Tuesday, October 31, 2006


It occurred to me today that teaching and learning have much to do with “pondering”. The word derives from an old Latin word that meant “weighing”, and there’s no doubt that my students and I spend a good deal of time weighing ideas. We’re thinking about academic topics throughout the day, and we often do it as if we are holding ideas in our hands to estimate how much they weigh. When I see a student bent over a book or a writing project, I often picture an old-fashioned balance scale. The meditative student is carefully placing a thought in one of the pans of the scale, then placing weights, or other thoughts, in the opposite pan, and then checking the relative heaviness. It’s a precise, exact business, this process called pondering, and – like weighing things in a laboratory – it requires the utmost attentiveness. Careless thinking, like careless weighing, always leads to flawed results. One thought might be just a milligram heavier than another, but that could be the difference between a life-changing idea and a dud. I guess my classroom should be, in a sense, like a meticulously-run laboratory. If my students and I are going to be weighing ideas all day long, there needs to be an atmosphere of exactness and precision in the room. We need to keep in mind that we’re engaged in scientific work of a high order – considering and evaluating ideas. Perhaps we should put on our lab coats and protective glasses when we enter my classroom to begin another session of pondering.

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