The Avoidance of Doubt

24 Feb

“I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.”  ~ Bertrand Russell

I was reading an email from a co-worker this week in which he used the phrase “the avoidance of doubt.” My first thought was that would make a great book title for a murder mystery.  But then as I thought about it some more, I knew it would have to be the theme for my blog this week.

There are some things about which it is comforting to be sure of such as the love of family or the dawning of a new day, but “it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” (Again, my thanks to Mr. Russell for saying it so well.)  Questioning opens the door for doubt which leads to inquiry which begets learning.

The idea of questioning the status quo came to mind as I was watching a video about students who designed their own schools.  “It’s crazy that in a system that is meant to teach and help the youth, there’s no voice from the youth at all.”  That’s the opening line to Charles Tsai’s video about Monument Mountain Regional High School’s alternative academic program.  According to Tsai, when the project was first proposed, it was met with a lot of resistance from teachers who doubted that real learning could come from students developing their own curriculum, and yet the learning these kids demonstrated is amazing.  “The… project itself continues to evolve,” says Tsai, and “dozens of schools around the world have already expressed interest in [the] model.”

The notion of questioning also came up during the presentation on creativity in class this past week.  We were introduced to the idea of lateral thinking, a term for breaking existing thought patterns.  Brainstorming is a common tool for coming up with new ways to approach a problem, but I was particularly drawn to the idea of “provocation,” a concept every parent has experienced with the incessant why questions from a five year old.  How many times you have played that game, sure that you could explain a concept to the child only to find yourself stumped somewhere around the fourth or fifth why?  And when you found yourself wondering why, did you investigate the answer and learn something new?

Leave room for the doubt because to be so sure of your thinking or of the accepted way of doing things is to close yourself off to the possibility of learning.


Posted by on February 24, 2013 in ADLT 642


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7 responses to “The Avoidance of Doubt

  1. Katherine

    February 26, 2013 at 12:22 am

    Gotta love Russell’s knack with words (I mean that literally… he had a strong influence on the philosophy of language, especially on how words reference objects). A habit of questioning fosters critical thinking. I had a fortunate childhood in the sense that my parents never squashed the urge to ask why. However, I have fallen out of the habit so your post is an excellent reminder. After all, the ability to question out surroundings sets humans apart from animals, yes?

    • Joanne Even

      February 26, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      It’s funny that you mention animals, because I often say I’ve learned a lot from my furry kids, esp. in terms of learning how to live in the moment and go with the flow. Maybe animals don’t question their surrounding but instead are more comfortable with not having to always know the answer.

      • Katherine

        February 26, 2013 at 11:39 pm

        Amen to that! So it’s not that they avoid doubt but that they are okay with it in a sense? Either way a questioning habit rings true for me.

  2. Lindsey

    February 26, 2013 at 8:07 am

    I love this, REAL education. It’s so exciting! Sandy’s line ” I think every single person wants to learn about something” and feel anyone who has ever been excited to present can relate to his feelings about the lesson not going as planned (I know I can!) Its great to see there are administrators and faculty valuing risk over doubt. Does creativity even exist if its not put into action?

    • Joanne Even

      February 26, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      Yup, that was one of my favorite lines, too. And could I ever relate to a presentation not going as planned, ugh!

      You pose an interesting question about creativity… can something be “put into action” by simply being visible to the artist who creates it or does it need to be seen, appreciated, or understood by others to be considered artistic?

  3. Joyce Kincannon

    February 26, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Continuous questioning can be a definition for “being an academic”. Building on what we KNOW is necessary to research as long as it contains a recursive caveat, “Is it still true?” Knowing is seldom absolute.

    • Joanne Even

      February 26, 2013 at 10:53 pm

      Joyce, your comments coincide with my love of connectivism where it’s not as important WHAT you know as WHO you know and that you know WHERE to go to find an answer.


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