not-knowing is welcome here

not knowing

For today’s Morning Pages prompt, we marked up a page entitled “Not Knowing” from Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He suggests (and this is my favorite line) that “new discoveries and realizations happen at the interface between what is known and what is not known” (p. 73).

Dwell in that for a minute: all the things that we say we value in schools as English teachers–“creativity or imagination or poetry”–come from hanging out in that “interface.” What a lovely, terrifying thought.

So why isn’t “not knowing” more valued in school? And what are the benefits and pushbacks that occur when it is? I have to say that one of the scariest things for me now, even as a teacher with three decades in the profession, is the fear of what students will write on my course evals if I model “not knowing” as an essential part of learning and teaching. In the past, a handful of students have implied that “not knowing” means I don’t know what I’m talking about. Hypothetically, I hope they’re right because that’s the point that I should hang up my hat, but I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t associated costs. Students write evals –> committees write evals of professors –> professors receive (or do not receive) raises, earn (or do not earn) tenure, get (or not get) promotion, etc. Furthermore on course evals, there’s no question that asks to what degree an instructor successfully models curiosity and uncertainty (i.e. not-knowing); rather there’s just the question that rates whether or not a professor is knowledgeable about the subject.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t see these things as mutually exclusive. Still, the absence of the former question seems messed up.

JKZ’s claim, though, comforts me. If we don’t dwell in that “interface between what is known and what is not known” for at least a while, we don’t get poetry, we don’t get creativity, we don’t get imagination. Have we failed our students then? Have we failed the world?

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