i‑Learner Education Centre

Steps to Success » Thinking and Feeling


As far as pedagogy is concerned, tutors like myself are keenly aware of the unease that uncertainty brings about in our students. It may be that, during writing tasks for example, they find themselves faced with a case of writer’s block, or perhaps they would rather Google an answer than admit that they do not understand something. The unknown, however, has a lot of potential. Understanding the opportunity represented by being unsure is a key part of fostering mental agility and flexibility. Reframing how we think about not knowing begins at home — by recognising as people, as parents and as teachers that some areas are not quite within our framework of knowledge. As educators and carers we strive to nurture knowledge and are among those best placed to help students ponder whether encountering something unfamiliar is necessarily so scary after all. 

As someone who spent four years studying Classics as an undergraduate, the unknowability within my subject both fascinated and frightened me. In addition to the frequently obscure vocabulary, ancient texts are often either fragmented or lost. On top of all that, thanks to the  gaps in information, a sizeable passage of time from creation to study and the use of highly complex languages with minimal living fluent speakers, one can see how Classics holds great potential for things both unknown and unknowable. 

Was it not, after all, the famed Greek philosopher and regular subject of study, Socrates, who said ‘’I know that I know nothing’’? Since Socrates, the concept of negative capability has gone on to become an area of interest for poets such as John Keats, psychologists like Wilfred Bion and educators such as myself. It is precisely that sweet spot between knowing and not knowing, that I love exploring with my students. Let us give up on the endless search for certainty by allowing ourselves to simply consider the beauty of saying ‘You know what? I don’t know!’ 

For more tips from our teaching team on the way children learn about the world and themselves, see the rest of this article series here.