To Learn to question “Why”
Yes. As Educators many of us have already become familiar with the idea that the pendulum swings back and forth and that “new” may not be as “new” a concept as current in vogue proclamations may suggest- what then may have happened in between the suggestion that questioning is basic to inquiry and the present full scale onslaught of “change in education” means “pursue inquiry”…on blogs, tweets, news reports etc- reminiscent of the “new/improved” labels on breakfast cereals; when DO the changes really- really- become “REAL” ?
Technology is great- and one of its best uses is the simply fast way it can connect so many of us, allowing for the spread of ideas (unfortunately negative ideas spread quickly too) and the rapid growth of online communities, sharing of resources, and ability to engage with people whom we may not otherwise have been able to connect with. Professional Learning Networks (PLN) may indeed provide for cross cultural exploration of ideas, a chance to openly reflect on best practices, and provide support and encouragement in developing one’s own set of better practices. For the concept of “best” practices is now a bit of a conundrum.
Engaging with a variety of students allows for different levels of reflection and interaction:
Elementary students learn: Albert Einstein suggested imagination may be more important than knowledge: The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. Albert Einstein
However- lack of knowledge may make it difficult to apply one’s imaginary concepts…
-High School students made note of the following:
Amazingly they did not feel hopeless in the face of such a discovery –
and middle school students enjoyed this:
We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. Benjamin Franklin ( said the man attempting to understand electricity by experimenting with lightning and kites, among other things)
What then are we encouraging when the latest bandwagon suggests “teach inquiry”- wasn’t this part of the learning process before? If not- why not? When we share a bit of history rather than merely proclaiming newest is best- we automatically enable students to begin making connections and developing an inquiring mindset. But if we don’t put the historical event into context we are only providing a series of facts – yesterday was “International Women’s Day” and it was truly exciting to read how many people cared to get involved and how across countries and cultures via the internet so many, male and female, could share their hopes for a future that allowed for the pursuit of knowledge on the part of ALL global citizens. To me- that single word “ALL” becomes central- removing an “us versus them” gender bias, and replacing the goal with the hope that inquiry based learning- learning that indeed asks questions and admits to a lack of answers- which is inquiry based learning at its best, will give voice to “if not- why not” thinking; thinking that would lead to action and possibilities for education. Because one thing did become clear- the lack of p0ssibilites for what is seen as formal education was one of the reasons behind needing such an event as International Women’s Day in the first place.
Our students = the future, and their world will have new challenges, in ALL fields, and being allowed to question how something may be improved is as important as being encouraged to value the notion of questioning.
Maria Montessori, best known for the schools that offer her name in their title, took seriously the purpose behind “learning through doing”:
asking “For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?”
To borrow that inquiry and place it in today’s context: what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s opportunity for development lags behind?
Students recognize both purpose and potential and when we as educators discuss concepts such as how to engage a group we are really asking how can this lesson, this demonstration, this activity prove meaningful. When a student (regardless of gender) sees no future use value from the inquiry that is when we as educators must worry- and question the social structure itself – a structure that has made thinking, questioning, caring, and potential for improving non existent to whole communities of people be it due to economic, cultural, or political issues. Why?
(I have benefited from working with an extraordinary range of students and their communities, extending my own concepts of inquiry, and what it may mean to encourage curiousity)