A key element to how I view information is a concept that my friends and I have dubbed, TSTA. Theory- Strategy-Tactics-Application
Theory– Everything you know about a subject. The depth of your knowledge directly impacts the range of tools that you have at your disposal when confronting a problem.
Strategy– The act of analyzing that knowledge to determine which elements are pertinent to the problem you currently face.
Tactics– Using this pertinent information to establish a structural approach to physically solving the problem.
Application– Actually solving the problem in the physical world. Often this requires developing both physical and mental skills, adapting as you go.
I also use the SciFi writer Gordon R. Dickson’s definition of the difference between a Scholar and an Expert.
An Expert is a person whose experiences within a given field have given them a very specific perspective on that field. The value of an Expert within an academic environment is that they can help students understand specific ways in which their knowledge may be applied to problems within a field. Experts are often very good at the Application side of the TSTA model. But they may have difficulty explaining why they do what they do. They will often struggle helping students acquire foundational information and their expertise may be limited to the narrow bands of their own experience. Experts provide context.
A Scholar is a person who sets out to learn as much about a given field as they can. Within an academic environment the Scholars help to lay foundations and draw linkages between the various pieces of apparently disparate information. They can help students build the foundations that will establish how far a student can go within their career. Scholars tend to focus on the Theory and Strategy components of the equation. Unfortunately, depending on the Scholar, they can also live with their head in the clouds. These scholars are typically referred to as Ivory Tower academics. They have no understanding of Tactics or Application. And in the worse case scenario can be oblivious to how someone may choose to use their knowledge.
My personal goal as a teacher is to always help students to develop into both Scholars and Experts.
Which leads to the next question, what has any of this got to do with knitting? As I have been recently reviewing the textbook Color and Fiber, I am reminded of a key component of scholarship. Often some of the best ideas are embedded in source materials that are inconsistent. A good idea will often be nestled into a series of comments or arguments that are patent drivel. Part of being a good scholar is learning not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because a source is inconsistent doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain gems of wisdom. Too often in my career I have seen students, professionals and colleagues who expect information to come in nice, tidy bundles. Most people approach any new information with a healthy dose of skepticism. But sometimes they forget to approach skeptical information with a sense of hope.
This particular textbook is laced with wonderful information. Some of it is fundamentally flawed because it doesn’t address the biological aspect of color, but that doesn’t mean that it is useless. Far from it. The book is a gold mine of ideas that simply need to have a biological context added to them.
When I first began researching how the human brain and eyes work, I found myself having to read through original doctoral theses. Many of them contained single pieces of information that I needed to help me grasp what was happening. But without those single pieces, I wouldn’t have been able to piece together the understanding that I now have. If I had waited for the information to be cataloged or presented in layman’s terms I may have had to wait years if not decades. The Theoretical and Strategic elements of what I now know are priceless tools that I use daily as I design my knitted garments.
The breadth of our scholarly knowledge also acts as a fulcrum to help us pry out valuable material from piles of intellectual scrap iron. Without my underlying knowledge I would be much more confused by the apparent inconsistencies within the material that I am currently reading. Knowing where a source is inconsistent helps make the accurate pieces make sense.