Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Is this right...?"

Procedural rules are both useful and arbitrary--we like to have routines, and we like to know the routines already established. (I bet the 20 odd people backed up at Newark Liberty Airport while I fumbled with the check-in procedure would agree.) A child in my classroom might not know that if you want to go to the bathroom, you just sign the in/out book and grab the horseshoe crab shell that serves as the pass.

Because the rules are arbitrary, asking "is this right?" makes sense.

"Is this right?"

A child looks up, not invested enough in the problem to look confused.

Some things in high school science are obvious once you grasp the principles--there is no need to ask. Because there is no need to ask, I no longer feel compelled to answer.

I walk away. When she knows enough to be confused, I'll amble back over.

I am still less experienced than my students--they have been at the school game for 11 years, and this is my 6th year teaching. I am getting better.

The child has learned the rules of the game well--extract the right answer, and Teacher gets off your back. Mom gets off your back. The Principal gets off your back. Chris Cerf gets off your back. Arne Duncan gets off your back. Rewards are promised. You can listen to your iPod in peace as you drift back into a world defined by primates.

We tolerate no confusion in our culture. Decisiveness trumps thoughtfulness. Political campaigns thrive on this. Twanging the amygdala pushes us into the certainty of the Light Brigade.

Science doesn't work that way because the natural does not work that way.

"The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility." Albert Einstein
The cartoon is from xkcd, natch!


Tom Hoffman said...

For some reason this reminds me that some of my teammates are getting ready to play baseball with overhand pitching and no fielding gloves for the, oh, 14th season. In the 19th century it only took them 5 years to figure out it was a bad idea.

Micah Sittig said...

I love that comic. I'd had it up in my classroom/office for the past 6 years, plan to display it my whole teaching career.