In recent years, I've noticed my own low tolerance for not knowing the answers to simple searchable questions. Why do some people see color more vividly than others? When did "Sunday in the Park With George" debut? Why did the Thanksgiving myth take hold and when? I immediately reach for my phone. I wonder if something is eroded by the instant gratification afforded by technology. Is it good for us to have to wonder for long periods of time? Much has been written about the generative benefits of undirected, unoccupied mental time which we certainly have less of in this age, but what about the benefits of unanswered questions and unquenched curiosity?
Whenever a new technology emerges, from printed books to television to smartphones, there is popular concern about its effect on our intellect. What does it mean for us that our questions are now so easily answered, and what does it mean for students in school? Progressive schools have an advantage here, as we have never elevated the role of memorization. We encourage students to gather information as they need it using the appropriate tools and resources, including each other. The real intellectual challenge - the rigor - is in synthesizing, contextualizing, connecting and extending the facts that they assemble, rather than in simply remembering them.
Some questions middle school students have grappled with recently include: How does the age of early civilizations compare to the age of the universe? What can we deduce about a culture by looking at the kinds of maps they make? How can you extract DNA from a strawberry and what does that tell us? How can you use the language of design to memorialize an important person or cause? And, a recent math favorite: where is the missing dollar in this situation?
Our students enjoy extended periods of wondering, of not-knowing, and truth-seeking despite having been born into an age when so much is instantly findable. They can do this because, as a matter of practice, we value deep, complex and un-Googleable questions.