“Galileo Galilei. He sat in a cathedral in Pisa. He watched a lamp suspended from the ceiling as it oscillated back and forth. He used his pulse to keep time and discovered that the period of oscillation was independent of the size of the arc. A few years later he contradicted the theory that a heavier object falls faster than a lighter one. Which took some guts back in 1609, when you consider that the theory he was contradicting was Aristotle’s.” ~President Bartlett, West Wing, “Galileo”
It can feel daunting to push back on or even to question the ideas of others. When the ideas you are questioning are long-held understanding in the world, it is even more challenging. But I believe critical analysis of ideas is one of the most important “college and career ready” skills we can teach our students.
I was in a session recently where the speaker was discussing the essential questions that educational Professional Learning Communities examine. There were three. You educators know them. Then there were four. The speaker was proposing an additional question. There was a bit of a pause as the audience processed the idea of changing the work of Rick DuFour, the expert on PLCs. Could his work be changed?
Our understanding of the world is not complete. It will never be complete. And even if it could be complete at any given time, we understand that the world is ever-changing. What we may have believed to be true at one point, may in fact no longer be true or may never have been true.
We learn new things all the time.
For Galileo to challenge Aristotle was not without controversy. In fact, it got him convicted of heresy. But it moved our understanding of the world forward.
Critical examination of facts and ideas is powerful. I want our teachers and our students alike to question things.
I hope that our students are not only learning names, dates, and scientific principles. I hope they are also learning to examine the world and to develop theories of their own.
Be willing to ask hard questions.
Be willing to listen with an open mind when people ask you hard questions.
And remember to be kind as we talk about hard things. Everyone is just trying to make their own sense of the world.