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Building up, not dumbing down

By Ron Day (guest post)

The concept of ‘dumbing it down’ is abhorrent to me and speaks volumes about a lack of understanding of the functions of communication and a lack of understanding about the learning experience.

The term is offensive to communicators and audience alike.

Communication is about developing people’s attitudes, knowledge and skills and to achieve this you need a deep understanding of the nature of the people, their needs and their current level of understanding.

You also need the skills to relate to them in a positive, supportive, caring and knowledgeable manner.

Many years ago, I learnt one of the most important maxims of teaching:

Proceed from the known to the unknown

This simple rule has been around for thousands of years and is still relevant today.

Talking about ‘dumbing down’ is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. The truth looks smaller and farther away than it really is.

We can turn the telescope around and make that truth/knowledge look larger and more approachable.

I think we should use the term ‘building up’ instead of ‘dumbing down’.

By finding out people’s current level of knowledge, we can then insert the hooks to join the ‘known’ to the new, or ‘unknown’, knowledge.

Let’s say I want to communicate some of the principles of hydrology to a young audience.

I first need to establish that they recognise that water is a fluid that runs downhill until it reaches its own level.

Then I can stimulate interest and curiosity with questions like, ‘How can we make it climb uphill?’

We are not dumbing down; we are building up. We are attaching new ‘unknown’ knowledge to the previously ‘known’ knowledge. Like a builder, we are laying building blocks on a firm foundation.

Socrates understood this, as did Rousseau and legions of highly successful teachers, orators and philosophers.

Using this approach, we take our audience on a journey with us up the tree of knowledge.

ronnie_armagh@yahoo.com.au

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