Yes, background knowledge is important

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The Western Bulldogs won yesterday’s grand final at the MCG. 

The ABC news site have written an article explaining how they did it. Here’s a passage from the article:

“It was early days and a goal apiece in the first quarter, when a squaring kick hung at half-forward for the Bulldogs. Isaac Heeney was in pole position.

You can bet Easton Wood knew his team-mates were looking at him for leadership in this moment, and so he unflinchingly committed to the cause.

He did not take the mark, but he won the ball. Lachie Hunter profited on Wood’s commitment and spotted up Tory Dickson, who made no mistake.

Wood stood up time and again during the game, but the skipper made his biggest mark earliest and the Bulldogs never looked back.”

At this point, some of you will be following this and some of you will be quite puzzled. Your ability to comprehend is unlikely to be related to your ability to decode print or your vocabulary. You can probably read and understand all of the words. It is also unlikely to be due to your level of reading comprehension ‘skills’; whether you ask yourself questions as you are reading the text or whether you can find the main idea.

Instead, Australians will be at an advantage in understanding this passage, particularly those from Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. This is because these are the states where Australian Football League (AFL) is most popular. And it’s knowledge of AFL that is needed to understand the text.

Sport is good for illustrating the importance of knowledge because it is one area where adults with similar levels of education will have large differences in knowledge. But imagine that you are a student trying to read a newspaper article about the recent death of Shimon Peres. What knowledge would you need? Do we teach that knowledge in school? We should do.


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