Strong reliance and belief about the knowledge we have can limit the possibility of developing new knowledge.  In his book, Death by Black Hole and other Cosmic Quandaries, Neil DeGrasse Tyson spoke about misperception of reality based on an egotistical perspective of knowledge.  He shared the following story, “…A famous end-of-science prediction came in 1894, during the speech by the soon-to-be Nobel laureate Albert A. Michelson on the dedication of the Ryerson Physics Lab, at the University of Chicago: ‘The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.’” This egocentric statement dismissed the reality of possibility and many great questions that were yet to be asked by future scientists. 

DeGrasse Tyson also shared a story about Sir Isaac Newton who said, “I do not know what I appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on a seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me.”  Albert Michelson could have benefited from Newton’s words that were spoken long before Michelson was even born. 

Life-long learning and growth are shared values within the EHHS division.  One of my beliefs about this is that we must question what we believe.  We also must encourage our students to question knowledge.  They have grown up in an educational system that imparts knowledge and expects them to repeat it in various forms; most recently, there has been an increase in state testing to assess students’ “knowledge” in this way.  This is not a system that promotes questioning and some would argue, learning.  

In the race for knowledge and strong performance on state testing, I worry that today’s students are not taught to think critically or taught how to ask good questions.  There is a risk that they will believe what they’ve been told rather than understand that there is a vast undiscovered truth before them.  We see the result of this ingrained learning culture at the college level where students are more comfortable with a prescriptive model than one that leaves room for construction of knowledge; students want to know what needs to be done to achieve full points rather than full learning.  

Imagine if we developed a culture where life-long learning and growth meant that we each had an evolving set of questions we were striving to answer.  Imagine if students were taught how to develop good questions as a platform for learning rather than maintaining a prescriptive learning culture.  How can we engage our students more deeply in the learning process?  Wouldn’t it be inspiring if we could ask students what questions they were working on as a way to begin a conversation?

So, what questions are you working on?  How have they evolved over time? What questions are you inspiring from your students?

DeGrasse Tyson, N. (2007).  Death by Black Hole and other Cosmic Quandaries.  New York, NY: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.