The value of knowing

is knowing useful?

If children are to invest the sustained effort that is required to develop and practice intellectual skills, they must believe that learning and knowing are worthwhile. Valuing knowing, not surprisingly, rests on an understanding of what it is (see KNOWING diagram). It is only upon attaining the evaluativist level of epistemological understanding that justification of claims -- the foundation of critical thinking according to most educational theorists -- becomes a meaningful enterprise (II). If facts can be ascertained with certainty and are readily available to anyone who seeks them, as the absolutist understands, or, alternatively, if any claim is as valid as any other, as the multiplist understands, there is no point in expending the intellectual effort that the justification and debate of claims entails.

The valuing of intellectual engagement is a critical dimension of education for thinking. It governs the disposition (as opposed to the competence) to engage in knowing activities (KNOWING diagram). Hence, it governs whether intellectual potential will be actualized. A mature level of epistemological understanding and the valuing of intellectual engagement tend to occur together among teens and adults (Kuhn & Daniels, in preparation) -- unsurprisingly, since epistemological understanding provides the conceptual foundation for intellectual values.

Yet, the development of intellectual values is not characterized by the sequence of levels that marks the development of epistemological understanding. Values have both a cognitive and affective component. Some would say they lie in an intermediate zone between cognition and affect. They are thus likely to be strongly influenced by affective forms of learning. Are a child's home and school environments ones in which the child observes intellectual engagement as valued? Do adults and peers in these settings communicate, both explicitly and implicitly, that it is worthwhile to engage in intellectual inquiry, discussion, debate? Do they convey in word and deed the conviction that such engagement leads to worthwhile outcomes? Are children given opportunities not only to observe but to participate in these practices? While epistemological understanding provides the necessary conceptual foundation for intellectual values, these experiential differences across families and schools play a major role in the extent to which children come to value the intellectual.

How can intellectual values be assessed?

In samples of early adolescents and their mothers from differing American subcultural groups, we found significant variation in both epistemological understanding and intellectual values, as well as some consistent associations between them, with the valuing of intellectual engagement more likely with a more advanced level of epistemological understanding (Kuhn et al., 2000).

Sources for further reading:

Kuhn, D., & Park, S.H. (2005). Epistemological understanding and the development of intellectual values. International Journal of Educational Research, 43, 111-124.

Kuhn, D., Cheney, R., & Weinstock, M. (2000). The development of epistemological understanding. Cognitive Development, 15, 309-328.

Kuhn, D. (2003). Understanding and valuing knowing as developmental goals. Liberal Education, 89 (3), 16-21.

Kuhn, D. (2007). How to produce a high-achieving child. Phi Delta Kappan. 88, 757-763.