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Paul Grobstein's picture

Some further thoughts on inquiry ...

I'm delighted to see that I'm not the only one for whom our session a week and a half ago was a stimulus for further thinking about "inquiry" education. Ian and Wil have laid out some important issues, and, like Dora, I too think it would be "nice to put our efforts together and row in the same direction and go somewhere".

What strikes me, thinking back on our session, are three things:

  1. how much consensus we had about the down sides of traditional educational practices and the potential upsides of "inquiry education" (see "school" vs "inquiry education" as recorded at the start of our meeting)
  2. how much commonality we had about what "inquiry education" means (see the first set of small group reports from our meeting)
  3. our general reluctance, despite the first two points, to grant even close to a wholesale endorsement of inquiry education (see the second set of small group reports from our meeting)

The latter, it seemed to me, reflects not so much a professional concern about the value of an inquiry approach as a set of concerns about how well inquiry education would prepare our students to live in the real world and about what others would think of us if we seriously adopted it. The more I think about it, the more important inquiry education seems to me for our students, all of them. "Traditional" education has no great track record in the "social justice" realm; indeed I think one could make an argument that it has been a clear contributor, intentionally or unintentionally, to creating a culture in which some are privileged and others not so. The way out of this, it seems to me, is somewhere along the path of teaching everyone to think for themselves, to inquire. I don't see getting into Bryn Mawr or Haverford (or other forms of "climbing the social ladder") as an essential route to meaningful success (it may even, in some cases, be a hindrance); I do see acquiring the wherewithal to conceive and pursue one's one distinctive objectives (at all levels of the educational system) as a more promising path.

As for concerns about what others will think of us, there is, it seems to me, a clear choice. We can either follow our own sense of what makes sense, both for our students and ourselves, or resign ourselves to following "scripts" laid out by others. The latter won't make either ourselves or our students happy, but it might save our jobs. Is it worth it? Everyone has to make that judgement for themselves, of course, but there are worse things than losing jobs. I know, having lost one myself a number of years ago precisely because I was more interested in inquiring and encouraging others to do so (see This Isn't Just My Problem, Friend). I have no regrets about it whatsoever. Very much to the contrary, it gave me the needed room to more clearlly conceive and pursue my own distinctive objectives. At the same time, I was, in hindsight, probably less wise than I might have been. As Dora points out, one needn't take on the system directly; one can in small but effective ways "buck the system in practical terms".

Can we together develop and implement an "action plan"? I'd like to think so, and am more than happy to work with others similarly inclined. Thoughts here are one way to go about it. In addition, Alice and I have organized a working group on "open-ended transactional inquiry" and there is a relevant ongoing project with Lansdowne Friends School. Both are bottom up, grassroots efforts, but that may be the best way to go and I'd be delighted to provide more information to anyone interested in getting involved. Also directly relevant is Bryn Mawr's new Teaching and Learning Initiative, and the Empowering Learner's Partnership.




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