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This page is designed to help you understand what you believe about children and what you believe about knowledge.


What is a child anyhow?


We know we teach children, but does that mean?  What's your definition of a child?  What is the purpose of a child?  Is a child simply the precursor to an adult? Is a child its own entity?  What do the answers to these questions mean?

Did you know that in the middle ages children were viewed as little adults?
















This Jan de Bray painting from the 1600's shows us that children were viewed as little adults.  By examining the facial features of the children, we see they are the same as the facial features on the adults.

In his paper 'How New Is the 'New' Social Study of Childhood? The Myth of a Paradigm Shift' (which can be found here) Dr. Ryan analyses two dichotomies; Nature vs. Nurture (x axis) and Science vs. Society (y axis).  His analysis goes much deeper than simply nature vs. nurture and science vs. society but for ease of understanding we'll use these terms.  By intersecting these two dichotomies, he created four 'types' of children.  The Authentic Child is one who becomes who they are meant to become, uninfluenced by outside factors.  The Developing Child is one who follows a scientific outline and meets milestones along his/her path of development.  The Conditioned Child is one who is a product of their culture, environment and society.  The Political Child is one who represents their self through the lens of society.  Looking at the above image, where does your definition of a child fall?

The construct of childhood is changing.  Dr. Patrick Ryan, from Western University in London, Ontario, Canada created the Landscape of Modern Childhood.

So, what do you believe about knowledge, now that you yourself have obtained all this new knowledge? (Or have you?)  I wonder what the people around you believe?  As we move on, it's vital to note that people carry different ontological and epistemological perspectives and these differences must be honoured.

Education is all about gaining knowledge.  Put aside the notion that public education is about imparting facts onto students for the time being.  We will touch on this area in STEP 2.  I believe gaining knowledge is the core principal of our profession.  Our students may not gain the knowledge that we intended to pass on from a provocation but they most certainly gain knew knowledge from it.   Understanding what you believe knowledge is, and how you believe knowledge is acquired is paramount to being a good educator.


Epistemology is, simply put, the study of knowledge.  What is knowledge?  How is knowledge created?  How is it related to truths and beliefs?  Who is right and how do we know?  These are all questions that fall under the umbrella of epistemology.   One could spend a lifetime filtering through information, theories, arguments, rational etc. of epistemology.  My hope is simply that you gain some reference as to what you believe about knowledge.


Do you know what your ontelogical and epistemological beliefs are?  There are several online quizzes that can be taken to help you begin to sort it out. The following link will ask you 7 questions.  My colleagues and I found these questions very meaningful.  Upon completion of the 7 questions the quiz gives you the name of a philosopher that you identify with the most.  My suggestion is that you do a quick Google search on that person in order to discover what they, and you, stand for.

Be mindful of the accuracy of these quizzes.  I have attached this links to help provide you with a very general idea of where you may fall in the seemingly endless scope of epistemology.

The understanding of knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge are two separate but related concepts.  Ontology deals with the understanding of knowledge.  It asks 'what is knowledge?'  Epistemology takes this understanding further and asks 'how is knowledge acquire?'  As educators, both of these are important, but understanding how YOU believe knowledge is acquired shouldn't be something you take lightly.  Our profession is highly invested in the transfer of knowledge.  Take a look at the following 4 theories of knowledge acquisition and ask yourself how you identify with them.

(taken from

  • Empiricism, which emphasizes the role of experience, especially experience based on perceptual observations by the five senses in the formation of ideas, while discounting the notion of innate ideas. Refinements of this basic principle led to PhenomenalismPositivismScientism and Logical Positivism.

  • Rationalism, which holds that knowledge is not derived from experience, but rather is acquired by a priori processes or is innate (in the form of concepts) or intuitive.

  • Representationalism (or Indirect Realism or Epistemological Dualism), which holds that the world we see in conscious experience is not the real world itself, but merely a miniature virtual-reality replica of that world in an internal representation.

  • Constructivism (or Constructionism), which presupposes that all knowledge is 'constructed,' in that it is contingent on convention, human perception and social experience.

The following video will help further define and clarify the muddy mess of ontology and epistemology. 

What do you know about knowing?

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