As a teacher, I often think that confusion is a good thing. It is not the aim of education, of course, but it is a place along the journey which ought not be frightening. If education is, in part, about rendering the complex simpler in order to think about it, it is also about rendering the simple more complex in order to think about it. Like the oft-repreated saying about making the familiar unfamiliar (and vice versa), these are stages along the sometimes wandering journey of education.
What made me think about bewilderment as connected to education was a book entitled Bewildered Travel: The Sacred Quest for Confusion (University of Virginia, 2007). Authored by Frederick J. Ruf, I admit to having stumbled upon this book only because a co-edited book of mine was also published by the University of Virginia Press. And, it was one of those reads that lingers and tumbles through one's mind for quite some time. In my case, Ruf's ideas lingered not because of the focus on travel but because of the focus on bewilderment. (In fact, I may just read Ruf's other works which include disorder and chaos in their titles!)
In some ways, the role of bewilderment in higher education is most obvious when one is teaching (and learning). All too often students think this is a sign of failure -- to be confused, bewildered, lost. All too often I felt that same worry. And yet, this may also mean we are struggling with important matters in significant ways. To believe one must find ideas easy, that struggling means one is not smart, or that confusion is an insoluble end rather than an opening for exploration, are feelings that appear in office hours and probably as temptations for all of us. And yet, our route to inspiration, to comprehension, to learning, may be enabled by this very sense of bewilderment.
Are you bewildered? Confused? Is it helping you learn?