“Hierarchy” is the name of the fact that all human knowledge has structure: all knowledge is ordered in degrees of abstraction, starting from the first level of sense perception: what we see and touch. We start with very basic conceptual knowledge — such as “mom,” “dad,” “rock,” “dog,” “chair,” “house,” “one,” “two” — and build from there. From “mom,” “dad,” some family members and some friends, we go on to learn the concepts “family,” “friend,” “city” and “town;” and then on to learn concepts and theories regarding whole societies and history. From our first numbers, we go on to learn arithmetic, then algebra and geometry, then calculus.
The fact that knowledge is hierarchical implies that we must learn the lower levels before we learn the higher levels. It would be absurd to teach calculus before algebra, critical reading before elementary reading, or quantum physics before Newtonian mechanics. Likewise, it is inappropriate to teach “atoms” before the basic chemical theory of gases, “energy” before the basic theories of machines and motion, or “rights” before any study of government.
In her lecture, Mrs. VanDamme discusses the nature of hierarchy, identifies ways hierarchy is “abused” in modern education (since “hierarchy” as a universal aspect of human knowledge is a more recent philosophic discovery, it is not known, and therefore not practiced, in modern education), and discusses ways it should be used in a proper, rational education, using anecdotes from her own school and her own experience.