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Learning to be in the World with Others

Difficult Knowledge and Social Studies Education


H. James Garrett

In this book, H. James Garrett inquires into the processes of learning about the social world, populated as it often is with bewildering instances of loss, violence, and upheaval. In such learning, interactions invite and enliven our passionate responses, or prompt us to avoid them. Interpreting and working with these often emotional reactions is critical to social studies education and developing strategies for individuals to participate in democracy. Garrett illustrates ways that learning about the world does not occur in absence of our intimate relations to knowledge, the way learning sometimes feels like our undoing, and how new knowledge can feel more like a burden than an advantage.

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Chapter 6. Questions and Perspectives in Social Studies Education



Questions and Perspectives in Social Studies Education

Much of the material in the preceding chapters elaborates various difficulties in learning. For social studies education, these difficulties need urgent solutions because of the degree to which our relations with others in the world depend on the ways in which we organize our reactions to what we encounter therein. How do we come to understand the complicated world in which we live? What do ideas do to us and what does that doing mean for what we think of as our responsibility to and with others? Difficult knowledge is a relation from which these questions arise. Questions may be our best currency as teachers and researchers. They serve as provocations and invitations toward thinking and re-­thinking. When we encounter a text, idea, representation, or thought that challenges a dominant narrative or offers a new one, when a vantage is offered that unsettles a thought, difficult knowledge is found in that current scene of knowing and relation. One way in which we can locate and work with difficult knowledge is through a focus on, and engagement with, the questions that arise in engagement with the world.

I’ll begin this chapter by tracing various movements of knowledge as they play out in relationship to one particular question as an example of the relationship between questions, perspectives, and difficult knowledge. This question “Why didn’t I know this before?” is articulated in relation to knowledge←133 | 134→ that...

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