Knowledge or Ignorance
What is the difference?
by Helen Levesley (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider the importance of knowledge and ignorance, and the difference between them.
Preparation and materials
- Optional: you may wish to use several readers to deliver this assembly. These readers will need time to rehearse prior to the assembly.
- Listen to this quotation from a man called Socrates, who was a Greek philosopher in the fifth century BC: ‘There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.’
Let’s spend a moment thinking about that statement.
- Now let’s break it down and see if we can think of any examples. Let’s start with the good: knowledge. What does it mean to have knowledge?
- Is it to know a lot about many things? For example, at school, we expect you to attend various lessons and learn something in all of them. We find out about a wide variety of things in the time that we are at school.
- Perhaps it is to know a lot about one particular thing? For example, we could be an expert on the latest Star Wars movie, we might know pi to 13 places or we might know how to spell many different words, like disestablishmentarianism!
Either way, knowledge is a very powerful thing. It enables us to continue in our education, from school to university if we want to, but it also helps us beyond school, further on in our lives. Something that we learn today might not seem relevant now, but it might be of great use later on.
- Knowledge is the key that opens doors: it gives us understanding and awareness and it teaches us how to interact socially and what information to use when. It is important that we use what knowledge we have for good: we can all repeat what someone has told us, but that isn’t using our knowledge for good if what we say hurts someone else.
- A good example of someone who didn’t use knowledge for the right reason was Eve. According to the Bible story, Adam and Eve were told by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. However, Eve was tempted by a serpent and ate some fruit from the tree, giving some to Adam, too. Suddenly, both of them had full knowledge of good and evil. This knowledge led to God banishing them from the Garden of Eden.
Would it have been better for Eve to have remained in ignorance? After all, it is said sometimes that ignorance is bliss. Not knowing something can be better than knowing it. I wonder if Socrates would agree.
- If we return to his quotation, he says that ignorance is the one evil. To be ignorant is not to have the right knowledge or not to know enough about a particular subject. This ignorance might be very simple: we might be ignorant about how to rewire a plug and not know which wire goes where. We might be ignorant as to the location of a place that we are hoping to travel to.
- The word ‘ignorant’ sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Ignorant . . . it sounds better to say that we don’t know. However, when we talk about understanding other people, ignorance can be an evil. Not to know anything about a group of people - or to think that we do not need to know about them - can lead to ignorance of those people, which in turn can lead to prejudice and discrimination, just because we are ignorant.
Time for reflection
For Socrates, ignorance is an evil because it stops education and understanding. It is a barrier: the opposite of knowledge, which opens doors. To be ignorant means that you shut your eyes or ignore something that you either do not care about or do not want to know about.
I’m sure that none of us mean to be ignorant, and that generally we try to increase our knowledge. However, if we find ourselves thinking in a particular way about someone or something, maybe it is time for us to try and find out more, to learn something new that gives us knowledge and consequently a little less ignorance.
Help me to gain in knowledge and understanding.
Teach me that jumping to conclusions is often because I am ignorant of the truth.
Help me to know that difference and see that knowledge opens doors, and ignorance closes them.