Autumn time in England is always a lovely and beautiful season. Golden leaves falling from trees nestling in amongst that rare obsession of the English: conkers. I think it might be my favourite season of all.
Last Autumn I had a fascinating discussion with my son about acorns. He had picked one up and we had examined it for a while before I nonchalantly mentioned that from this tiny acorn a mighty oak might grow. He looked hard at the acorn before asking, “So a whole oak tree is inside this acorn?” I loved his question for the simplicity and profundity of its view of the world. In a way of course the answer is yes… and no. Our afternoon walk soon became embroiled in discussions about what really was, or was not, true. A lifetime investigating shades of grey beckons.
I was reminded of this discussion during a coaching course that I run for my colleagues in our school. Over ten days across the year we discuss many aspects of how we can coach and mentor one another to improve our professional performance and one of the sessions deals specifically with the notion of truth. To disrupt my colleagues’ firm understanding of the notion of truth we examine visual phenomena where what is seemingly true is seen to not be quite what it seems, causing us to doubt what our senses tell us. From that vantage point we turn to examine other ‘facts’ that we regarded as irrefutably true and discover that they too may not be the reliable cornerstones of truth that we once believed. For some, this is a very challenging notion, shaking their core belief in the veridical nature of experience.
This journey into iconoclasm is hard won with adults, since our beliefs have been forged over many hours of experience. We tend to take as facts those phenomena that our behaviour and habits have exposed us to during our life. Yet, with a firm enough shift in our perception, we see these facts with new eyes, often feeling astounded that we can now see the world in a different way. A great provocation here is the TED talk of England-based American neuroscientist Beau Lotto, whose visual illusions will reveal the workings of your brain and the missteps of your mind.
However, a paradigm shift leading to a new view of reality is a common experience for a young child. Their world is not so encumbered by layers of habitual expectation. Their concepts are more malleable, their exploration of the world more predisposed to disruptive influence. Yet, as they grow older and learn to fit more snugly with the assumptions and presuppositions of their environment, this openness to perceptual shift can wane, until, perish the thought, they become just like us.
Perhaps one of our most important jobs as educators then is to stay that process, to maintain a ready acceptance of alternative perspectives in the minds of our students, to support their exploration of the old and new, with a mind open to all possibilities.
If you need some help with that, I recommend you turn to an expert: the 6 year old son of a good friend of mine, Australia-based Design Thinker and Educator, Tom Barrett. His son wrote, via his father, a great book of questions that will make you view the world in a new way. Follow his lead, if you dare.