Homeschooling Harry: Being 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?

** This post was originally called ‘Being right’ because I was originally planning to write about something quite different. Heh.


16 thoughts on “Homeschooling Harry: Being wrong**

  1. I’ve found as I get older it’s easier to just admit you don’t know something/ask a question. I usually say something like, “This is going to sound like a really stupid question…..” before I ask, you know, to deflect some of the scorn before it even starts but it’s definitely easier to ask.

    You’d think it would be the other way around.

    1. Same here. But it’s much easier with nice people who just tell you and don’t take the piss than it was at school or with obnoxious husbands! 🙂

    1. Not dim, inquisitive! And yes, same here. Also, if you pretend to know stuff and you’re wrong, you risk making a much bigger arse of yourself!

  2. I’ve learned to take it on the chin when someone takes the piss about something I didn’t know or misunderstood, but I still dwell a bit about it (though pretending to be okay about it does rub off on you in the end and you genuinely care less – also, of course, one of the benefits of growing up). Sometimes I go too far down the road of declaring ignorance of everything for fear of looking stupid, and end up looking even MORE stupid, but thems the breaks.

    Funnily enough, I can still remember the small handful of times a teacher ever made me feel that way because it was so rare; generally they were very good about it, which is nice, particularly as I went to quite a pushy school.

    1. Oh god, yes, I’ve done that too – saying I don’t know, then realising I do, but being stuck with it as someone explains. Ha! It’s a minefield.

      It *should* be rare no matter how pushy the school – we go to school to learn not to be mocked for not knowing.

      1. Oh, I agree – I just think that’s not the image pushy schools project, so it’s nice to know we had teachers who actually cared about teaching (apart from PE, sadly).

  3. Am so with you here, can remember a school quiz where I thought that NASA was the equivalent of NATO (I’m pretty sure I knew the difference, even then, but somehow, that’s the answer that came out…)
    After that, I don’t believe I ever took part in a quiz again. And it definitely affected me as I grew older.

    I think I’m mainly over that now- like Stella says, I often start with “Call me stupid but…” or similar.

    However, take heart from the following (I think they’re helpful, maybe not!):
    Scientists love to be proved wrong. It’s not quite the same as not knowing something, but sort of. And if that’s the basis of science, then not knowing something but wanting to learn it has to be a good thing, right?

    Also, I follow Richard Dawkins’ mantra: Question Everything. Always be asking questions. Nobody knows everything, and just because something is obvious to someone else, doesn’t mean it’s obvious to you – but if you *learn* from it, then it’s a good thing. And you’re never too old to learn.

    I may have had too much wine tonight… Hope I’m making sense…

    1. That makes perfect sense. Totally agree. ‘Question Everything’ is so interesting and something I’ve noticed a lot with the boys. Children have such an innate inquisitiveness and often ‘because that’s the way it is…’ just doesn’t cut it! That’s why I think it’s such a shame that school can end up knocking that out of you, when it should really nurture it.

  4. Oh, tbh I thought you were just having a laugh when you got that sum wrong in the maths post! (Or you know I’m so pedantic I’d have had to mention it… but there’s always someone willing to let peeps know when they get things wrong 😉 ) We have moles in our back garden at the moment and the molehills are enormous! Stands to reason people think moles are too. Nobody can ever know everything there is to know in the world – and if they did they’d not be with us any more. I’ve always found that a good tongue sticking out works wonders where clever clogs are concerned. Makes me feel so much better. (Obviously I usually wait until the offending person has turned their back to me . . . . I’m not stupid!) Hopefully you’re not going to get a question about moles in your exams.:) x

  5. In my experience, the sneer-at-you-for-not-knowing thing seems to be a bit of a British cultural attitude. Yes, that’s a sweeping generalisation but hear me out; I grew up abroad, returned to the UK when I was 16 and found the sneering quite odd along with the, often flase, self-deprication and sarcastic humor. Wonder where it stems from?

  6. Great post, Keris. I’m the same with not speaking up in case I’m wrong, or not asking a question that’ll make me look like I don’t know what I’m doing! It’s silly, really. We can’t know everything, like you say, and making mistakes and asking questions is how we learn, after all!

  7. Thank you! I have recently noticed that I question EVERYTHING I say at work in fear of being wrong, you’ve made me realise that I shouldn’t do this and just go with it. Who cares if I get laughed at pfft

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