a hot coil made a machine produce cool air. My curiosity never became intense enough for me to study the problem by reading books about it. I wanted someone to explain it to me. If not, I would be quite content to simply go on keeping my food cool and fresh and enjoying some autumn air in the dog days of summer, never knowing how this magic happens. I’m sure most of you live at least part of your lives in ignorant bliss, carried to California by a machine that goes up in the sky and delivers you to California a few hours later (or, according to the clock, a few minutes later). Or you type a letter to a friend, push some buttons on your computer, and your friend has the letter
But I have pushed myself a little to learn some things; I haven’t been completely satisfied with the mysteries that surround me. I do understand the hot coil/cool air trick better than I used to. Inside the unrefrigerated refrigerator is the same warmth you feel in your home. A coil conducts this warmth to a place where there’s a substance that is normally a gas, but has temporarily been made liquid through compression. The warmth causes the substance to turn back into a gas. It’s happier as a gas, but it soon gets compressed again (poor substance), and more warmth is conducted out of the refrigerator to turn the substance back into a gas. Since cold is only the absence of warmth, the space inside the refrigerator is cold. And the coil, which is transporting all that warmth to the poor substance, is understandably hot.
Some scientists among you may be cringing. The way I’ve explained the phenomenon may still make it sound a little like magic. And those of you who understand it less than I do may have learned something from my explanation, or may still be mystified. But I don’t believe that a little learning is a dangerous thing. I’ll probably never build my own refrigerator, but I’m glad that if some child asks me how a refrigerator works, I at least have a clue.

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