I’ve been wondering lately which is better.
Is it better to teach something in a simple way that’s only about 75% correct, or in a more complex way that’s 100% correct? I’ve decided that it’s actually better to be simple and somewhat wrong. Here’s why.
When you try to teach something 100% right, you end up layering on the details before the foundation has set. It’s like painting a room. Done correctly, you apply a base primer coat or two, letting it dry, before applying a coat of paint. You let that dry and apply another coat of paint. If you decided to paint every coat at once, you end up with a smeared mess.
Learning has always been somewhat algorithmic to me. It goes something like this.
- Learn a few facts about something.
- Go do that something assuming that those few facts make up 100% of everything I need to know about that something.
- Eventually stumble upon an occurrence that either (a) contradicts one of the facts or (b) can’t be understood by simply knowing those facts.
- Learn new fact(s) that make that occurrence make sense.
- Go to 2.
In this way, I always assume I know everything about that something. Wow, what a great feeling! So, I march forward, proud and confident about the fact that I’m equipped with everything I need to know. Once, I hit a stumbling block (a contradiction to my thought process), I can undo or add the bits of information I need to get past that block. Then, I keep marching forward proudly.
When I learn the “don’t let the paint dry” way, I’m at the mercy of everything I’ve been able to digest. I’m more cautious and defensive. When I hit a stumbling block, I’m not surprised, and I’m also sure that it’s something I should’ve known but I can’t seem to recall. It’s harder for me to continue forward as I hit more and more stumbling blocks. Ultimately, I will get there, but it will probably take longer and I won’t feel nearly as productive.
So, I think that’s the way we should teach. Teach the basics. Even if it’s an over-exaggeration or over-simplification of the real truth. Let people figure out that some of the truths you say aren’t 100% correct. In fact, the real learning is figuring out what’s incorrect (or not complete) about your bucket of wisdom. Then, after a while, teach ’em some more.