What’s so bad about getting things wrong?


So in my last post I wrote about Maths and how I don’t know my times tables and I gave an example of how I work them out and I got the answer wrong. I had meant to check the answer before posting, because while I’m ok with (some) mental arithmetic, I do doubt myself (um, with good reason, obviously), but I forgot. I realised I was wrong when a couple of people tweeted me and then a friend left a comment and they were all very sweet about it. I was a bit embarrassed, but not, you know, totally humiliated and it made me think about being comfortable being wrong.

When I was at school, if the teacher had shouted out 8 x 7 and asked people to answer, I wouldn’t have answered in case I’d been wrong. Because if I’d been wrong, people would’ve laughed. Or the teacher would’ve said, “Wrong!” and I’d have been mortified.

Even later, when I was at work, I’d think of something in a meeting and go over and over it in my head for possible weaknesses (“Is this too obvious?” “Is it just stupid?”) and end up not saying it only to hear someone else (usually a man) come out with it and be praised.

Recently, we were in the park and I mentioned something to the boys about the molehills everywhere. I said something about a mole popping his head out and looking around, then going back inside. Joe jumped on one (inevitably) and I said, “The mole will think someone’s knocking on his door!” David said, “That’s not the mole’s door!” I said obviously I knew it wasn’t a door – duh – but it’s where the mole goes in and out, so… David said did I really think that’s what a molehill was. I said, “Isn’t it?” He said, “You really think that?!” and rolled his eyes and sighed and basically got all dramatic. I said, “Well what is it then?” He said, “I can’t believe you don’t know!” (Seventeen years of marriage, folks!) (I think he said it’s just where they pop out to look around before going back in again, but, pfft, who cares? I much prefer to think of it as the mole’s front door.)

Later, I has a go at him for it. If one of the boys had called it the mole’s front door* would he have mocked them like that? And refused to tell them what it was really? So why is it okay to speak to me like that or expect me to know? (God knows, I thought a mole was about the size of a small rabbit until I saw one in a museum in my twenties. They’re freakin’ TINY!) Everyone can’t know everything. And if someone doesn’t know something, why not tell them – or help them learn – rather than taking the piss?

(I’m guilty of it too. I worked with a woman who one day said something about “inside the earth where we all live…” After the stunned silence and the “You… Wait… What now?” we all took the piss.)

My point is that there’s no shame (or, um, not much) in not knowing something or being wrong, but a blog post by the comedian Robin Ince expresses it so, so much better than I have. You should read the whole thing, but this is my favourite bit:

There should be no shame in being inquisitive, unless your inquisitiveness involves placing video cameras in a public toilet or being overly enthusiastic in prodding dog faeces with your bare hands, but the older we become, the more we seem embarrassed to have questions. Once our schooling is finished, so our questioning must end. It seems better to appear knowledgeable and remain ignorant, than to admit to any limitations. 

And also:

Rather than constantly changing what children learn with faddy curriculum changes, it might be better to think of how they learn and what they are learning for – is it to know, or is it to understand? 

One of the things I hope to achieve with homeschooling is for Harry never to be afraid to ask questions or to question the things he’s told.

* Is it just me or has that started to sound like a euphemism?


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