Friday, March 18, 2011

On the Virtues of Knowing the Virtues of not Knowing

This post over the Physics! Blog! got me thinking about how important it has been for the students in my science teaching and learning seminar to have read an essay called, "The virtues of not knowing".

The essay from Eleanor Duckworth can be found in an amazing book called, "The Having of Wonderful Ideas" . I would recommend this book to anyone interested in science, science teaching, or research in science education research.

Here are several passages from that essay:
"Of all the virtues related to intellectual functioning, the most passive virtue is of knowing the right answer. Knowing the right answer requires no decisions, carries no risks, and makes no demands. It is automatic. It is thoughtless.

"In most classrooms, it is the quick right answer that is appreciated. Knowledge of the answer ahead of time is, on the whole, more valued than ways of figuring it out.

"... The virtues involved in not knowing are the ones that really count in the long run. What you do about what you don't know is, in the final analysis, what determines what you ultimately know.

"It is, moreover, possible to help children develop these virtues. Providing occasions such as those describe here , accepting surprise, puzzlement, patience, caution, honest attempts, and wrong outcomes as legitimate and important elements of learning, easily leads to further development. And helping children to honestly come to terms with their own ideas is not difficult to do.

"The only difficulty is that teachers are rarely encouraged to do that... Teachers are encouraged to go for right answers, as soon and as often as possible....

"It would make a significant difference to the cause of intelligent though in general, if teachers were encouraged to focus on the virtues of not knowing, so that those virtues would get as much attention in classrooms from day to day as virtue of knowing the answer."
One reason why this reading has been so important in our class is "The virtues of not knowing" has become both a catch phrase for calling attention to moments of puzzlement, curiosity, questioning and a lens through which to see ourselves in a positive light. We not only exhibit the virtues of not knowing, the phrase lets us call attention to and celebrate it.

How do you celebrate the virtues of not knowing in your classroom?

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