“I Don’t Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn’t)” is a book by Leah Hager Cohen. Interesting concept for a book. I woke up to KCBX public radio this morning to a conversation with the author.
“I think those words can be so incredibly liberating,” she told the interviewer. “They can just make your shoulders drop with relief. Once you finally own up to what you don’t know, then you can begin to have honest interactions with the people around you.”
To this day I remember the first time I told my older son, “I don’t know.” He was perhaps in middle school. How could I have gotten away with “knowing everything” so long? Perhaps he asked me easy questions or perhaps I really knew. “Wait but you know everything!” he exclaimed in shock.
And you know what, he didn’t respect me any less. THAT, I believe was what I was most fearful of in the beginning. Looking back to when both my boys were little, there was some sense of making sure they knew I had a clue. However, I found it to be more fun (for me) and more meaningful for them if we figured it out together (although these days my other son has told me how he NOW appreciates all the stuff I DID tell him about nutrition — nagging, in other words).
“Let’s go to ___ and see for ourselves!” are all options when talking with your child of any age. If you actually know the answer, then by all means share it! Unless, like my mom used to do with words in particular, you want them to go through the discovery process themselves.
As the interview brought to light, “This year’s graduating high school class will be the first generation to have grown up entirely under the No Child Left Behind Act, so this is an entire generation of kids that’s been raised in an educational environment where there’s a premium on knowing the right answer, being able to fill in the correct oval on a test.
“I worry that we may not be teaching enough the value of experimentation and failure and risk-taking and the process of inquiry.”
I agree. No Child Left Behind, in my opinion, has taken the learning out of the educational experience. While standards are important, to be sure, critical thinking is the key to survival, in my experience.
Given school budgets cutting out the option of many field trips and often cutting music and art programs, how are these needs being fulfilled? (Cambrians, by the way, should count their blessings by the strong support of these two areas of study in our schools — think critical thinking skills to the max!)
Start by letting your child know you don’t know. Then find out — together. Just this simple act, as the author stated, is a liberating experience with not only your child but spouse, friend, co-worker and employer.
Yes, “I don’t know, but I can find out!” is honest, intelligent and will get you (and often everyone around you) in a much saner space.