Knowledge gaps

April 27, 2017

As an educator, I have a lot of sympathy for Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s lament about the sorry state of general knowledge (“Sorry, they haven’t a clue”, Opinion, 13 April); however, my (postmodernist?) mind cannot miss the irony of praising critical scepticism while blaming postmodern theories for replacing knowledge with information. Such theories advocate critical scepticism with regard to “grand narratives”, exactly, one could argue, what Fernández-Armesto calls the “glib certainties that his parents and teachers paraded”.

Also, I was startled to discover that “we have extirpated every other kind of discrimination” and “are at work to eliminate prejudice against stupidity”, which the next paragraph implicitly equates with vocational competence. Sadly, we are far from having extirpated any kind of discrimination, and arguing against all kinds of discrimination is not a form of political correctness gone mad, as Fernández-Armesto seems to imply. Moreover, proclaiming that “erudition is elitist” and “ignorance is egalitarian” is not helpful; it corroborates the “grand narrative” that universities are bastions of the elites while mistakenly portraying the ideal of egalitarianism as the root cause of the problems.

Finally, I could not but LOL (laugh out loud) at the statement that “in classical Athens the internet would have been full of philosophy” – such an idealised and cartoonish representation of classical times is really what gives erudition a bad name.

Anna Notaro
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee

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