Modeling Failure

We’re coming close to the DNA unit in my Humans in the Natural World integrated 9th grade curriculum, which is one of many moments in the course where I get to feign authority. It’s fun to perform the scientist (as well as the historian, among other roles). Granted, the students are paying quite the pretty penny for my best Bill Nye impersonation (I wish I could pass for Neil deGrasse Tyson), but what I’m primarily modeling is an effective learning orientation; that is, I’m teaching habits and ways of behaving, seeing, and thinking, rather than serving as an authoritative gatekeeper.

In an era of information abundance, I don’t need to be the carrier of knowledge, though it is fair to expect that I’m the arbiter of meaningful research and inquiry (except that, because of a paucity of experience in the various fields for which I’m responsible, I’m rarely confident about what information is useful/accurate). In the hero’s journey framework, I’m just a wise threshold guardian constantly ushering students into new personal unknowns. The burden of having all the answers isn’t on my shoulders; I simply (and this is hardly simple) have to be present, caring, attentive, and adaptable enough to facilitate what each student needs as they engage their curiosity and enact a spirit of dialogue.

I’m a caretaker, tending to the environment, providing a safe space in which students can go awry and reap rewards from their wandering; more than anything, I help them discover their own learning capacities, rather than anything discrete about the specific subject they’re exploring. I offer them lenses and frameworks for observing and interpreting the diversity of information they encounter, and I teach them the wisdom to know the difference between the applicability of each lens, while also inviting them to entertain the possibility of synthesis among the lenses.

The way I’m expressing everything here, you would think that this is my daily practice. That it’s what I do. Hardly. This is part of my philosophy. It’s what I attempt. Each day is an essay, an artistic process where trial and error are the norm, and the destination ever elusive. If Watson and Crick missed the mark, what can I really hope to do but make the effort as we study DNA?

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