Having wandered purposely for several years now in researching this book, it is time to write down what I picked up along the way in a form that might prove useful to others who are intrigued by discovery learning and wish to jack up their approach.

This book is not about blundering or flailing about. There must be some method to the search. There will be no foolish reliance upon happenstance. This is not learning by coincidence. We are not to bounce hither and yon aimlessly like a pinball. While there is surrender to new possibilities, that term is meant as openness rather than as collapse or abandon. The learner is full of intention, even if those intentions are shadowy and a bit obscured.

I have been writing about purposeful wandering for over a decade, but the decision to devote an entire book to the subject was motivated in part by the selfish wish to spend several years immersed in such endeavors. While I roamed across the globe from Sofia to Shanghai to San Francisco as a speaker, this project more than doubled my air miles and led me to places such as Kolkata and Waiheke Island where there was no speaking work or obvious dividend to be collected as far as my writing and thinking; yet each of these diversions had an almost incendiary impact on my understandings.

It is difficult for me to identify all of the influences that led to the writing of this book, as poets and songwriters like Robert Frost and Tom Paxton planted some of the seeds many decades back. Frost, of course, with his “Road not taken” and “Birches” reached me in my early teens, but Tom Paxton had a very strong impact with his song “I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound,” when I first picked up the guitar during university years.

If you see me passing by and you sit and you wonder why,
and you wish that you were a rambler too;
Nail your shoes to the kitchen floor, lace ‘em up and bar the door,
Thank your stars for the roof that’s over you.

There are dozens of other thinkers who inspired and influenced my thinking. In recent years, reading Rebecca Solnit’s book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, was inspirational, as was Edward deBono’s writing about lateral thinking, but in looking back at my own writing from past years, I can see seeds sprouting back in the 1990s in articles like “Grazing the Net: Raising a Generation of Free Range Students.”

This is hardly surprising since I started teaching in the 1960s when we were urged by writers such as Edward Fenton and Jerome Bruner to engage the young in challenging inquiry tasks. We explored then the possibilities of wandering and discovery rooted in the work of Socrates, Hilda Taba, John Dewey and many others, but we also wandered somewhat off course and found that what was then called “inquiry” sometimes suffered from naive assumptions about the process. Though well intended, that daliance with inquiry learning was often lacking in the careful scaffolding that would have generated better results.

It is somewhat amusing that inquiry learning seems to makes a reappearance every other decade or so with proponents often portraying its rebirth as if this were some kind of brand new thing. Sadly, some of the activities put forward as inquiry require little thought, imagination or originality. They amount to faux inquiry. This book will focus on discovery that is productive and enlightening, firmly rooted in mindful strategies.


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