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The Difference Between Knowing and Teaching

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When I called tech-support to help me adjust my computer settings, the guy couldn't get me as far as step two. (I have Windows XP with IE 6.1.) He told me to click on Start and then Control Panel. If you think he instructed me correctly (and have Windows XP with IE 6.1), try it. Anyone who doesn't already know what to do will not know what to do. My ignorance was this guy's ammunition, and he was a sure shot.

Know-it-alls run customer-support lines, man the complaint departments, make up a significant portion of educators, and write instructional manuals for everything from installing computer programs to blowing up balloons. Their job titles are misnomers and their main duties seem to include reducing people to tears. It leaves me wondering, do we really have "learning disabled" people in our midst? Or are we plagued with those who, if they followed their own instructions, couldn't work a door?

I walked through the door of my third grade classroom in 1971. The school I attended used the second grade teacher and the third grade teacher to teach both grades. One taught the two grades English and the other taught the two grades Math. The Math teacher couldn't figure out why everyone in rows four and five of both classrooms did so poorly. Conversely, the English teacher couldn't figure out why rows one and two of both classrooms did so poorly. These two teachers decided everyone in row three of both classrooms was exceptionally intelligent.

Intelligence is not measured by how much we know, but rather by how well we use what we know. Getting the information can be a real trick, especially when instructed by those who don't really want you to know. Shortly after the World Wide Web debuted, it brought with it the opportunity to share our lives with faraway others. Many took it upon themselves to learn basic HTML in an effort to build a simple webpage. Alas, they were banished to the land o' the boxy and drab template by a plethora of unnecessarily complicated HTML tutorials that would have left Einstein in the fetal position crying out for his mother. There was but one exception to this tutorial rule, and it was created by an 11-year-old girl.

The information-savvy among us are almost entirely to blame for the gap between the learned and the learning. All of society is rife with but a fraction of the explanation. The gap is there because the rest of the instructions are tied up in the instructor's assumptions, arrogance, impatience, superiority complexes, and the idea that if the student doesn't already know something then they're just stupid.

As children, we tolerate this method because we don't know any better. As adults we tolerate it because we've been told (and for some reason we believe) we should already know at least some of the things we seek to learn (though, one wonders what the point of instruction is if one is thought to already know). Some of you may have heard one person in a troubled couple ask the other, "What's wrong?" You may then have heard the other say, "If you don't know, I'm not telling you." Thousands of people from the latter half of this kind of couple man a government agency.

There are those who teach, instruct, and assist because they want to share. They care whether or not you learn and this shows in their method, which often includes follow-up. Then there are those who just want to be on top so they can look down on you. They keep others from reaching the top by removing some of the steps. They tap into the well of nobility by appearing to share when really they have no method and no follow-up, and the only thing they want you to learn is how smart they are. This is why normally reasonable people end up swearing, shouting, experiencing chest pains, crying, or smashing things during or after a call to a customer support line. For many, the same occurs when having to take an unpaid day off from work to visit any government agency. Round this out with having achieved absolutely nothing and you end up with a significant portion of the populace thinking themselves morons while the rest think themselves masters.

The Masters Degrees held by my third grade teachers didn't help them understand how only one row of children in each classroom could be doing well in both Math and English while opposite sides of the rooms floundered at these different subjects. If you were to stand in the back of either classroom facing the chalkboard, you would see row one on your left and row five on your right. The English teacher was right-handed. She stood with her back to rows one and two, writing on the chalkboard and explaining as she went. The Math teacher was left-handed. He stood with his back to rows four and five, writing on the chalkboard and explaining as he went. Both erased to make room for the next lesson before stepping away from the board. This left the rows of students behind them without any of the information needed to move along with everyone else. Because it was 1971, we children were not allowed to speak. The teachers were clearly too dense to realize their fathers weren't glassmakers, and we were not afforded the opportunity to remind them of this.

Many a child has been left behind because moving forward required knowledge they didn't have – and no one was going to give it to them if they didn't already have it. The material and the teacher are whole, so we're told, therefore it must be we the troubled who are at fault. My compatriots in comprehension, I would assert it is more often than not the instructor who is at fault, not the instructed.

Anyone who has ever been in the company of a temperamental child knows nothing incurs frustration faster than blocking the child's desire to learn. Even the passive child will retreat to daydreaming when the path to understanding is withheld for even a few minutes. It is no wonder, then, that adults can endure hours and even days of getting nowhere, but will eventually be reduced to fits of frustration.

If ever you do get to where you understand your computer, your Social Security paperwork, or even how to preset your coffee maker, consider sharing with someone who wants to know the same thing, without skipping any steps. If enough of us do this, maybe we will be able to reduce the know-it-alls' workforce, sending them to one of the most red tape-flocked halls of apathy and conflicting answers man ever created: the unemployment office.

Meanwhile, those who have Windows XP with IE 6.1 and wish to adjust their computer settings, click on Start in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen. Hover your cursor over Settings. When Control Panel appears, click on it. Adjust away.

Those who wish to learn basic HTML can visit the website Lissa Explains It All. Lissa, just 11-years-old when she first started taking HTML notes, is now in college. She was kind enough to keep the site simple so that every beginner has the same chance to learn, in full, without skipping any steps.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • http://www.robinbellamy.com robin

    *grin* I have “control panel” in my start menu…does that mean something? I didnt find “settings” though….well to be frank I wouldnt know what to do with them if I did have it.

    My son is potentially the victim of overzealous teaching. They’ve decided he’s in need of an in-class occupational therapist. They can’t get him to write his name neatly or put his shoes on without help. There’s one thing I know they don’t. He’s lazy. He doesnt WANT to write his name–and why should he when there are so many other things in the classroom to do? And he certainly doesnt want to get dressed without help. Help is more fun. Help gives him attention, specifically from his pretty teacher.

    Im not going anywhere with this…I just enjoyed (and empathized with) what you wrote (as usual) and felt like blabbing…

  • dad

    “Thousands of people from the latter half of this kind of couple man a government agency.”

    I met that person when I went to apply for my social security. She called me about my appointment and couldn’t understand what I wanted. I told her that I was ready to retire and wanted to draw my social security. She informed me that that wasn’t possible as I was already retired. After a few explicit exchanges of words, I told her I was going to make my appointment. She had guards waiting for me. Again she explained that I was retired and when I asked for proof she showed me the computer entry that said I was retired. When I asked why there were no SS payments and my income hadn’t changed dramatically she again pointed to the “retired” block on the screen. When I threatened to make some calls to Washington DC she looked further and agreed that perhaps there had been a mistake.

    Maybe,just maybe, she learned something from someone about relying on computers and computer personnel without questioning the result.

  • Donnie Marler

    Good article, Diana. I think I’ve talked to that guy myself.