Letting Go of Our Need to be Right

I had an incredible day of learning today at the PNAIS Fall Educator’s Conference. It was fun to be on a team that helped choose the theme: Risk + Failure = Growth: Developing the Resilient Learner and Educator and select some great speakers. 

The morning started off with keynote Kathryn Schultz who calls herself a ‘wrongologist’. Author of the book, Being Wrong, she talked about how humans in general have a hard time being wrong. Being wrong carries many negative emotions. We are able to see our fallibility in acknowledging mistakes we’ve made in the past, and even recognize that we know we’ll make others in the future. But in our present selves, we seem to have this need to be right. 

In this bubble or attachment of needing to be right, we tend to think those who disagree with us as either ignorant, an idiot, or, if they’re really smart and well-read, evil. 

And there are often two main messages we send to kids when we give them a grade like a C-.

1) Kids respond to this as something punitive, “you’re lazy, not smart, etc.”

2) It motivates them to become perfectionists (who work to be right most of the time, then FREAK OUT when they make a mistake because they think there’s something wrong with them). 

But without ignorance, Ms. Schulz says, we lose creativity or inquiry. We need to value our students’ curiosity and their thirst for knowledge – what they don’t know yet, but desire to find out.

Schulz ended by giving several philosophical thoughts on error (I’m clearly going to have to do more reading):

  1. Socrates’ ἀπορία (aporia): doubt, perplexity, wonder
  2. Montaigne’s Que sais-je? What do I know?
  3. The Pessimistic Meta-Induction from the History of Science
  4. Over 1000 years before Descartes, St. Augustine’s Fallor ergo sum. (although there was some ambiguity to the quote when I looked it up – I doubt I’ll have the time to find a copy of the primary source, learn Latin, and translate it). Nonetheless a phrase like, “I err, therefore I am” is fundamental to us according to Schulz.

In my classroom, kids take risks and make mistakes all the time in their learning. They know I do too, but one thing I can do more of is  be more explicit when I make mistakes, and model it for them. I am also trying to add more ambiguity in how they arrive at their final products, so that during the process they are indeed learning important skills, but the direction in which their learning takes them may be a little fuzzy. This is hard to do and may not always work, but maybe if I can let go of needing to be right, they can too.

I learned a lot from four other great presenters today. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more of what I learned over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with Kathryn Schulz’s TED talk.



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