Culture of Pretending

My apologies for the late post:   I was seriously delayed by a blinding migraine on Friday.   Then a D&D game on Saturday.   Then kittens on Sunday.    Funny how life keeps happening.  Now back to your regularly scheduled post.

Which hurts you more?   Being embarrassed, or being ignorant?

Recently I was listening to a podcast, which had a very interesting interview with a Peter Boghossian.   I tend to listen to such things for the comedy value involved and not for watertight argumentation… but something they said just stuck with me.   At the end of the show, they started to talk about the very prevalent “culture of pretending” that exists in academia and the US (and, I suspect, the world).

Basically, people will smile and nod, pretending to understand you rather than risk asking a question.   This is real.   This isn’t helpful.  And this is dangerous, especially in a classroom.   I’m sorry to say, I’ve done the same thing… and when I catch myself doing it I try to do something about it.   The really tough part is when you ask someone who you think knows the answers, and find out that that person is pretending to know the answers too.

Being ignorant is correctable.   Being stupid is not.

I will admit, I love data.  One of the worst feelings in the world for me is not knowing something, so I end up doing a surprising amount of reading and research.    I am a data omnivore, there are few (broad) areas that I don’t know something about.   And I still have vast areas of ignorance.

I also fact-check the memes that people spread on Facebook, or the news, or just the “everybody knows _____”  things that people say.   You would be amazed how much misinformation people post, and others just accept at face value.   I cringe any time our political leaders open their mouth and demonstrate not just ignorance but downright stupidity.    The things that people believe is often biased, or based on half-understood studies, or bogus studies that don’t get reviewed or repeated.

Everybody is a novice at least once.

I think one of the hallmarks of intelligence is curiosity.   This brings me to two of my favorite questions I love to hear in a classroom:   how and why?    “How” for me shows the short term clarification that students need for method, and “why” looks at the broader understanding and structure of things.   And I have had to tell students that I don’t know the answer to their questions before… and they have been startled.   Especially when I offer to find the answers and get back to them.

Example from tutoring:  when a student asked me how the trigonometric concepts of tangent and secant related to the algebraic concepts of tangent and secant lines.    (Short answer:   they don’t.  They are related mostly by name, not necessarily by concept.)   A few days later when I reported this back to the student,  they weren’t completely happy with my answer… but they accepted it.

I love it when a student isn’t satisfied.

I have only one desire if that happens:

Scratch.   That.   Itch.

2 thoughts on “Culture of Pretending

  1. Megly Mc says:

    And then you have the flip-side, which is one of my 3rd-graders with Aspberger’s…when he gets an answer he doesn’t like just keeps re-asking the same question over and over, slightly changing the semantics, because he thinks you can’t POSSIBLY be telling him no…you’re just not smart enough to understand what he asked. I’ve literally taught him the meaning of perseveration, so he understands what he’s doing isn’t socially functional. I love this kid..he’s either going to get it…or he’s going to be the world’s most successful lobbyist. 🙂

  2. Colin says:

    I know what that is like… my ex-wife has Aspberger’s syndrome. I know that it is just an exercise of repetition, really. And repetition. And repetition. And repetition.

    Eventually, they will get it.

    Otherwise, intern them in DC. For education, if you can swing it!

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