I do not need my students to leave the class with identical sets of facts in their heads. I do not mind if everybody remembers different things from our discussions. Facts come and go. But an ability to ask how we know what we know will stay with us, and allow us to decide why and how certain things become “facts” in our lives. As much as I want to be more self-aware about what I think is true, I also have a long way to go identifying my biases and dealing with them. Most probably it is a life-long journey. I want my students to appreciate this journey too, and to always be able to question beliefs that guide their actions.
Questioning oneself is not easy. I know that from experience. It is very human to want to be sure about things, to look for clarity and certainty. But the world is not black and white. Kind people do bad things, smart and rational people commit terrible mistakes that ruin their lives and lives of others. Labels fail to describe life, no matter how carefully we choose them. This semester I felt again how resistant students are to accepting this complexity. But I do not blame them, because I myself want things to be simple and neat. I have to mentally pinch myself once in a while to remember that I often tend to fall in the same trap that I am hoping my students will avoid.
Finally, I want students to able to talk with others about this complexity. I want them to engage in a dialogue with each other, respecting diverse opinions, accepting that usually the answer is not either/or but both/and. Do I myself know how to do that? I would lie if I say that I am an expert. I want to do what I preach, but I do get sad, frustrated, annoyed when I think that somebody does not understand me; I feel the need to be right, to show them that I know.
They say: “Physician, heal thyself.” Can I really teach students to do things that I myself might take the rest of my life to learn? While I do not believe that I can bring them to a state when I can step back and say proudly something along the lines of: “Now, you are whole,” I hope simply that I can learn with them. And perhaps if I do my job well enough they will be encouraged by this experience to find their own ways to learn, and their own ways to make the world a better place.