I Don’t Know and That’s Okay

And I don’t know how, but I want to know…

How many of you have said this? Learned this? Lived this?

Or was it something more along the lines of: But I don’t know how.

Very much sounding like an excuse. Very much sounding like resignation. Very much sounding like hopelessness.

Chances are, in most traditional educational settings, “but I don’t know how” is the status quo. It’s something teachers are evaluated on. It’s a phrase that seems like a real ending not a beginning— unless it’s the beginning of solutions produced and suggested by “experts” who are not living that context. Unless, it’s the beginning of let’s assess them and drill them and assess them again.

Unfortunately, this element of not knowing has been seen as something negative. Something to avoid. Something to hide in order to prevent scrutiny by outside consultants who never seem to know exactly what the experience is like on the inside.

At National Writing Project (NWP), we learn to accept “I don’t know”. We embrace it. We begin our work with more questions than answers, and even if we know we have had success in various areas, we are still asking and wondering and reflecting WHY it worked.

The important thing is not to stop questioning.

See, it takes a community of people embracing that unknown as something precious and valuable. It takes time for individuals to ask, “Hey, could you tell me about…?” to tease that reflection of practice out of us.

It takes bravery and trust on our part to reply, “Well, I don’t really know if…” or “I don’t really know why…” or “I don’t really know how…”

But it takes a special kind of network to seek, curate, and celebrate all the work out that that begins and ends with “And I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but…”

This transparency of thought. This vulnerable and fragile honest reflection of not having all the answers needs to be nurtured and explored.

[This was originally written NWP’s New Pathways Retreat at the Travasa near Austin. Although it was written on January 11, 2016, this sentiment of reverence of inquiry still rings true at every NWP even I have been fortunate to attend.]

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