Saturday, December 05, 2009

Admit your limitations

Admit your limitations

Kevin Wilmeth's observation in yesterday's comments that a good teacher admits when he doesn't have an answer really struck a chord in me. It reminds me of when I lost respect for a state-employed teacher over a silly act of "saving face".

Our class was preparing for a zoology test on taxonomy, where we would look at examples of different animals and assign them to their proper order, class, and family.

Things were fine until I got to a tiny pickled flatfish in a jar. The teacher said it was a "ray". Now, that is a major discrepancy, since a flatfish is a bony fish (Osteichthyes) and a ray is a cartilaginous fish (Chondrichthyes); almost as different as two fish can be while still being fish. When I pointed it out to the teacher, he said I was wrong. I knew I wasn't. I got reference books and showed him the pictures clearly illustrating the differences. He got very angry and said "You're beating a dead horse. I don't care if you are right; for our purposes it is a ray." My respect for him plummeted as a result. He was not only unwilling to face the truth for himself, but he was also actively teaching false information to people who had been trained to accept whatever "authorities" told them.

How many of the students he deceived went on with life, never questioning whether what they were told was the truth? How many became good little cogs in the machinery of the state due to lies even more egregious than this? On the other hand, how much did this event help cement my own suspicion that "authorities" were at least as likely to be wrong as anyone, and less likely to admit it when they were?

This one experience may have helped make me the anarchist I am today. In that case, thanks Mr. S.