Musings from the Middle Kingdom
“This can’t be right”
I once observed a student say this during a discussion about a guessing game we were creating based on numbers. She believed zero was both even and odd. When another student presented counter evidence, she considered the point. “I really didn’t think of it this way,” she said.
She was displaying intellectual humility.
As we educate young learners are we creating intellectuals who are always sure of themselves or are we integrating the concept of intellectual humility.
What do I mean by intellectual humility?
To me it means an ability to say no when you don’t know an answer however that is not the end of it. It is then finding out the answer and continuing the discourse. It also means to consider alternative viewpoints from the point of view that I might be wrong. One has to understand the limits of one’s knowledge unlike general humility which is often linked to traits like unselfishness, sincerity and honesty. If you are looking for a more intellectual definition see the end of this post.
If we can teach our learners to be constantly in a state of open mindedness, receptive to new ideas and new sources of evidence, we create better learners who can engage in a civil discourse much more effectively. "A person with a fixed mind-set and a high IQ, for example, might take on an arrogant stance, presuming they “already know everything” and therefore inadvertently holding themselves back from learning something new." Once this type of mindset is embedded, it is difficult to change over the course of a person’s life time.
"Without humility, you are unable to learn," says Laszlo Bock, Google's VP of hiring. "Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don't learn how to learn from that failure." This is one of the top qualities they look for in employees. There is an excellent example of Google CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrating intellectual humility in his original interview at Google. Read here.
If you would like to learn more about intellectual humility, please follow this online course from the university of Edinburgh
So how can we start training our students in intellectual humility? As the rule of three goes, below are three simple methods you could experiment with in your classroom:
1. Encourage discussions on a topic where everyone’s view point is acknowledged.
2. Ask students to elaborate with evidence and not opinion. Teach them that distinction.
3. Role model examples from the past where once you thought you were right and now have changed your mind. Get them to share theirs.
"(Leary et al., 2016) define intellectual humility as recognising that a particular personal belief may be fallible, accompanied by an appropriate attentiveness to limitations in the evidentiary basis of that belief and to one’s own limitation in obtaining and evaluating relevant information (p1)"
"Now watch this video by Kathryn Schulz where she reflects on the notion of “being wrong,” arguing that we often have “error blindness” and that we have created a culture with an aversion to being wrong. Schulz invites us to reverse this narrative and recognise the power that comes from learning from our prior mistakes and uncertainties."(OpenMindPlatform.com)
For further reading, see Schulz’s book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.
I am Sunny Thakral. If you are here on the site then you know a bit about me. If not then I am a teacher and these are my musings.