As the coordinator for the Detroit Future Schools program, I get to visit 12 classrooms all over the Metro-Detroit area every month. Grades range from third grade up through twelfth. School focuses range from the basics to aeronautics. Class sizes ranging from ten to thirty-five students. I’m learning more right now about schooling and learning (the two are not synonymous) than I did as an undergrad earning my teaching certificate. Every class has a unique personality–a unique pulse–but one thing remains the same…
In every classroom I’ve visited, I hear the phrase “I don’t know.” It is most commonly used in response to a teacher asking a student a question and the student passive-aggressively responding by mumbling, “I don’t know,” shrugging his/her shoulders and at all costs, avoiding eye contact with the teacher.
I eliminated this option for all students in my classroom. In bold letters on hot neon-colored paper, I taped this slogan for all to see:
“What you don’t know today, you will know tomorrow.”
This slogan, from the start of the school year until about mid-year became the bane of my students’ (and their parents’) existence. Why? Because it meant that when students asked me questions that required just a wee bit of research, my response was THE slogan: “What you don’t know today, you will know tomorrow.” This eventually became decoded by the students. It meant, “Hey–you’ve all got cell phones, books, other people in your lives who can serve as resources–and you’ve got your own experiences to pull from–figure it out and get back to us with what you’ve found.” So, yes, we all don’t know SOME THINGS, but when we really want to know anything, we go out in search of it.
This helped move students in my classroom from seeing themselves as passive receptors of information to co-creators and pursuers of information/knowledge. They started asking genuine questions quietly to themselves and their peers. I modeled this for them by genuinely asking questions that, most of the time, I didn’t have an answer for. Like, “Should the government censor the internet?” Or, “How do we overcome mental oppression for ourselves and for oppressed communities?”
Sidenote: When a student would respond to a question with “I don’t know,” the whole class, in unison would sing-song THE slogan and I would end it with, “And you’re about to know in a minute…when we all think together.” Then we’d all work really hard to answer the question with our “best collective guess.” Because, as we learned as soon as Pluto was downgraded to a rock, knowledge is fluid.
What we DO know today, we may need to UNKNOW tomorrow.