Confidently wrong

Students suffer from unwarranted self-confidence writes Marlene Zuk, a UC-Riverside biology professor. Her students don’t think their low test scores or inability to answer questions reflects ignorance. They don’t read the book or remember lectures; they can’t discuss the concepts. Yet they believe they deserve high grades. They feel good about their understanding.

On a practice test, a student tried to compare two lines on a graph representing different blackbird nesting habits.

The question asked where a point on one of the lines satisfied a particular condition, and only one answer was correct. The student for some reason had redrawn the lines, as if rewriting the birds’ reproductive history, with the two lines suddenly veering off into a fantasy of communal egg-laying. It was as if she had taken a graph of the exports of China and France and merged them into a new country with a single product.

Once again, I explained how to answer the question, and once again the student was pleased. The error was just a trivial difference of opinion. “Yeah, I get it,” she said. ” I was just thinking of it differently.” You say tomayto, I say tomahto.

No, I wanted to say, you weren’t thinking of it differently, you had it completely wrong; you didn’t understand it at all. But like her many compatriots, she was unlikely to acknowledge that, or admit to a mistake even when she created a version of reality never seen on a map, or in the actions of a blackbird.

. . . confident placidity in the face of error seems to be on the rise. Maybe it’s all that self-esteem this generation of students was inculcated with as youngsters, or maybe it’s the emphasis on respecting everyone else’s opinion, to the point where no answer, even a mathematical one, can be truly wrong because that might offend the one who gave it.

The self-esteem movement has a lot to answer for.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. These are the kids that will be designing planes, cars and buildings in the future.

    God help us.

  2. The phenomenon Professor Zuk observes is the logical and inevitable result of the whole-language/fuzzy-math pedagogy inflicted on this generation of students. They were taught that guessing a word wrongly was just as good as (or even better than) reading it correctly, as long as it made some sense to them. Their invented spellings were praised. In math, demonstrating their “process” (however misguided) was deemed more important and given more points than getting the right answer. What else would we expect of them in college?

  3. Alan: No they won’t. In the future, everything will be designed in the Eastern Hemisphere.

  4. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    The fake self-esteem movement came out of the narcissistic 60’s-70’s era. Hopefully, the back-to-basics movement of rewarding students for their ACHIEVEMENTS, not their FEELINGS, will reverse this inanity.

    I would not be surprised if Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Scott Peterson, et al., had high self-esteem–that’s the trademark of a sociopath.

  5. “These are the kids that will be designing planes, cars and buildings in the future.

    God help us.”

    Alan, you mean these are the kids *who* will be designing planes, etc.? Thought so.

    You’d do well not to make such basic mistakes when criticizing the undereducation and impending failure of an entire generation.

  6. Reminds me of the time one of my students told me in all seriousness, “If your tests were easier, I would have a better grade in this class.” How true!

  7. elfcharm says:

    Matthew Tabor, to be humorous, wouldn’t it be better to make mistakes when criticizing the undereducation of american students?

    I remember one of the times I recieved detention. It was in 8th grade, and my math teacher put a problem on the board. What is 4 to the third power? So I raised my hand, she called on me, and I said “64”.
    To which she replied “Good job, Chad!” (in 8th grade??!! Why such blanket praise to 13 year olds? Don’t they have big enough ego’s as it is?)

    THEN she asked “Wait, where is your calculator?”
    “in my bag”
    so she gave me a detention.
    It was traumatic!

  8. “These are the kids that will be designing planes, cars and buildings in the future.”

    No they won’t. Engineering students have to get the right answers to graduate. And in engineering, unlike the fuzzy subjects, aren’t subject to different opinions. Answers are either correct or wrong.

  9. I don’t think this is all from whole language and fuzzy math, but I’m sure it is a contributing factor. It is a product of our postmodern culture, a culture of moral relativism. Nothing is right or wrong anymore, it is wrong only if you think it is wrong. Everybody is entitled to believe what he wants to believe and do what he wants to do, no matter how stupid it really is. No wonder our kids think that their answers are right!

  10. Garbo — I thought I was cynical…good point though.

    Matthew — Thanks for the poke in the eye. I apologize for my poor grammar. I was just thinking differently than you.

    Finally, to Rex: Please be sure to sit on an exit row over the wing in future flights. Odds are if the wings don’t fall of on take-off and you are not shredded in a crash landing, you might just be able to escape the fire.

    The interesting thing about engineers is that not everyone that passes the tests and graduates can use their knowledge in a practical environment. To really mess with you — some of the best design engineers I have worked with did not even have a college degree. Go figure.

    Finally, Jill: Bingo!

    AK

  11. Cardinal Fang says:

    Alan, you mean these are the kids *who* will be designing planes, etc.? Thought so.

    You’d do well not to make such basic mistakes when criticizing the undereducation and impending failure of an entire generation.

    Matthew, you’d do well not to post, rather than post some prescriptive nonsense about some imaginary prohibition against that. I guess you believe these are also prohibited:

    Edgar Allan Poe’s The Man That Was Used Up Mark Twain’s The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg
    “Blessed is the man that doth this and the son of man that shall lay hold on
    this” (Isaias 56:2).
    Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
    And cursed be he that moves my bones.
    (Shakespeare’s epitaph)

    And those were just the first few Google results for “the man that.”

  12. If I remember the grammar correctly, and I may not, one should use “who” instead of “which” and one may (or may not) use “who” instead of “that”.

  13. Steve LaBonne says:

    “Mark Twain’s The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg”
    A story which, by the way, is one of the true classics of American literature but seems to be far too little known and appreciated. The text is readily available online.

  14. SuperSub says:

    Quote from Jill-
    “It is a product of our postmodern culture, a culture of moral relativism. Nothing is right or wrong anymore, it is wrong only if you think it is wrong. Everybody is entitled to believe what he wants to believe and do what he wants to do, no matter how stupid it really is.”

    Our postmodern culture, moral relativism, is all an outgrowth of the culture of freedom and love that spread like a disease across the nation in the 60’s. The sexual revolution was completely about breaking society’s rules and focusing on one’s own pleasure and fulfillment rather than responsibly making choices. This concept has simply spread to all areas of life as the hippie generation brought up their children, resulting in parents now who are more concerned about their own satisfaction than their children’s welfare.
    The hippies may be gone, but their venomous spirit lives on in society today.

  15. Cardinal Fang says:

    If I remember the grammar correctly, and I may not, one should use “who” instead of “which” and one may (or may not) use “who” instead of “that”.

    Exactly so. One uses who/whom rather than which for people. “Those are the kids which would be designing planes” would be very wierd.

    Some people say that one should use that rather than who or which for restricted relative clauses. That rule is pointless pedantry ignored by virtually all good writers.

  16. It is a product of our postmodern culture, a culture of moral relativism. Nothing is right or wrong anymore, it is wrong only if you think it is wrong.

    Or more likely, a large enough, and PC enough group thinks its wrong.

    Everybody is entitled to believe what he wants to believe and do what he wants to do, no matter how stupid it really is.

    Not quite. Everyone is entitled to believe what certain powerful PC groups want them to believe. Thus, the Nation of Islam is seen as morally superior to the Aryan Nations; although both are equally racist, and equally stupid and wrong.

    I say, go ahead, believe what you want, do what you want within limits – and take the full consequences.