I realize this morning the discomfort struggle creates for students–both college students and my own younger daughters–when asked to do difficult tasks that require higher level thinking. I see the mind at work: it grapples (my favorite verb), sifts, synthesizes, and mulls. It struggles to find resolution. It seeks harmony and peace and resolution.
And then! A new idea forms!
Some students embrace the struggle. They tilt their chins up to the ceiling, pondering. They know something’s not resolved. They know some idea is coming but hasn’t yet formed. So they throw themselves into the fray of their own mind. It’s exciting and risky and strange.
Other students enter into a state of distress. They actually cry. They can’t figure it out. They hate that they can’t figure it out. They react, wide-eyed with hands wringing and feet shifting, and do everything they can to avoid whatever problem their mind cannot solve–whether a new writing prompt or some complex question. It’s fearful and upsetting and stressful.
Part of teaching and parenting means helping others embrace struggle–to sit with it, let it happen, and wonder over it. It means increasing our tolerance for murky places, unresolved questions with multiple points of view, and complex ideas. It means helping students ask better questions:
What do I need to know more about to help me solve this problem?
What new point of view might I inhabit?
What does this have to do with this other thing?
How can I stay in this unresolved place a little longer?
We can stay in the struggle and see it as an invitation.