About a year ago, I wrote a post titled “You don’t know you don’t know.” Today’s post is a continuation of my thought in that post. I want to think about how to respond to people who don’t know they don’t know.
This week, I had a chance to spend time with one of my old best friends. Because she is finishing her degree, I asked her if she was applying for jobs this year. Her answer was negative. I asked her why. She said she didn’t feel that she was ready yet. There are still so many things that she needs to learn, she explained, and she’s not sure if she could teach someone else. I totally heard her. From her statement “I am not ready yet,” what I heard was her awareness of overwhelmingly limitless knowledge, the apparent limits of knowledge she currently possesses, and her intense hunger to overcome the limits and learn more.
Then I got curious about what other people would hear from the same statement. Would some people take my friend’s words at face value and think that she is really not ready to teach? A woman who did nothing but study philosophy all her life, is getting a Ph.D from two universities on both sides of the Atlantic, and taught philosophy classes in the past, is not ready to teach Introduction to Philosophy to 17 year olds? To me, to think so is ridiculous. Well, if your argument is that being a scholar and being a teacher are two different tasks and the former does not necessarily lead to the latter, and if that’s the reason why you accept my friend’s statement at face value, I understand. That’s a valid response. We can talk about your point more in detail. But, if you take my friend’s words at face value because you don’t know you don’t know – in this case, your response will be like,”oh, I’ve been teaching 10+ years. I know how to teach. Too bad you don’t know how to teach yet” – then, your response reveals nothing but your deplorable ignorance. It clarifies that you shut off yourself in the narrow world of your minuscule knowledge and turn blind eyes to the vast expanse that exists outside your ken.
Today I am thinking about how to respond to this kind of self-righteous knowers. Usually I try to ignore them. First, it is their problem, not mine. I am sure they are denying themselves a lot by being self-complacent, but I don’t care about your loss, unless you are my students. Second, talking to them and trying to reason with them – without avail, of course – makes me feel like I am brought down to their level. Yes, I advise myself to expose myself to deep thought. Then I will forget tedious, trivial, time- and emotion-consuming negative feelings that these self-claimed knowers create. But I am human, and I confess that it does not feel good to be treated like an idiot by someone who is clearly more idiot than me. Ugh.