(Update: I've edited this post (twice) to correct some typos and clarify my argument. The substance has not changed. 3:28 pm EST)
Tracy Won't Get Her Answer.
At least not from Stephen.
Stephen has taken his ball and gone home.
Dick was right. I shouldn't have bothered.
Here's the problem as I see it. (And if you are familiar with the problem or simply don't care to read my explanation, just skip to the warning at the end of the post.)
Stephen fancies himself as an expert in this area and has a strong desire to maintain that status. This means that he can't be viewed as being wrong or mistaken, or heaven forfend admitting such, in a disagreement with a non-expert. I've understood this for quite some time. So, to the extent you get any information from Stephen it will be in the form of a disagreement. You take what you can get.
Stephen apparently takes the position that "kontent knowledge" (I've used a variant spelling because Stephen's definition of that term remains unknown) is not needed for critical reasoning, reading, learning, or whatever the issue happens to be when someone states that "content knowledge" is needed for something or other. Stephen has become a bit of a gadfly or contrarian in this regard. Stephen, apparently, also values this gadfly status.
I and many others, on the other hand, do not see how "content knowledge" (my definition isn't necessarily the same as Stephen's definition) can be foregone. To think you need something to think about. However, we also recognize that learning "content knowledge" is a long laborious process, instructional time is a scarce resource, and, to the extent "content knowledge" need not be learned, then this would provide a good opportunity to re-focus instruction elsewhere to address other student deficiencies. Thus, the issue of what constitutes content knowledge and whether it is important to teach is an important consideration.
This is why I chose to jump into the thickets with Stephen--not to prove him wrong, but to see if he was right or at least to determine if there was a misunderstanding. (Hey, who wouldn't want to forgo the tedious learning of content knowledge. That's win-win as far as I'm concerned.) And, to the extent he was right, I would have been happy to adopt his view. And, to the extent there was a misunderstanding, I would be happy to determine where there was agreement and disagreement. And to the extent the disagreements were irrelevant to instruction and learning, then they could be safely ignored.
I tried. I failed. I tried to be nice, but it didn't matter. I bent over backwards to be clear; it didn't matter. I tried to concede any point I could to get a straight answer; it didn't matter. I pulled in a neutral third party (Tracy) to eliminate me as the source of any contention; it didn't work. So what went wrong?
I can't be sure. But, it appears that Stephen has gotten himself very far down a path based on a mistake or a misunderstanding (I'm being charitable here because other less charitable alternatives exist) and cannot rectify the situation. Because rectifying the situation might seem to indicate that Stephen has made a mistake or has misunderstood and by golly Stephen Downes does not make mistakes or misunderstands anything ever. (Stephen, if it'll make you feel better, just blame it on me and my poor communication skills.)
In a nutshell, Stephen has built an elaborate house of cards on a bad foundation. For whatever the reason, Stephen believes that when anyone (other than he) discusses "content knowledge" the term must include:
1) a fact, a verbal association, or language (For example, "content knowledge" of the concept of the color red must include a verbal association to the word "red" (and perhaps a formal definition of the word "red")) along with
2) an association to the concept (i.e., color the eye perceives) whose boundaries are defined by the many examples (of the color red) that a person has observed or experienced.
That is the functional definition he has proceeded under (as best I can tell). That is the foundation of his argument. It's also wrong. I should know what my own view is and it is not how Stephen characterizes it. And, I'm sure if you polled almost everyone he's ever disagreed with on this issue, they'd tell you the same thing. His foundation is bad (for whatever reason) and I think he knows it.
Stephen will be glad to engage and argue with you as long you let him mischaracterize your definition of "content knowledge" (must be (1) and (2)). However, as soon as you correct him and clarify that "content knowledge" can mean only (2) he will immediately disengage (occasionally with an excuse). You can see this clearly in my last series of post when I clarified my definition at the outset as not necessarily including (1), Stephen failed to engage at all with me (except on some minor tangential point where he could express a disagreement). Instead, he engaged only with Tracy whose view he could misrepresent in his customary fashion with a very uncharitable reading of Tracy's clarification. As soon as, Tracy attempted to correct him, he disengaged. (The pretext of "contradiction" that he gave was bogus; when engaging in a productive argument you read your opponent's argument so as to maintain consistency when possible. In this case a consistent reading is possible, in fact, it is relies upon the standard usage of the words.)
This leads me to believe that Stephen does not want to explicitly agree that there is a definition of "content knowledge" that is a prerequisite to reasoning, reading, and the like (in the domain of that knowledge) upon which we might all agree. (For example, if you want to read or reason about the color red, then you need some understanding of the abstract concept of redness, not necessarily the word "red.") I suspect this is because, he believes that by agreeing to a common understanding, he'll be on a slippery slope that might undermine other arguments he favors. All I know there is a severe reluctance to engage in a serious discussion using the arguments that others make, rather than the argument Stephen wishes they made.
I have seen no indication that this condition is going to improve any time soon. And, as such, it is fruitless to to engage further with Stephen on this issue.
So, let this post be a warning to all those that come across any writing of Stephen Downes on the issue of content knowledge. His opinions are based on a mischaracterization of the arguments of his opponents. No serious person holds the views that Stephen is arguing against. He has erected the classic straw man but has disguised the nature of that straw man so it is not readily apparent to the casual reader. It is, however, apparent to the rest of us. You are wasting your time.
And, to those fellow-travellers of Stephen's who he views as a friend. I implore you to show Stephen the errors in his way. He last lost credibility on this issue and his reputation is suffering as a consequence. I have tried to engage with him productively. I have failed. I couldn't care less about Stephen's reputation and the fact that many will view his behavior as buffoonish. But you probably do. Help him.