Different Paths in the Forest

The Right Way? Or, A Good Way?

I want my teaching and learning to be done “in a good way.”

A simple enough statement, right? I want to do things in a good way. It’s a phrase that slips past us, without making a noise. “In a good way.” But the implications of that small phrase can alter our pedagogy, our relationships, our ways of being in the world.

It’s a phrase I began to note among indigenous folks as they talked to one another, and even in their writing. Always, they talk about thinking and doing and loving and planning in a good wayThe power of this comes through only when I line this phrase up against an all-too-common phrase in the wider American parlance. We hear it so frequently: Let’s do this in the right way. In THE right way.

Such is the sentiment of all supremacies, isn’t it. There is ONE right way. And we’ve got a monopoly on that. (We, the folks in charge.)

We certainly see this in our educational systems, systems that depend on having lots and lots of red ink to spill on students’ papers … to show them how they did it in the wrong way. There is only one way to get this right, we imply through our testing and our grading and our rubrics and our points, assuming all the while that there is only one right way.

But what if we were to swap out the phrase? Encourage folks to do this in a GOOD way.

There are lots of good ways. Perhaps even incompatible good ways. But more often, highly complementary good ways … so that your good way and my good way and Sharonda’s good way and Jorge’s good way … all these things begin to swirl and dance with each other. We can explore each others’ paths and ways. We can share our learning with each other. And perhaps, sometimes, our good and different ways find a common way that works with greater fullness.

Yes, there are bad ways as well. But there is no need to be afraid of that. For even (and often) a bad way–a mistake, a failure, an addle-brained folly–even these things can lead us to a surprisingly good way.

If we will let it.

If we can let go of our deforming need to be the one to get it right.

If we can enjoy the journey of discovery and share in others’ journeys as well.

I begin every course these days with a reading from Neil Gaiman’s blog. I think he knows exactly the difference between a “right way” mindset and a “good way” mindset:

Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Neil Gaiman

So, scramble your rubrics. Let the students surprise you. Dare to surprise yourself! Find ten good ways to teach that concept, a hundred good ways to put it into practice. Let’s choose a good way today. And try another one tomorrow. There is so much to explore.