Non-Western Perspectives on Learning and Knowing

By Paulus, Trena | International Education, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Non-Western Perspectives on Learning and Knowing


Paulus, Trena, International Education


SHARAN B. MERRIAM AND ASSOCIATES (2007)

NON-WESTERN PERSPECTIVES ON LEARNING AND KNOWING.

MALABAR, FL: KRIEGER PUBLISHING COMPANY.

University campuses continue to explore the interplay between global and local communities, reaching out beyond national borders while also better understanding the diversity within them. Recently the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, launched its own"Ready for the World" campaign and held a public conversation on Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. In this climate of increased interest in the world around us, a book on multiple ways of knowing is a welcome addition to the literature. In the first chapter, an introduction to Non-Western Perspectives on Learning and Knowing, Merriam acknowledges that the notion of a Westem/nonWestern dichotomy is itself a Western concept and thus somewhat problematic. Nonetheless, she explains, this "false dichotomy" itself provides an accessible starting point for questioning our assumptions about learning and knowing.

This edited volume is a collaborative effort that grew out of a symposium held at the 2005 Adult Education Research Conference. The volume describes eight perspectives on learning and knowing, representing "diverse epistemologies from different parts of the world" and written by "authors indigenous to that perspective" (p. viii). Each author reflects on and explores the nature of knowledge, the role of teachers, the purpose of learning and the historical context of learning from a particular cultural perspective. Introductory and concluding chapters by Merriam synthesize the concepts explored in the book.

In the first chapter, Merriam defines some foundational concepts, such as "culture" and "indigenous knowledge," and provides a justification for expanding our understanding of learning and knowing. Western knowledge, Merriam argues, has been privileged in our educational systems, and "certainly a more palatable approach would be to uncover and acknowledge what people already know, then see how exposure to another system can enhance their development and their practice" (p. 12). As Merriam points out, lack of understanding of multiple perspectives can result in marginalization of other ways of knowing. From a practical perspective, educators often have many different cultural groups represented in their classrooms, and a better understanding of these perspectives can result in a more meaningful and relevant teaching and learning experience.

Each chapter has a unique structure and style, which makes for an engaging read. Concepts of learning and knowing are viewed from the perspectives of Islam, American Indian, Hinduism, Maori, Buddhism, African (Botswana), Liberation theology (Latin America), and Confucianism. Most chapters provide a historical context for the perspective on learning and knowing, as well as what makes that perspective unique. For example, Findsen and Tamarua's chapter on "Maori Concepts of Learning and Knowing" begins by describing the history of New Zealand and the power relations between the Pakeha and Maori groups, as well as comparing both groups'educational interests.

Most chapters also describe the place of traditional ways of knowing in the context of modern society. In Kee's chapter on "Adult Learning from a Confucian Way of Thinking," for example, the Korean author closes with a section on "Confucianism Today" and how it continues to permeate all levels of Korean life-including the relationship between student and teacher, the status of female adult learners, and"lifelong learning cities. …

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