Thinking We Know More Than We Do

The April 10 episode of The Current on CBC radio included an interview with cognitive scientist Steve Sloman, the co-author of The Knowledge Illusion.  I had to stop what I was doing (washing dishes in my kitchen) and furiously scribble down snippets of what he said that really struck me.

Some of the fragments on my scrap of paper include:  “we use other people to think”, “in order to accomplish things, we work together”, “to do our best work, we have to rely on our communities”.  These thoughts stuck out to me – some of my best learning and teaching experiences have come about through collaboration, and I am so grateful when I find a colleague with whom I can “bounce ideas off”, until we come up with a big, beautiful plan.

I also see this kind of collaboration happening everyday in my kindergarten classroom.  During centres, the students constantly build from each other’s ideas, and they really do rely on their classroom community to do their best work.  It leads me to wonder why we don’t see – or encourage –  as much of this collaboration, this using “other people to think”, as students get older.

Another thing Sloman emphasized was that we need to admit our lack of knowledge and make use of the people around us.  Great leadership and followership should be looking to many people, not one person.  This also struck a cord – how often do I want to be the person who “knows”, and feel a pang of anxiety if I don’t and have to ask someone else for help?

Interestingly, this may be a widespread issue among teachers, this lack of ability to admit that we don’t know everything.  Years ago, when my brother was in the banking industry, he was receiving training in customer service.  The instructor commented that the most difficult customers were generally teachers.  The rationale was that teachers are used to being the smartest person in the room, as well as authority figures.  Teachers, the instructor continued, carry this attitude into other areas of life, and are  difficult to advise because they are less likely to accept the knowledge of people around them.

Sloman’s interview was a great reminder to me that it’s okay not to know everything, that I need to use the people around me for their knowledge, and that together we can do far better work than we can do individually.

Great leadership and followership should be looking to many people, not one person. by Terelyne Vadeboncoeur

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