Inquiry is fatal to certainty.
– Will Durant
Jon Becker asked what I took to be a serious question today on twitter, “All of you fired up about Kahn Academy and TED ED, how do you reconcile that with your belief in learner-centered, inquiry-driven learning?”
The question implies Kahn and TED ED stand diametrically opposed to learner-centered, inquiry-driven learning.
It sets up a dichotomous relationship where one need not exist. The thing about dichotomous relationships is they present hard choices in easy packages.
Reconciling the learning of someone walking away from a TED Ed or any TED talk with the learning of one in an inquiry-driven environment is important, thoughtful work.
We need not, as Samuel Johnson said in his “Rasselas” make our choice and be content. Building a learning environment need not mean choosing one path and forsaking all others.
It’s easier to treat the matter as such, but learning and teaching should be more complex than that. Acknowledging the value in something that appears contrary to one’s belief could put one on the precipice of doubting those beliefs.
Again, it need not.
If inquiry and learner-centered learning are keystones to my educational approach. Building classrooms or other places of learning around the curiosity and interests of the learners in those spaces is the best way for them to learn. It is not, by any means, the only way for them to learn. In fact, a monoculture spoils the soil of learning.
I played with LEGOS, spent hours by the creek that ran along our property line and tied sheets around my neck pretending I was any number of make-believe super heroes when I was young. I also sat listening on the laps of any family member who would take the time as they read me stories. I watched Sesame Street. I sat at my grandparents’ kitchen table as my grandfather explained who Casmir Polaski was and why we got the day off school because of him.
I learned in many ways.
My friend and colleague Matt has his G9 students complete a learning style inventory at the beginning of the school year. Students answer familiar questions of how they prefer to handle information. In the end, their scores show them the spectrum of learning styles with which they approach life. It’s a tremendous exercise with great value so long as its followed, as Matt makes certain it is, by the conversation explaining the results as a snapshot of where the students’ learning preferences stand in that moment.
Dichotomies over simplify the issues they attempt to settle. Perhaps dangerously, they sidestep the conversation and careful consideration of how new or different information can shift the paradigms through which we shape our understanding of the world.
I see value in Kahn and TED.
I see greater value in inquiry and student-centeredness.
I’ll privilege the latter more than the former in my classroom, but I won’t deny both can help students learn.