Saturday, December 5, 2015

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing

Nonsense: The Power of Not KnowingNonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Jamie Holmes takes us on a tour of our own minds and shows us how we act when things are ambiguous, the ways we strive for closure, and the reasons why confusion might be beneficial to us.

First thoughts: I really enjoyed reading this book, especially right now in my life, when so many things are in transition and my own future is one giant question mark. I'm hoping I absorbed what I needed from it in this moment, thought I had to skim over a few jargon-heavy parts.

Favorite quotes (that will describe the book better than me talking about it will):

"Today's puzzle is to figure out what to do - in our jobs, relationships, and everyday lives - when we have no idea what to do." -p11

"Urgently fixating on certainty is our defense mechanism against the unknown and unstable. However, what we need in turbulent times is adaptability and calculated reevaluation." -p78

"...sometimes, the illusion of knowing is more dangerous than not knowing at all." -p128

"Under the right conditions...embracing uncertainty can in fact provide opportunities to innovate. It can inspire creative solutions, and might even help make us better people." -p154

"Ideally students should treat the feeling of uncertainty as an indication to keep thinking." -p170

Teacher thoughts: That last quote (and the section of the book it's from) really got me thinking about my kids and how uncomfortable they are with not knowing, or with vague answers. One of their math lessons was on estimation (ie, About how much is 578 + 912? Ans: 1500, more or less.) and I had the hardest time getting them to not use calculators - "The exact answer isn't what we are looking for! In fact, if you write the exact number down, that will be marked incorrect!" The skill the teacher was trying to build was estimation and educated guessing; we already know our students know how to put numbers into a calculator to get the right answer. English class is another area where ambiguity is sometimes the name of the game. Students are always asking me if their opinions are "right" and they hate it when I respond by asking if what they wrote is true for them, or if they can use words from the text to support what they want to say. They just want a yes or no. Sitting with confusion or with contradictory thoughts/feelings doesn't come easily to them (or to adults), and it's definitely a skill to learn and develop.

That being said: Bilingual students in general have an easier time being comfortable with contradictions and unknowns than monolingual students - it seems that holding two (or more) languages inside oneself helps in navigating between different sides of an argument or in expressing conflicting feelings.

Final thoughts: It seems like every day I am sure about fewer and fewer things, so Nonsense made a lot of sense. While I still want to seek out answers and find closure to events, thoughts, and feelings, I feel better about not knowing and about trusting the process of discovery.

Editor's Note: I received a copy of Nonsense from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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