“No great deed is done by falterers who ask for certainty.”George Eliot
Certainty is a most reassuring feeling. It may also be one of the most significant obstacles to learning. Whilst it may not always seem to be the case, little that we learn is ever really cast in stone, whatever an exam board may say. This term my Year 9 History class have been seeking to understand the origins of World War One. They have had to weigh evidence, consider opinions and analyse events. We know the war started in 1914 but that is about all that is certain. Perhaps the absence of certainty is what makes sport so exciting. Whilst it looked likely that Dina Asher-Smith would walk away with the gold medal, her victory was not certain until she crossed the finish line.
As an historian I’m sure she will have considered all of the variables, questioned her preparation and will enjoy what has been achieved. She will also know that in the next race nothing is certain and she will have to do it all again.
One feature of British style education is the blending of a base of knowledge with a portfolio of skills. If we are to view this year as being a success we may be wise to ask how well we have developed critical thinkers who are able to make sense of this complicated and sometimes contradictory world. The first step is to move away from believing that we are always right in what we think; if this is achieved then we are going to enjoy a vibrant year of learning.
Pupils often make decisions about what they do and don’t like about school early on in the educational journey. All too often the enthusiasm of our youngest learners is stifled by the feeling that a particular subject or activity “is not for them”. Misperception turns into certainty and it is never questioned again. This is a shame. The BSP is not a large school and as a consequence our young people have the opportunity to be involved in a wide variety of activities and our class sizes mean that all have a chance to be involved in lessons. We can question the “not for me” misperception. Term is well under way and it is a good time to remind ourselves that learning is best when we all engage fully. I hope that our young people remain confident in being able to ask the question “why do we think that?” when considering the answers that they are given. Without this degree of critical thought our understanding of the world will not move on.
This week the UK enjoyed National Poetry Day. Simon Armitage the Poet Laureate spoke thoughtfully on the use of language in politics describing it as “threadbare”, a language of certainties that does not address real issues but perhaps the most telling statement came from poet Anthony Anaxagorou who suggested that poetry offers a route beyond the media soundbites. “A poem is happy not knowing anything for certain, whereas news needs to be premised on ‘truth’,” Anaxagorou said. “Poems argue their own logic, they call on their own truth, which needn’t be an empirical one, so in this respect their reach is far more universal.”
I’m certain I couldn’t have said it better.