I’m often reminded of the importance of teaching gently – usually when I’m on the receiving end of less-than-gentle teaching myself. It makes me want to explain (gently, of course) why such teaching is so destructive, and to redouble my own efforts to teach gently myself.
I remember myself in far too much less-than-gentle teaching. Science teachers are trained from the crib to hate and detest that most evil of memes, the misconception. I’ve been just as evangelical as anyone else at times. But I see the world differently now. Misconceptions are models of the world, and all our models are imperfect. We are always at the beginning of infinity.
Think about what that means! It means that every time we teach, of necessity we teach misconceptions. They are unavoidable, because all our knowledge is filled with them. Every time we teach, we are helping our learners to create castles of the mind, structures that never before existed, structures that are as unique and individual as each of our learners. This act of creation, imperfect and messy, is to be celebrated.
And sure, much of learning involves un-learning our misconceptions (and replacing them with better misconceptions). This is as true for the Kindergartner as it is for the practicing physicist.
Science teaching (and maybe all teaching, I’ll have to give that one some more thought) is all about metaphor. We link the unknown to the known, we build on existing (imperfect) knowledge. Too often, I think, the fear of misconception prevents the exploration of metaphor. Too often, metaphors are loaded down with caveats and equivocations. If all teachers would embrace the fact that no matter what they teach they are teaching misconceptions, and if we imbued our learners with this knowledge, and a deep skepticism as well, think of how far we might go.
Embrace misconception! It is the path to even better misconception.