We often receive information in our classrooms in a mindless state. We are passed most of our knowledge as facts and certain conclusions, leaving no room for our speculations or “what if’s”. In the paper “Mindful Learning”, Ellen Langer talks about the power in uncertainty, yet most of us as professors and students tend to mistakenly seek for certainty and facts in our fields. We tend to forget the power of the mindful process of thinking we go through if we don’t take facts as pure facts but rather as information that could be right or wrong.
In my field of geotechnical engineering, a lot of uncertainties are present whether in methods or conclusions we know. Dealing with uncertain things underground is reflected in the uncertain conclusions we reach. I have often compared geotechnical courses to the regular civil engineering courses I took as an undergrad, and I must say the uncertain nature of this field affects the way it is taught, forcing students to account for all possibilities and question all findings. This was not the case for other courses in my undergrad, where subjects being taught sounded more certain and true, with no room for wonder.
Ellen Langer concludes the article questioning the best pathway to follow for our future generations. How healthy would it be to teach our children to question everything presented to them to nourish that “mindful thinking” since early ages? Yet another valid point is raised on whether this is really the optimum way to proceed or should we rather provide a certain stability in our children’s early experiences before they get overwhelmed by mindful learning? The ability to think beyond what is given to you as a fact changes you for the better, but it still has major implications, especially if you are taught to do that since early childhood. This even raises more questions on where is the limit we should stop at? What borderline should we teach our children to stop doubting at and trust what we know to be able to move forward? How severe are the consequences that come along with mindful learning and doubting and how may they affect other aspects of our lives?