Being a student again is a humbling experience. It reminds me of one of my favorite jokes from comedian Mike Birbiglia: “When I was younger and would make mistakes I would say, ‘well, I was young and stupid.’ Now all I can say is ‘I’m stupid.’”
Feeling like you don’t understand something can be incredibly frustrating. Certainly, this frustration is present in our students too. Often they have been trained to have content delivered to them – to just consume information rather than struggle through it. Working through an inquiry doesn’t let students be passive recipients of their education.
Direct instruction is easy, but it communicates to students that “knowing” history, or other disciplines, is memorizing facts. Instead of showing students how experts in the respective fields have to grapple with the content of their sources in order to make meaning, the “truth” is delivered.
This brings me back to the embracing of stupidity — all learners benefit from a recognition of what we know and what we don’t know. In my office, I have a brief article hung up from the Journal of Cell Science, titled “The importance of stupidity in scientific research.” Essentially, the author discusses our need to get comfortable in knowing that what we don’t know is infinite. “The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries” (p. 1771).
By stepping back from what we think we know, we are able to truly unwrap the complexities of a topic. Through inquiry, students’ preconceived knowledge is challenged. And not because we tell them to consider an alternative way of seeing things! They are able to get there themselves.
The best inquiries on C3Teachers are the ones that my colleagues and I have discussed outside of the classroom. Not because we had the answers, but because we were still wrestling with the concepts ourselves.
As you are considering implementing inquiry into your classroom, you want to have a solid content knowledge, but I challenge you to also be ok with embracing your own stupidity.