Support versus puzzling (a 2nd project for the Believing and doubting workshop)

One theme that emerged from the pre-circulated writing of the participants coming to the Believing and Doubting workshop was for teachers to honor the individuality of each student and their best way forward. This matches my emphasis on supporting journeys of developing thinking, but doubts I have about my commitment to that endeavor are explored in this post.

Some sources of doubt:
1. I enjoy puzzling over positions and propositions until they fit together for me (as evident in most of the posts on this blog and a companion blog on science and social change. While I define critical thinking as “understanding better when you have placed established facts, theories,
and practices in tension with alternatives” (, this is more an approach to teaching than a deep commitment. After all, my puzzling is, in effect, a doubting of accepted or common views.
2. My emphasis as a teacher or workshop facilitator on supporting journeys serves to deflect attention from my deeper drive to question and puzzle over ideas.
(Added 17Jul15: 2a. My teaching has received recognition, but serving as a teacher is not the center of my sense of self or my intellectual work. I do not conduct formal research on teaching; it is around complexity in ecology and epidemiology that I try to engage other scientists and interpreters of science.)
3. At the same time, creating learning communities matches my desire for supportive counter-cultural communities.
4. What would it take to reconcile #1 and #3, and in doing so clear away confusion that #2 produces?

This could be my project for the B&D workshop–taking the doubts above, combining them with believing in the virtues of the learning communities I foster AND the puzzling I do, and getting clear about my path.

Steps in this project:
a. Listen to the definitional ceremony I was the focus of in 2009, out of which the duality of #1 and #3 clearly emerged.
b. Complete a long blog post I began in spring 2013 that explored the doubts above in response to some challenges in a small, international collaboration that, it turned out, was winding down at that time.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

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