common sense

A back to school tip for aspiring teachers and academics

If you’re confused in school now, you can use that confusion to become a better teacher later. You can write detailed notes about what you’re confused about and and why. Doing this may help you to figure things out now, and it will definitely help you to teach well in the future. 

Teaching is hard, and teaching beginners is often harder. Knowing a subject well isn’t the same as knowing how to teach it. Teachers need to be able to explain things in a way that will make sense to beginners. They also need to be able to figure out why students are getting confused, and find ways to help them understand. This is much easier said than done.

Right now, you’re probably confused about some things that will feel completely obvious in a year or two. Many things that are hard to master feel completely natural once you’ve learned them. It can be hard to understand why something that has come to feel completely natural to you is confusing to your students.

As a student, you’re likely confused about your subject; as a teacher, you are likely to be confused about your students. If you write down what you’re confused about as a student, you will be doing your future self a huge favor. The notes themselves may be helpful when you teach. Beyond that, writing notes about yourself as a student can help you to start thinking from a teaching perspective. The sooner you get into the habit of thinking about your subject with teaching in mind, the better off you’ll be in the long term.

Tl;dr If you’re confused in school, you can use your confusion to be a better teacher in the future. Consider writing down what you are confused about and why. In the future, you will have students who are confused. Understanding your own confusion now can help you to understand theirs later.

How to use Wikipedia

Wikipedia is basically a file of common sense. It has the common sense consensus views of people who care enough to write and edit articles. This is very, very useful, but it breaks down sometimes.

Wikipedia is at its most reliable when:

  • Someone cares enough to write a good article
  • Several other people who know what they’re talking about care enough to edit the article
  • The subject of the article is not controversial among people who care about it
  • People who care about it know what they are talking about
Wikipedia is not usually useful for controversial issues, unless:
  • The parameters of the controversy are not controversial
  • People agree about what the question in controversy is
  • Each side understands the position of the other side
  • Most people who care want both sides to be represented accurately
  • This usually only happens when most people involved consider both positions honorable

Wikipedia is very unreliable for seriously controversial issues:

  • Because Wikipedia is a file of common sense consensus positions, it breaks down when there is no consensus.
  • Wikipedia is usually mostly useless as a source of information about controversial political and religious topics
Wikipedia is also unreliable about some obscure topics:
  • Some article on Wikipedia are low-quality because no one cares about the topic much
  • The original author didn’t care enough to write a good article
  • And no one else or hardly anyone else cared enough to make edits and check facts
  • These articles usually know they’re bad and tend to come with warning labels

Don’t assume everything you know is obvious

Don’t assume everything you know is obvious

Some things are hard to figure out, but are really obvious and clear once you know them.

When a group of people all know the same set of these obvious-once-you-know-them things, this is what they call common sense.

And it can be easy to think that these things are just obvious, and that anyone who doesn’t know them is somehow defective.

When the common sense is about something like how to use a computer, or how to do a math problem, or how to use correct grammar, this tends to play out as assuming that anyone who doesn’t know the obvious-once-you-know-it things is just stupid and bad at thinking.

When the common sense is about something like knowing why a particular word hurts people, or understanding how to communicate, or something like that – it tends to play out as thinking anyone who doesn’t know the obvious-once-you-know-it thing is just a bad person who doesn’t care about others, and who must be lying or willfully failing to understand, because this stuff is *obvious*.

The thing is, it isn’t always obvious before you know it. There’s a difference between clear-to-you and obvious-to-anyone-who-doesn’t-suck.

And it’s important to be mindful of this, because *everyone* is ignorant of something that is both important and obvious to people who already know it. Everything has to be learned; common sense is learned, it’s not just some sort of automatic knowledge. And it’s not right to treat people like they’re bad/stupid/evil for not understanding everything right away.