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Knowledge, skills, and experience are “assets” that you acquire throughout your lifetime. They are as valuable to you as money in the bank or the home you hope to own. In fact, your level of knowledge and skills will likely affect how much financial wealth you will build up through the years. But why, exactly, is knowledge good? The goal of education is seen not so much as the accumulation of knowledge, but as the honing of cognitive skills. According to Gleam Technologies, knowledge comes into play mainly because if we want our students to learn how to think critically, they must have something to think about.
The first stage in which factual knowledge gives you an intellectual edge is when you are taking in new information, whether by listening or reading. There is much more to grasping oral or written language than knowing vocabulary and syntax. Comprehension demands background knowledge because language is full of semantic breaks in which knowledge is assumed and, therefore, comprehension depends on making correct inferences.
To provide some concrete examples and simplify the discussion, let’s focus on reading — but keep in mind that the same points apply to listening. Suppose you read this brief text: “John’s face fell as he looked down at his protruding belly. The invitation specified ‘black tie’ and he hadn’t worn his tux since his own wedding, 20 years earlier.” You will likely infer that John is concerned that his tuxedo won’t fit, although the text says nothing directly about this potential problem. The writer could add the specifics (“John had gained weight since he last wore his tuxedo, and worried that it would not fit”), but they are not necessary and the added words would make the text dull. Your mind is well able to fill in the gaps because you know that people are often heavier 20 years after their wedding, and that gaining weight usually means that old clothing won’t fit. This background knowledge about the world is readily available and so the writer need not specify it.