Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What you want to know.

'If you meet a scientist, don't ask her what she knows, ask her what she wants to know. It's a much better conversation- for both of you.'
That's the concluding sentence to Stuart Firestein's 'Forum' piece, in Scientific American (April 2012). 
In his piece entitled 'What Science Wants to Know,' Firestein suggests that 'an impenetrable mountain of facts can obscure the deeper questions."
Welcome to a too familiar world- the world of 'Compulsory Schooling.' 
In school, you will certainly cover topics, you with undoubtedly gather facts (how many your remember is another issue all together). The truest fact though, is that you will not have the opportunity to ask those deep questions. Too busy going after more facts for that.

The other day, my daughter opened up a new notebook  purchased at the Dollar Store. She laughed. "It's the American schedule on the inside. They have 8 periods a day."
I sighed because again and again, the folly of dividing learning into compartments that you cover over the course of the day seems so unbelievably inefficient and brain numbing to me.
Now it's French. 30 minutes later, now it's Math. Now it's Art. Now it's Sociology. 
The mind being forced to switch gears at the sound of a buzzer is so radically in opposition to the the way we actually learn. How much depth of learning can actually happen?

Firestein agrees, "You have to know a lot to be a scientist." But that's not enough. "Knowing  a lot is not what makes a scientist. What makes a scientist is ignorance," he believes.
That's right. Ignorance. 
He says, "That might sound ridiculous, but for scientists the facts are just a starting place." 
Every new scientific discovery raise new questions, so ignorance will always grow faster than knowledge. Firestein, observes that one crucial outcome of scientific knowledge is to generate new and better ways of being ignorant: "not the kind of ignorance that is associated with a lack of curiosity or education but rather a cultivated, high-quality ignorance."

Firestein continues, "If scientists would talk about the questions rather than boring your eyes out of their sockets with reams of jargon, and if the media reported not only on new discoveries but the questions they answered and the new puzzles they created, and if education stopped trafficking in facts that are already available on Wikipedia-then we might find a public once again engaged in the adventure that has been going on for the past 15 generations."
Natural learning and unschooling  is one way to keep the asking of deep questions at the fore of education.
Begin with questions. Begin with interests and passions. Facts do follow-appropriately, necessarily, welcomely.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hear you! It is such a huge waste of time to go about forcing kids to learn facts outside of a meaningful context. Still I worry that without them knowing basic facts like geography etc they will be come across as really ignorant. How do you go about keeping a balance between fact and interest/passion?

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