I envy teachers. I’ve touched on something I’ve read about in an assortment of books like Made to Stick, it’s the curse of knowledge. Once you know something, it is hard to imagine not knowing it. Here is a cut from the book Made to Stick:
And that brings us to the villain of our book: The Curse of Knowledge. Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.
Here’s the great cruelty of the Curse of Knowledge: The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly. That’s why knowledge is a curse. But notice we said “unnatural,” not “impossible.” Experts just need to devote a little time to applying the basic principles of stickiness.
JFK dodged the Curse [with “put a man on the moon in a decade”]. If he’d been a modern-day politician or CEO, he’d probably have said, “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry, using our capacity for technological innovation to build a bridge towards humanity’s future.” That might have set a moon walk back fifteen years.
That brings me back to teachers. Teachers have to imagine what it is like to not know something every day. Maybe it is their love of kids that creates such empathy. What concerns me is when people who are not teachers set goals for learning. Obviously a good education system is the backbone to any good society, but what constitutes a good education system? For the federal government it is the no child left behind policies. It’s a good idea spoiled by exacting execution. As I’ve said in other posts, I’d rather see children demonstrate knowledge by applying it rather than test scores.
But suppose I’m a teacher and I don’t have the freedom to allow my students to sink their teeth into subject area? What do I teach then? I teach to pass a test; a test that these students will never encounter in the real world. What is great about the real world is that every day is different. Everyone problem solves for a new set of problems as soon as they wake up in the morning. What helps me is that I did it the day before. I have experience.
What I propose is an increase in creative freedom for teachers so they can develop some sort of experience generation in the class room. What I would like to see is a student or team of students take on a task that is reflective of creating something that improves their immediate environment (I don’t mean environment in the sense of birds and trees, but their local area in a figurative sense).
The payoff is three fold:
- The student(s) become masters of the knowledge area and not intimidated by unexpected challenges
- The local environment benefits from the students addition and potential future additions (because now the students, which have demonstrated competency, can focus on efficiencies)
- Observing the students overcome, because of the teacher provided guidance, will infuse higher levels of pride in each teacher.