The Novice Mind
“Evidence from cognitive science, organizational behavior, and educational psychology suggests that experts are not always the best teachers.”
– Therese Huston, Teaching What You Don’t Know
Educators often value mastery and expertise. These are our two favorite readings about the exact opposite: The significance of being a beginner, of inexperience, and of that terrible feeling when we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.
The first is RZA’s spiritual memoir, The Tao of Wu, which is full of lessons from his life as the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan. In our favorite chapter, RZA addresses the importance of being a beginner. How often do we learn new skills ourselves – cooking, an instrument, a language, a sport – and why are we often so reluctant to be bad at something with such low stakes? How are our students afflicted by this same syndrome, and how do we instead encourage them to experiment? This short excerpt is one way to begin. RZA concludes the chapter by saying: “Too many people coast through life, doing only what they know how to do. … But now I try to erase what I know to increase myself.”
The second comes from a professor, Therese Huston, who acknowledges that teachers sometimes find themselves in situations where we must teach things we know very little about. She makes the claim in Teaching What You Don’t Know that this isn’t actually something to disguise: In fact, not knowing is the very condition that brings curiosity, spontaneity and experimentation into our classrooms. Written from the perspective of a college professor, “Teaching What You Don’t Know” is still relevant for every teacher who is planning just one night ahead of their students.