It’s one of those days when everything seems to be telling me to think about the same thing. It’s nearly Christmas. Time for one of the greatest songs ever (River by Joni Mitchell). But that’s not all…
In a radio programme I was listening to while I had lunch they were discussing whether it is OK – or even a good thing – to say “I don’t know”. Professor Kathy Sykes told of how she only had success with her Zimbabwe maths and physics students when she admitted that she didn’t know and so “let’s try and find out together.” It made me think back to last Sunday when I was listening to a commercial presentation about a new series of books called Q which are apparently based on the premise that critical thinking is at the heart of successful language learning and teaching. And then this evening another radio programme, as I work, is talking about Taoist philosophy in which Yin and Yang are major features. In the words of a Wikpedia entry “Yin and Yang complement each other: like an undertow in the ocean, every advance is complemented by a retreat”.
What am I talking about? Critical pedagogy, that’s what. The constant battle between knowledge (I know) and the questioning of knowledge (I don’t know but I want to know). Should teachers impart knowledge or provoke knowledge enquiry? Should they offer certainties or uncertainties? Should they teach things or provoke things?
It’s easy to answer, right? We all believe in critical thinking as the way to understanding. Questioning brings understanding; transmission teaching stifles it. Yet, as I said, it is Christmas and it is around this time of year that somehow my own critical questioning goes quiet. I forget my challenge to the myths that inform Christian religious belief and find myself accepting, unquestioning, an experience (though in my case not the belief) that is encompassed in the seasonal music that I love.
I mean (in case I am not being clear) that my critical faculties take a holiday. I wallow (It’ll be different in January!)
Should I be embarrassed about this? Or – to bring this post round towards teaching and learning– should we object when students want certainties rather than provocation? For example, should we (in a very western way) feel uncomfortable about the rote learning that helps Chinese and Japanese students to learn X number of characters a week or should we question our own belief in learner autonomy?
This issue came up in my last post about Dogme – the difference between acquisition vs participation. You might say that some things need to be taught (acquired knowledge) and some things need to be discovered through critical thinking (participation). That’s a Yin and Yang kind of argument. But in the era of Google does it make sense? If we believe in the democratisation of education can we be happy with this?
What do you think?