There is a lot of comfort in knowing things. It’s so simple to be able to say that the sky is blue, that drinking a lot of water is good, or that fat, salt, or carbohydrates are bad for you. It’s irritatingly messy to have to explain that, actually, the sky just appears blue for reasons that turn out to be remarkably complicated, or that drinking too much water can actually kill you, that we need a certain amount of fat, salt, and carbohydrates in our diet, or that “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol are both essential for life.
Getting comfortable with uncertainty is not a panacea for all of our educational woes, but it is an excellent start in allowing students the room to explore different solutions, and in training them to critically evaluate their own work. After all, if your answer is confirmed by the textbook solution, there’s not much room for further evaluation. If we can use real problems without right answers as the basis of at least part of our education, then we will surely prepare our students for the real world.
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Heartfelt thanks to Jed Wesley Smith for the theme, and Tia Lowenthal for the cover image.