This quote is a great summary of my attitude toward teaching:
“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.” – Lloyd Alexander
A college education shouldn’t be (solely) about learning a list of facts. Students need to learn the value of following their curiosity, of figuring out what questions to ask, of seeking answers to the more nuanced dilemmas of this life.
Information used to live in books, at the schoolhouse, with the teacher. Not any more.
Some professors take the role of “sage on the stage,” handing down information to students. But information is ubiquitous these days. Anyone with a smart phone, a tablet, a laptop, a desktop, has access to information. But what do we do with it? How can we learn to think critically about about the information that bombards us each day?
I once attended a conference where I presented an idea for a classroom activity, designed to help students better understand cultural differences. A teacher in my audience said, “This is a difficult activity. I’m afraid my students would struggle with it.”
At that point, our group’s conversation shifted to the value of struggle itself. Most of us decided that it was ok if students wrestled with the questions and couldn’t come up with any answers – for such an outcome would reveal other, deeper issues, like not being able to see past their preconceived ideas. They might also learn not to give up when thinking gets hard and answers are not obvious.
I’m not sure that our skeptic was convinced. Perhaps it made him uncomfortable, as a teacher, to give his students questions that were difficult to answer. But in many areas of life, there are no easy answers, but we must grapple with the questions anyway. We must examine issues like poverty, racism, and injustice, even if cannot readily solve them.
I hope I can teach my students not to abandon a difficult problem just because the answer doesn’t come quickly.