The Art and Craft of Not Knowing

I am getting old. I know this is true by the amount of times a day I shake my head in the direction of people younger than me and have thoughts that start off with “Kids today…” as if in the 80’s we were built of such better stuff. A short memory is another sign of old age.

But I’m going to start a sentence that way anyway. Kids today seem to  have lost appreciation for finding answers on their own. Are they losing the natural inquisitiveness that characterizes them as kids? Maybe. But if they are, it’s definitely the grown-ups’ fault.

Remember research papers? When you read books and articles and looked at old documents through a microfiche machines at the library? I have a feeling no self respecting 9th grader does any of that anymore. They use one source, more or less. And I’m not even going to give it a name. Though I do hope this posting gets me a high ranking in its search results.

How about going out into the woods and turning over some logs to see what goes on under there? How about learning about the food you eat by visiting a farm? What about going to a museum and seeing art right in front of you, instead of through the harsh light of a computer screen?

Not knowing is a craft, I think. Not knowing, and then having first hand experiences that help you understand, is a powerful way to learn. Is it a craft worth saving or is it more like a washboard – an old fashioned way of doing something that no longer has any value?

I believe it has value, but I bet I would have a hard time convincing the average school-aged kid. They are being taught that the standardized test is king. It doesn’t really matter if you understand the subject matter, and it certainly isn’t important that you care about it in anyway. All you really need to know is that you’ve got to score this many percentage points to reach the goal. And the goal is so detached from the experience of the child, why on earth would they really care?

I feel the tide is turning. Parents are fed up with an education system that is falling further and further behind in the world. We have a few more years before we have to deal with that, but the parents of little ones, like mine, are already worrying about putting their kids into schools that look more like factory farms than places where learning is fun, challenging, and fulfilling. I know so many great teachers who love their students, love what they do, but whose creative hands are often tied down by the bureaucracy. I hope that we can all find ways to fix the system. To get kids excited about learning. By letting the learn my doing things, not just by taking tests.

He'd ace this test, for sure.

He’d ace this test, for sure.

While I’ve got his full attention (and I know this might be a brief period of time in our relationship), I am trying to let my son learn by doing. As much as it might make me cringe, I do let him get dirtier than I would like, because I know in that dirt is where he will make connections to the world in which he lives. I try to keep my meddling to a minimum, and just let him figure stuff out. My hope is that I’m instilling in him a love for it – for not always turning to me for the answers (and later, to his friends or the internet), but for posing questions into the wind and seeing what wisdom comes back to him.

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