Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Of Ignorance and Learning

We are all ignorant.  Of something.  No one likes to admit it, but it’s true. 

A learning culture is about embracing that truth; that we are ignorant of a great many things, and... most importantly... that we can do something about it. 

In a day and age of global-interconnected social media, we see the effects of giving every mind a platform.  We see people who are irresponsibly overconfident, spewing their opinions into the minds of innocent audiences who choose to listen.  But, should we trust the overconfident?  What do we know about their research, their thinking process, their knowledge, and their ignorance?  And, what do we know about their own awareness of these same things, as well as their sense of responsibility to them, and us?  On the flip side, just because we think something, does that mean it is something good for others to think?  I offer this blog post fully aware that I am ignorant of what you know and want to know.  So, being responsible to that ignorance, I am offering these thoughts carefully and constructing a path of reason in the hope it will bridge some gaps.

Unlike a blog post, parent engagement requires the exchange of thought.  Teacher thoughts mixing with parent thoughts, all around what the child is thinking.  There is bound to be a ton of ignorance on all sides.  Yet, instead of just admitting it and embracing the opportunity to bridge some gaps, we see a lot of frustration over the other person’s lack of understanding.  We see teachers who want parents to support them, and parents who want teachers to support their thinking.  We don't see a lot of, "I wonder what they know that I don't."

In a learning culture, the opportunity to eliminate ignorance is something that all participants appreciate.  It is a shared goal.  It also means people take responsibility for the potential that their ignorance has for causing errors.  And instead of shouting ignorant opinions from the rooftops, or from their digital dais, they work to find more solid ground, ground they can trust to lead others to stand on.  The focus is more on serving the unified certainty than being the revered source. There is a lot more humility present in their intentions than hubris.

The world is still in a great debate about climate change.  Among the many offered opinions we see, are ones that scream “CONSPIRACY!” “HOAX!” and “It’s just weather!”.   But, why would someone offer such opinions?  Have they done the research?  Have they analyzed decades of data?   Or do they just want to feel the power of being heard?  Sure, we live in a global community that allows and even encourages our competitive verve to freely voice our thoughts onto the world stage.  We can post on Facebook or Twitter any sort of opinion we have.  But, is that responsible?  Are we really aware of our ignorance, and do we care? Are we really sure that the ground we stand on is solid - solid enough to invite others onto it, too?

If one person hears a few thoughts, facts, and opinions (offered out of ignorance) and twists them into some imaginary plot, they might feel the need to scream, “CONSPIRACY!”, but does that make it so?  The question is actually one of filling in the ignorance gaps; of learning.  What do you really know?  What can you prove?  What's changed since you learned it?  

It isn’t always responsible to raise an alarm based on unproven thoughts.  In fact, it rarely is.  With our platform comes a responsibility; the responsibility to consider the impact of our statements on others, to consider how much we don’t know before we send that thought into someone else’s mind.  Just because we think it, does not mean it is true.  And, even if it is true for us does not mean it is true for someone else.  Much of this “thought throwing” culture is based on pure speculation and the interpretation of many other people’s ignorant opinions.  With a digital dais to speak from we take on the role of leader.  We are openly choosing to offer our influence, to actively sway the thoughts of others.  To do this, responsibly, we must consider the effect we actually cause. 

If we are leading a wagon train across the 1852 Mojave desert, is it responsible for us to shout “Water!” and point to a mirage?  We must consider the effects.  In the absence of other opinions and any true knowledge, we may be leading others further into doom.  If we scream “HOAX!” about global warming, just because we can’t see it or understand it, there may be little effect.  But, if others who are still undecided take us at our word, we may actually lead them into trusting us and following us, and eventually… toward global destruction instead of away from it. 

When parents speak to teachers, they must do so with a responsibility to their child.  What they tell the teacher will impact the instruction.  What they learn about helping their child at home will impact the child’s education.  And, vice versa, when a teacher is speaking to a parent they must also be responsible about the effect of their influence.  The need to be aware of their ignorance about the child, about problems in the home, and other relevant points because what they learn from the parent will also impact the child’s education. 

When we take this to the district level we see passionate parents arguing against an entrenched and immovable system.  We also see a myopic bureaucracy refusing to learn from their community.  This frustration can cause both sides to hunker down into their ignorance and throw thoughts at one another.  This is where a culture of inquiry – the commonly accepted practice of eliminating ignorance instead of proving it – will bridge gaps, form allegiance and alliances, and create consensus.  

If there was one place we would expect to find a learning culture - a focused and accepted custom of admitting and eliminating ignorance - it would be in the education system, right?  But what we see instead is a culture based on the dais.  In order to become part of the education system you must be a teacher.  You must become excellent at speaking from the front of the classroom and distributing what you know and believe.  Therefore, everyone in the industry is mostly focused on offering what they know, not on eliminating their ignorance. 

Instead of asking, “Why do parents think that?  What do they know that we don’t know?” they would rather tell parents why it won’t work.  Educators want to educate.  So, it makes sense.  But, it doesn’t bridge gaps.  Parents know what is going on in the real world, the world their children will have to enter.  Teachers and educational administrators live, work, and breathe in a separate reality.  There is much they don’t know about corporate culture, corporate learning, global integration, and the future workplace their students will encounter. 

Whether we are parents trying to change the system or teachers within the system, when we take on the role of “platform speaker” we are given a great privilege.  We are availed the opportunity to lead others.  If all we care about is our own knowledge we may fail them because of our ignorance.  Imagine the wagon train leader who struts and marches with a glow of affirmation because sixty some-odd people have placed their confidence in him as they march farther away from water.  Sure he feels the boost of having a “following” but there will come a day when they are dying of thirst and he will have to face the truth of his ignorance.  It is truly better to have admitted ignorance early on, than to face the dismay of having brought others with you into a bad outcome.  Having people follow our thinking is not proof we are right.  It is proof they trust us.  That trust deserves a responsible approach, a truthful admittance of what we do and do not know. 

In parent engagement groups that create and build a learning culture, the specter of ignorance is defeated by facing it.  By facing our ignorance we become empowered to discover new knowledge.  We can safely ask ourselves, “What do I not know?”  We bridge gaps.  We learn.  And we lead others to do the same.  

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