Mulling the Concepts of Mystery and Mastery

“My magic words have turned out to be ‘I don’t know.'” – Rachel Naomi Remen

This quote ends Remen’s introduction to the last section of her book, “Kitchen Table Wisdom,” what she titled “Mystery & Awe.”

I love this quote and I loved this section of the book when I read it several years ago. I had been mulling the concepts of mystery and mastery for many months, believing that they hold part of the puzzle that’s missing in education.

Without going into great detail, I believe what we are doing in most schools today is to push kids toward mastery at the expense of mystery.

What we need to be doing is nurturing both.

When children feel the mystery inherent in everything, they will naturally want to achieve mastery. But to insist on mastery (and high stakes tests are this kind of insistence) means students will be robbed of mystery.

It’s taken from them to the point where they may think it does not exist. Further, mastery causes children to “study for the test,” a system that encourages them to cram and then forget.

No mystery in that.

There is all kinds of mystery in a teacher telling a student, “I don’t know.”

First, if it’s true, it’s honest. And when teachers are honest with their students, they nurture trust.

Second, it opens up the possibility of finding out answers together. Done well, a teacher moves from expert to co-learner. Her wisdom is not about imparting knowledge but in how to seek out answers to one’s questions.

These are skills that last a lifetime. It’s what education is supposed to be all about.

For added inspiration, I offer you this short video:

Published by Andy Smallman

I work to promote ordinary activities that awaken kindness, cheerfulness, thoughtfulness & awe, helping people connect to their true nature and increase peace in the world.