- trees, bees, flowers, various forms of plant and animal life
- physics, chemistry, higher math
- History that extends beyond Europe and North America and can be referred to as “ancient”
- Engineering, construction, mechanics
- plumbing, carpentry, sewing, heating and cooling
- finance, tax regulations, mortgages
- Cultural riches of Africa, Asia, South and Central America
- US celebrity culture
- playing an instrument
- specialized branches of medicine
And yet I hold two advanced degrees in my special areas of interest, I attended a prestigious college and did well in high school. One would think that I must know a lot. Rather, I know more about the things I want to know more about. It is also true that the more I learn, the more aware I become of how much I do not know.
When we think and talk about school and what we expect our students to learn, it would be beneficial for us as educators, parents, and functional adults to step back and just hold our proverbial horses for a moment longer. Asking ourselves and our kids: “What do I/you/we know?” is not serving us well. Knowing/not knowing is not what is holding us back. Rather, the questions we need to be investigating alongside our kids go more like this:
- “What can we learn from this situation?”
- “How and where can I find out more about how to do that?”
- “Who can help me learn that?”
- “What is the learning I am not willing to live without?”
- “What have I learned in the past that can help me approach this new thing?”
- “Where do I see evidence of my learning?”
- What is it that I can’t wait to learn?
- How does this connect to what I understand about …?
Although I know how to drive a car, that fact alone will not be enough when I go to the UK and have to drive a stick shift on the left side of the road. My capacity to learn some new habits, while temporarily unlearning some old habits will directly affect my success in this situation. In fact, lives would depend upon my capacity to learn and unlearn efficiently and effectively. What appears to happen in schools is that we focus so narrowly on students achieveing that specific set of replicable skills in standard situations without providing the tools for expanding the repertoire or encouragement to redefine the task in more useful terms.
For all of those things I listed above about which I don’t know much, I do know that I can learn what I need and want. That has been the greatest benefit of my life’s education so far. As a community of educators (parents, teachers, students (yes, students, too!)), we need to be clear that our greatest assets in school are inside our own heads, which multiply exponentially when we collaborate and support each other. With my own children and students, I hope that they can grab hold of this essential point: “able to learn” travels better and farther than “ought to know.”