When I teach, I always want a lot of discussion in class, but that’s not always an easy thing to achieve. A lot of times, students will default to sitting and staring. Sometimes, it’s because they’re tired, or because I haven’t phrased the question well, but a lot of times it is because they are scared of wrong answers. I spend a lot of time trying to tell students, and prove to them, that I love wrong answers.
This can seem counter intuitive. After all, I want them to learn the right answers. They’re going to take tests, write papers, and complete assignments, all of which they’ll score better on with right answers. So, why in the world do I want wrong answers? Honestly, it’s because my goal is their learning, and wrong answers are way more helpful for that. A wrong answer always leads to learning, a right answer doesn’t. Most of us have had the experience of a teacher asking us a question, we realize we don’t know, then we take a guess. If we guess right, the teacher assumes we know how we got it right and moves on. If we get it wrong, then they know we need more help and explanation.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, not because of anything in my classes, but because of our last couple podcasts on heretics. Brandon and I have been a bit more sympathetic to the heretics than orthodox believers often are, and I think it’s for the same reason that I love when my students are willing to put their wrong answers out there. I mean, sure, it’s dangerous for people to believe the wrong things about who God and Christ are, but when we take the effort to ponder the mysteries of God, we’re going to get some wrong ideas as well. It is only through the willingness to risk wrong answers and dialoging with those ideas that we can come to the deeper, truer understandings we’re looking for.
The key, as it so often is, is trying to maintain our humility when we go seeking for answers. When we make our way into the deep waters, we have to do so with the understanding that we may go wrong first, and so be open to correction when God brings it to us. This is only possible because we can be certain God will bring that correction to us. In the classroom, the students should be able to make mistakes, because there is a teacher who will lovingly and patiently correct and guide them. In our lives, we have the perfect teacher who will, so long as we are willing to listen, offer guidance and correction as many times and as many ways as He needs to in order to bring us back where we are supposed to be.