The Geography of Thought Keynote Address

Harvey Koo (Hong Kong, AC 09-11)

For many students, the Geography of Thought Conference was hailed as a welcome extension to our exploration of Theory of Knowledge that is already an essential component of our syllabus here in Atlantic College. Indeed, even for me, the aspect of questioning how and why we know what we know seemed to consume the entirety of the purpose of this conference. And while there were speeches that fulfilled this hunch, still there were others which completely threw any anticipation off the window. This was the keynote address given by Mr. Anders Breidlid at the start of the conference.

Without a doubt, even from the introduction of Mr. Andrew Breidlid could one glean the sense of heightening anticipation in the crowd. As a Professor of Education and International Studies, and among other things, who has done vast amounts of reaserch in Africa and Sudan, in retrospect I guess the topic he focused on of indigenous knowledge, education and sustainable development really shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. However, sitting there, witnessing what may be the first speech of conferences for years to come, and not to mention the thought of the array of high-caliber speakers yet to come, instilled within me a fascination and excitement that came with being part of something greater than the lone individual, or even a year, but the beginning of a legacy.

In the speech, Mr. Briedlid spoke about the importance of the underrated knowledge of nativity, and it is from there, he believes, that lies the differentiation of knowledge from physical locations i.e. the Geography of Thought. In fact, these knowledge are derived from the ‘lenses’ through which we view the world. For example, in this part of the world we are generally accustomed to Western lenses, and it is a secular, rational lens. Conversely, imbued within indigenous lenses are the close interrelationships between nature and the earth, the spiritual and the supernatural. And indeed while there will always be some quick to dismiss this notion, let us not forget that indigenous knowledge has often surpassed our so-called ‘scientific’ knowledge in agricultural and medicinal areas.

Mr. Briedlid’s introduction of indigenous lens and the Western lens next showed that their influence even exceeds influencing the way we gather knowledge; they affect our world view as well. While I remained skeptical of this at first, the following was all I needed to lay those doubts to rest. In fact, shaped by said indigenous knowledge is our language itself. And in indigenous languages while there are numerous words describing their past and present, there are almost none for describing the future. Indeed, this allowed me to reach the realization that all this knowledge, language and even world views only needs to be defined from the boundaries that we live in. And that’s one irrefutable truth of the geography of thought.

Finally, therein raised the increasingly prominent issue of whether indigenous knowledge should be taught in classrooms. In my opinion, this idea is strongly counter intuitive. The reason is that to me it blatantly disregards the nature of indigenous knowledge: that they were able to be passed down from generations to generations orally should speak volumes of its capability. The desire to impose structure seems altogether commanding and it resonates so strongly values that are so, oh what’s the word, that’s right, Western.

-United World Colleges Student Magazine-

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