So this blog has some political content but I don’t really want to talk politics. I want to talk about what it means to be educated, what it means to learn, and what it means to know what you know and know what you don’t know. Garry Wills, whose writing and outlook I respect immensely, has a piece on one of the Republican candidates here. Make what you will of the politics, I’m more interested in how he describes what education can do for teenagers:
At some point, late or early, children disengage themselves from the stories crafted for them. Their loss of belief in the tooth fairy is only slightly behind their loss of teeth. There is a slow motion race to disappear between Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. The Stork undergoes, for some, a lengthier demise—and “the birds and the bees” do not long outlast it. Others, I hope, soon disabuse themselves of belief in their parents’ infallibility. Certain religious myths are discarded without necessarily losing faith. That I do not believe in Noah’s Ark does not mean that I must stop believing in God—though certain home schooling parents force that connection on their kids.
Minds grow by questioning things, and adolescence is a great period of questions. Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken learned to cross-examine the Bible all on their own, without any help at all from college. An unquestioned faith is not faith but rote recitation. The opposite of such questioning is not deep belief but arrested development.
While Wills is writing about (and responding to certain claims made about) religion and universities, his thesis represents what school ought to be about, or at least what we’re after at the Workshop. How do you learn to ask questions? How do you learn to cross examine texts, beliefs, and ideas on your own? How do you contextualize these new understandings? How do you take this new knowledge and make a difference in the world? How do you bring a question from something wriggling in your mind to a full-blown project? And, as teachers, how do we encourage questions? How do we help students see their questions in the school curriculum? How do we bring the great period of questions that is adolescence into the school day?