Andy Hargreaves, the Thomas More Brennan Chair at the Lynch School of Education, Boston College, has contributed an inspiring piece written for Imagination Matters. Andy explores how the thirst to learn that comes from a lack of knowledge, and the ideas generated in that moment of relative ignorance before you discover an answer, is what ultimately makes learning so magical. Thank you to Andy for this amazing article. Please read and enjoy.

Knowledge. Educators are obsessed with it. Compared to learning, that is. We want to create knowledge, apply knowledge, even “mobilize” knowledge, by moving it around. I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to this. After all, I wrote a book once called ‘Teaching In The Knowledge Society’. But perhaps all this knowledge has become overrated, I wonder.

Last year, I undertook some research in the North of Canada, in a small town called Dryden. I was in a class of 7 or 8 year olds. Having come straight from the school board offices, I was, to be honest, a bit over-dressed. A small group of children just to the side of me looked me over and began to speculate about who this man in a suit might be. “Is he the new principal?” one of them wondered. “I think he’s the President”, a second one said. “No, I know who he is”, the third one exclaimed, “He’s the King of Dryden”.

One of life’s most blissful states is the space, moment or portal that separates ignorance from knowledge; that distinguishes not knowing from knowing; curiosity from certainty.

After this all-too-brief coronation, I then had to break the disappointing news that I was not royalty, but merely a  professor from a university.  Now they had the knowledge. But much more interesting and engaging for them had been that magical moment before they had the knowledge – the wonderful moment of ignorance.

We should cherish this kind of ignorance. It’s not the ignorance that refutes knowledge and expertise. It’s not prejudice or stupidity. It is simply the absence of knowing that invites and anticipates the knowledge that is to come. One of life’s most blissful states is the space, moment or portal that separates ignorance from knowledge; that distinguishes not knowing from knowing; curiosity from certainty.

Through centuries of scholarship and in a time before Google, it’s always been the moment of wonder and wondering, of mysteries and solutions and then more mysteries beyond them, that has been most special in the process of educating. The crossword clue or mathematical equation you are trying to solve; the country you have not yet visited; the blind date you are waiting for – these are life’s delightful moments of wondering and not knowing that captivate us and gain our complete attention. They are our most teachable moments.

Education is about the joy of not knowing, and of what to do about that

This is why teaching is so important. Teaching isn’t about the delivery of knowledge and information. Algorithms can give us that. Teaching is about embracing, exploring and exploiting the glorious moment of ignorance that immediately precedes knowledge and then succeeds it again soon after.  China’s great philosopher and teacher, Confucius, said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”. The marvel of teaching is in how it inspires and intrigues people to seek out and take on new problems, explorations, and challenges.

Teachers need to have their moments of ignorance too. A thousand miles south of Dryden, close to the city of Toronto, 14 teachers gather together to discuss a “student of wonder” who struggles with their learning. A decade ago, when testing was all the rage, these students were known as “marker” students. When they failed to meet the mark in terms of measured proficiency, teachers had to devise strategies together to get their scores up quickly. But the focus now is more on the learning than the testing. Teachers “wonder” together why a particular student struggles. Then they pool all their ideas and insights, their own bits of imperfect and incomplete knowledge, to try and solve the mystery of how to help the child learn. Admitting that, at first, they don’t really know what the issue is, is part of their professionalism. Inquiring together and acting upon it, is the essence of their collaborative professionalism.

Education isn’t about delivering facts, or delivering anything, for that matter. Nor is it about instant access to online information. Education is about the joy of not knowing, and of what to do about that. It is about understanding that, in the company of a great teacher, ignorance, of a sort, can truly be bliss.

Posted by:Andy Hargreaves

Andy Hargreaves is the Thomas More Brennan Chair at the Lynch School of Education, Boston College. Before that, he was the co-founder and co-Director of the International Centre for Educational Change at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Andy has authored or edited over 30 books, several of which have achieved outstanding writing awards from the American Educational Research Association, the American Libraries Association, and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. One of these, Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School (with Michael Fullan, 2012) has received three prizes including the $100,000 Grawemeyer Award in Education for 2015. Andy serves as adviser in education to the Premier of Ontario, is founding editor of two scholarly journals, and is President of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement. He holds an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Uppsala in Sweden. In January 2015, he was ranked the #6 scholar with most influence on US policy. Andy consults with organizations and governments all over the world. His most recent book is Uplifting Leadership (with Alan Boyle and Alma Harris) published by Jossey Bass Business, 2014.

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