December 2, 2020

Epistemology, where art thou?

Why we fail to teach our children what we know.

Endless war and the Sixth Extinction are the direct result of our failure to teach everything we know about language to high school students.

Academia has been cranking out literary theory for the past century but little if any of these ideas have made it into the high school classroom. Specifically, we don’t teach students anything resembling the holistic approach to language offered by a formal epistemology, which answers the question: What do we know and how do we know it?

Well, you might respond, we don’t teach epistemology because its only real value is proving religious dogma. Since our nation is constitutionally secular, teaching epistemology would be inappropriate for the public-school classroom. Besides, don’t we already teach critical thinking?

First, let’s remind ourselves that anyone can create an epistemology, which is nothing more than a set of rules and definitions. In fact, since we exist in a physically changing environment, the building and maintaining of an epistemology becomes a lesson unto itself.

As for critical thinking, it is a distant cousin to epistemology. Yes, there are elements of critical thinking in a modern epistemology but that is where the similarity ends. Missing from critical thinking is the holistic approach offered by a post-modern epistemology that includes everything connected to language and human nature.

Furthermore, there are important pedagogical and socioeconomic advantages of teaching a formal epistemology.

The cornerstone of learning is context. We gain a higher quality of knowledge and perform better on exams when we learn through an understanding based on relationships. This is why my new online writing game, Lingua Galaxiae, uses systems theory to understand language, because the practice of systems theory is the science of building and understanding context.

The practice of systems theory begins with listing all the part of the system/set followed by determining if the system is open or closed. Then, its just a matter of observing how the parts interact. In this way, the parts themselves become subordinate to the interactions.

Saying the scientific method is all one needs for determining truth is a half century out of date. We have learned so much about language, and the impact of human nature on the use of language, that to balkanize the study of language from the scientific method is inexcusable. Yet, this is exactly what we do in our high school English classrooms where neither the scientific method nor the nature of language is discussed, much less discussed as being 2-parts of the same system.

The companion book to the writing game, Lingua Galaxiae.

Finally, there’s the sociopolitical consequences of not teaching a post-modern epistemology in high school. I argue in my book, The New English Class, that the good faith use of language is diametrically opposed to the way language is used by public relations. Governments/corporations hold some power of force and coercion but to get public buy-in for things like war and environmental destruction, it must use public relations.

The epistemology laid out in my book begins with a simple question: What is the relationship between evidence and language? The average person makes an honest effort to match words to things, otherwise we call them a liar. But when corporations and governments spend billions on public relations so as to obscure the relationship between language and evidence, we like the way it makes us feel and we call it good business.

When we teach a forma

l epistemology, we are defining the parameters for the good faith use of language. Once we understand these rules, the manipulation of language by public relations and their paymasters is exposed. Once exposed, public relations loses its value just as the Wizard of Oz lost his powers when Toto pulled back the curtain.

Teaching a systems-based epistemology as a required part of high school language arts curriculum gives students an organized set of analytical tools that provide a framework for further learning. In addition, teaching epistemology enables individuals to see past the slights-of-hand used by public relations.

If teaching epistemology produces better students and a body politic better equipped to push back against the inherently false narratives of public relations, then why aren’t we doing it?

So, maybe that’s the answer, there’s simply too much money to be made from war and environmental destruction to allow public school students to understand how language is manipulated for profit.

The language game for ages 16 and up:

One antidote is my writing game,, a semester-long game with daily live videos that end in a writing prompt. Players write a response and send it to their personal writing coach who critiques and returns it each day. Points are scored when a player challenges a rule or definition of the game. Player and coach work together on the player’s final portfolio, which is then launched as a website with a URL that ends in the player’s name.

The game starts February 1, 2021, for ages 16 and up.

My main site is located here:

The game is located here:

The companion book, The New English Class, is located here:

The YouTube page is here:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *