This past weekend I had the opportunity to present a paper I had written at a graduate student led conference at LSU called Curriculum Camp. I spoke on using dystopian literature with adolescents to explore concepts of giftedness.
It was unlike any conference I had ever been to. It was small and intimate, filled with graduate students and their ideas. Graduate students shared papers they had written, research they were doing, and ideas from their dissertations. Just about each session tackled thought-provoking and challenging issues. I took a lot of notes of thoughts, questions, and ideas I walked away with. I have a large list of curriculum theorists and their ideas I want to read more about.
One of the themes I caught throughout the conference was this idea of being comfortable with the uncomfortable. We live in a world that is surrounded by the politically correct. We spend hours molding ourselves into boxes, trying to be so many things at once. I joke about it, but one of things I am highly uncomfortable with is other people's emotions. I am not even comfortable with my own emotions, so I am highly uncomfortable with other people's emotions. This is why I have to teach above grade 4. Grade 3 and below includes way too many tears. Tears terrify me. I can relate to the quote below. I usually refused to give in to expressing emotion because I felt I had to be strong.
This idea of being comfortable with the uncomfortable is a theme in my life I have been wrestling with all year. You can see where I blogged about this at Balancing the Backpack in September. It also got me thinking about my students. How do I help them embrace ambiguity? We need to inspire students to be creative and critical thinkers. However, we often frame their learning experiences around questions that have right and wrong answers. How do we open them to the possibilities? How do we help them to see how big the world is? How many ways of seeing there are...
I was reviewing through some old lesson plans and I found one of my weekly reading responses from a World Literature class I took during my Masters. The themes matched up well to my current thoughts.
Thoughts on Ambiguity from 2010
How does one become comfortable with ambiguity in a text? Should ambiguity just be defined as the act of being uncertain and unclear? What other elements exist in the concept of ambiguity? If the path is unclear, do we stand at the edge of the unknown and gaze upon it waiting for clarity to strike us? Or is it better to venture forth into uncertainty with confidence? We have to decide if our goal is to reach the destination, or if we really just want to experience the journey. In asking myself how I become comfortable with ambiguity, I feel the need to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of ambiguity, essentially wanting to make the notion of ambiguity less ambiguous. Maybe becoming comfortable with ambiguity is not the idea of understanding ambiguity but embracing it. Does everything in life need to be broken down and categorized? At the same time, it is the nature of the ambiguous that makes it so intriguing and makes us want to analyze it deeper. Are we inherently attracted to things that are ambiguous, and it is the events and duties of our everyday life that have forced us to try and compartmentalize the world into easily understood categories?
As an elementary teacher, I find it fascinating to see how children view the world. They abhor the monotonous and thrive on creativity, anything that stimulates their imagination. I have seen firsthand the difference age makes on the acceptance of uncertainty. You can give a prompt to a fourth or fifth grader and while they may still seek to ensure that they understand the directions or the questions asked, they will enter into the assignment with confidence of their own ability to analyze and imagine. They are sure of their world and their ability to perceive it. Many of my sixth grade students will hesitate to finish an assignment or answer a question unless someone can provide them confirmation that is accurate and complete. I am finding the need to instill in my older students what seems to come naturally to my students only a year younger, that they need to trust their own ability to analyze and verbalize their thoughts. If younger children can embrace the ambiguous, what along the way has caused us to create our own roadblocks? Is it as simple as wanting others to like us, being afraid of making a mistake, a reinforced need to be correct, overwhelming availability of possible answers to every question, or just the pressures of everyday life? If we are to become comfortable with ambiguity in an ever-increasingly complex world, we need to shed our adult-learned hesitations and approach the uncertain with the imagination and confidence of a child. We can make sense of the uncertain path only by jumping into it with the confidence that we may never find all the answers.