15 August 2008


I would like to respond to the unlearned contention by some people that academics (people attached to an institution of learning and involved in formal study of a field of learning) do not think "outside the box." Some have voiced a "problem" with academics (i.e. those people described above) and say they know only what they have been told.

To the contrary, academic researchers MUST question received knowledge, or they would not BE an accomplished academic. This is what academics do: they question received learning, think about it, research it, and write about it. This is how they personally advance in their field, not by NOT questioning. Questioning is at the heart of academic study.

As a collective effort, learning advances due to their questioning. Think of practically EVERY advancement in learning: it was accomplished by an academic, most of whom were involved in formal study at an academic institution.

The analogy of "the box" is useful here: academics are involved in thinking about the Box: inside, outside, and all around. THE BOX IS WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT! That IS academics (as in formal study). They must particularly think about how new data (which are constantly and assiduously looked for) fit--or not fit--in the context of the Box. The Box then is continuously modified. The boundary of the box shifts according to their progress.

Then there is the matter of competing theories, models, explanations, and approaches within any one academic field. Academics (the people) nearly come to blows over these ideational disputes. They fight over THE BOX! The Box--its constitution, its boundaries, how new data and learning modify it, and its
validity--is the focus of academic learning. Saying that academics "do not think outside the box" is in essence the opposite of academic endeavor. Again, think of every advance in learning: academics had to consider the Box and whether the Box needed to be modified (or even thrown out for a new one).

It is highly stimulating to read the opinion that academics know only what they have been told, when I read every day academic articles written by people who are disagreeing with each other and trying to change the Box. This is happening vociferously in every academic field. If there were no contention, no arguing about the Box, that academic field would be dead.

It might be a problem for someone to look only OUTSIDE the Box without understanding what is INSIDE the Box and without closely considering the knowledge of those who are studying the Box inside and out. Those people are academics. What's the problem?

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