Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book #43: This I Believe

I picked up this collection of essays from NPR's This I Believe radio project when I went home to New England last fall for my uncle's funeral. (I bought it at the independent bookstore in the town where I grew up because, as I've mentioned before, I believe in voting with my dollars.)

This I Believe, in the 1950s and then again during a recent revival of the series, invited a variety of people to share something they had learned over the course of their life. They specifically asked people to "frame [their] beliefs in positive terms" and to "refrain from dwelling on what [they] do not believe."

Writers focused on a range of ideas, from "I believe that doing practical things can make the world a better place" to "I believe in feeding monkeys on my birthday."

The book was a good selection this week, as I've been alternating between fondly remembering my uncle and psyching myself up to read another and another and another student essay that barely scratches the surface of whatever complex topic they've decided to research this semester.

I've been wondering what my uncle would have said if he'd written a This I Believe essay. And I've been reminding myself that my students are just at the beginning of figuring out what they will learn more about over the next couple of months. It's okay to start out barely scratching the surface.

I've also been wondering what I would write. Maybe something like this?

In class on Wednesday, I talked with my students about moving into more serious research, understanding how people come to know things in the academic realm.

The reliance on evidence and logic and accurate measurement. The demand for reproducible results and independent verification. How personal experience and observations can be a good place to start, but aren't enough.

I put the word know in quotations marks.


I put the word know in quotation marks because I believe we will understand more if we never assume we've arrived at the place where we know. We can reach a point where we are reasonably confident, enough to take action. But I believe human progression depends on always being open to new information, new insights, new possibilities.

If we are too certain, we might stop asking questions.

And if we stop asking questions, we might stop altogether.

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