Comfortable, Courageous, Compulsory, and Contagious Confusion

The idea for this blog came a few minutes after I posted “Emotional Demands of College” some weeks ago now, and I am just now getting a chance to finish it!

As regular readers, my students, and anyone else who knows me is well aware, I absolutely love teaching — working with, sharing knowledge with, and learning from my students. 

In order to most effectively teach and learn, we have to all be willing to embrace “confusion.” As educators, we have a responsibly to make students feel uncomfortable and “confused” at times.

“Confused” is one of those words that really should be forbidden, if such a thing were possible. It seldom actually means what it might seems. It’s kind of like the word “very” – generally useless. Usually, we say we are “confused” when frustrated with new information or when resistant to new information.

Students have to be willing to embrace “confusion” as a natural part of the learning-growing process.

Professors have to be willing to teach, embrace, and model “confusion” as part of the teaching process. If we “confuse” students a bit, we can model creative, critical thinking. And by confuse in this case, I simply mean presenting something that is a bit too complex for a few minutes occasionally. Students who are “confused” and take the initiative to figure it out at least quasi-independently will learn the material better. We have to also show that it is okay to be “confused” and not fully understand everything all the time. And, sometimes when we are reading the work of students, we should sometimes be “confused” when trying to understand their thoughts, given that some of the most powerful ideas are not expressed in a “clear” way. 

Being “confused” is powerful. It makes our mind work. It gives us an opportunity to create and discover creative and potentially transformative thoughts.

Life is “confusing” – especially all things to do with the big questions of life, the universe, and things that are billions and trillions of miles away.

We need to help every one be comfortable with the “confusing” and unknown and new and different and scary–the comfortable, courageous, compulsory, and contagious confusion–because what point would there be to learning and living if not for the confusing?