What We Know
What We Know
To offer prospective learners information that yields high net benefits, it is important to understand what they already know. How do educators learn about others’ knowledge? Surveys are a common source of information. In part II of this book, I focus on these surveys and how many different kinds of educators use them. My goal throughout part II is to improve educators’ measures and understanding of what people do and do not know about politics. Better measurement and more accurate inferences from data can help educators more effectively diagnose whether individuals have the knowledge they need to achieve desired competences. Where faulty diagnoses can lead educators to offer information that prospective learners neither want nor need, improved diagnoses can help educators identify information that can help others make more competent decisions. The way that we will achieve the improvements just described is by examining survey-based research and political commentary on a concept that many people call “political knowledge.” The best-known academic book on political knowledge defines it as “the range of factual information about politics that is stored in long-term memory.” The survey questions that are most relevant for this purpose are recall questions. Recall questions are designed to measure whether or not a person has selected declarative memories. “Who is the Vice President of the United States?” is an example of a commonly asked recall question. Interpretations of responses to recall questions are the evidentiary basis for thousands of books and articles on political knowledge and ignorance. If these data accurately measure what people know, and if analysts accurately interpret the data, then educators can use the interpretations to compare what an audience knows to necessary and sufficient conditions for competence at a given task. Part II’s main tension is that not all data and interpretations are accurate. Some survey data are inaccurate, as happens when a survey organization records a survey participant’s response incorrectly. Similarly, some interpretations of survey data are inaccurate, as happens when an analyst uses a survey to make a claim about ignorance that is inconsistent with the survey’s actual content.
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