No one knows enough. Period.
And that’s a good thing. I try to remember that.
Recently, a good friend of mine told me that he is convinced the Earth is flat. And, as far as I know, he’s not medicated.
He said that the evidence he’s collected is too overwhelming for him not to believe in it any more. A few days later he handed me a document titled “200 Proofs Earth Is Not a Spinning Ball.” I did not read through all 200 reasons, but upon a closer look I have to concede that at least a few reasons are compelling…
So I dug deep:
Do I believe the Earth is flat? No.
Do I believe the Earth is a sphere? Yes.
Can I disprove the Earth is flat? No.
Do I have proof the Earth is a sphere? No I do not!
And that’s precisely the point. I believe what I’ve been told at school. Teachers who were tasked with educating me believed someone else. They were taught by others who trusted the generation of teachers before them. And so on.
But how many of us actually did anything to prove that the Earth is round, or flat, or maybe a donut with a big flipping hole in the center?
I teach chemistry. Almost daily I tell my students about atoms, electron orbitals, the quantum theory, bonding, and other incredible things. These are abstract concepts most of their teen prefrontal cortexes are not yet developed enough to fully (and in some cases even partially) grasp. And I expect them to believe me - to trust me, because I know more than they do! But, do I?
I’m not so sure…
Back in 2007/08 I found myself teaching in a Saint Paul Public Schools’ alternative placement named “On Track” for students who flunked junior high and, for the first time in District #625’s history, were held back and forced to repeat 8th grade. These were tough “street” kids - a collection of badasses who, for many reasons outside of their control, cared little about schooling.
The learning environment these circumstances created wasn’t ideal. However, there were several students who, despite the system continually failing to meet their needs, had a lot of potential and convictions of their own. I remember one such student challenging the accepted view of matter. Ryan said that he does not believe in “all that stuff” when I talked about atoms. He told me that his dad says it’s all made up and it’s a bunch of bullshit. Of course I vehemently defended the leading scientific theories as I was programmed to do by 15 years of formal schooling. But…
Looking at that one interaction now I am not so sure who was right. I mean, let’s consider this for a minute: If I’m a kid, is it more crazy to believe my father or my teacher, who when compared to family is basically a stranger, an acquaintance and not much more? And, I know Ryan liked me as a teacher. So in retrospect I wonder: Who’s the smart one now?
I’m not saying that the entire story of the Universe is a far-fetched conspiracy to control the masses. Is it a possibility? Sure. Am I paranoid? I believe my mind is clear. All I’m saying is that no one knows enough to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. We often don’t know what we think we know. At the very least, we are not certain. We obtain much knowledge from others. We might be standing on the shoulders of giants or be trapped unconscious in the Matrix.
So, as I learn I choose to question, investigate, and look for my own answers and I conceive that my job as a teacher is to help my students do the same.
Thanks for reading! Check me out on BAm! Sign Up for my Newsletter on the science of learning, teaching and learning strategies, and finding inspiration in the little things. And, you can always count on me to encourage others to ask questions, look for answers, and gulp (not sip) life.
Remember: You Have the Power to Change the World. Use It Often!
PS. Recently, another one of my students challenged the accepted science theories concerning the makeup of the Universe. He said it’s too far fetched and nonsensical. I told him to look for his own answers. I’ve been a teacher for 13 years and I’m happy to report that I’m still figuring it out :)