The Beautiful Pursuit of Inquiry

What does it mean to know? What does it mean to understand? How do we obtain wisdom? If we hope to create life-long learners why are we focusing on what has been learned rather than the process of how to learn? These are some questions that are bubbling up for me based on a combination of what I’m working on with my AP Language and Composition course – we are digging into Plato’s The Allegory of a Cave– work I’m tackling with a subset of the MVPS  powerhouse team to create a system of badges, and an immediate need to capture the learning processes of Innovation Diploma Cohort more effectively and holistically. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, skills–and the intersections between each–are the very core of learning. And yet, within each of these words there exists incredibly distinct nuances that matter.

  • Knowledge is the collection of facts, information and skills.
  • Understanding is making sense of those facts and understanding the why.
  • Wisdom is something that comes from experience. I see it as actionable – it’s the application of knowledge and understanding. And it takes time and reflective practice to achieve.

Schools have done an exceptional job placing value on the knowledge the student learners obtain – knowledge is easy to capture. A test or a quiz can assess the knowledge of a student, but to what end? When I receive a test back with an 84% on the top, what do I think about my level of knowledge and understanding? Is it clear to me, to my teacher, to colleges what I know?  Do schools place too much emphasis on measuring knowledge by assigning grades and continuing to offer AP courses that require a great deal of content coverage?

I am fortunate to work at Mount Vernon, a place that values the art of learning over what you have learned. We have purposefully built time in the day where students are encouraged to explore passions and curiosities and make discoveries without being directed toward an answer. In fact, we encourage our learners to ask “why” and “what if” and open-ended questions that lead to more questions. We fold time into the day for students to self-reflect in writing about their learning, their progress toward goals, and we ask them to develop a plan for next steps. The experience of following a point of self-initiated curiosity is one that facilitates wisdom because at Mount Vernon, we are biased toward action – we invite learners to experience and apply what they’re learning in a meaningful way. We don’t ignore what we don’t know, but we encourage each other to establish “need to knows” and go out to find those answers, which may lead to more questions, and ultimately more learning.

I challenge us all to place even more value on this pursuit of inquiry around what matters to our student learners— even when it feels risky and no one else seems to care. These pursuits shouldn’t be in addition to or on top of the knowledge and understanding we are building within typical classes; these pursuits validate that learning to learn and asking hard questions is even more important than what has been learned – and that leads to wisdom.

Plato wrote that the “object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful,” and I’d say learning is quite beautiful.


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