Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

It took several years, but eventually someone posted a sensible comment below the article - "ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer."

The lecturer, a person in a position of trust, starts with a query coming from a place of deception. The students trusted the teacher to be asking them something relevant and they gave it their best shot. Sure, it's great to always keep a sharp mind and not make assumptions, but it's also a waste of time to question each and every pre-supposition, which is what's required to get to the correct answer of "because you rigged it."




"The lecturer, a person in a position of trust, starts with a query coming from a place of deception."

I used to be a middle school science teacher. One year, near the beginning of the school year, I taught an entire lesson on why the Earth was flat. The point of the lesson, of course, was to encourage them not to simply take my word for things but to base their beliefs on evidence and reason.


Dangerous, you really don't want your students thinking you are lying to them every lesson.

Depending on how you did the lesson of course. I could see it as valuable if you were asking the students to explain why your observations don't fit with the actual world.


"Dangerous"

Yes, you're right. You have to do this well. I ended up having a great relationship with my students that year. But I think my principal had to field calls from confused parents.

"lying"

Right, you wouldn't want to betray their trust. However, my personality and teaching style led me to "pull their leg" every so often which I think is quite age-appropriate for 8th-graders. That's right at the age where the brain is developing new types of abstract thinking, and so the occasional tongue-in-cheek communication really exercises their brain well and if done well can establish a playful rapport with the students. I found that this doesn't work with 6th-graders, though. They are still rather concrete in their thinking.


I couldn't disagree more. Nothing could be more important than curating and encouraging the maturation of skepticism and critical thinking in growing minds.

Indeed, I see this as a kind of QA for science education. If you can trick your students into believe unscientific bullshit then you've failed to teach them science.


See "My Favorite Liar":

> "Your job, as students, among other things, is to try and catch me in the Lie of the Day."

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/02/my-favorite-lia.html


>Dangerous, you really don't want your students thinking you are lying to them every lesson.

Except this is very often going to be exactly what you are doing. Take nearly any scientific subject you had in school. How much of what you learned still holds? Not to even mention that the text books the children are reading often contain information that has already been disproven.


> Dangerous, you really don't want your students thinking you are lying to them every lesson.

Heaven forbid (pardon the expression) they stop automatically trusting everything anyone in a position of authority says to them, and start keeping an eye out for bullshit and/or forming their own opinions. Won't somebody please think of the churches!


what was the outcome? Did they come back with arguments the next day?


First, some more context. This was an 8th grade middle school physical science class. Here are some excerpts from a worksheet I gave them:

"Many people believe things based only on what they hear other people say, not based on real evidence. This makes it easy for people to have misconceptions (wrong beliefs). One common misconception is that the Earth is a sphere. The majority of Americans believe this in spite of the evidence to the contrary.

"The Earth is actually a disc (circle). The sky is a dome above the Earth. The sun, moon, and stars are all attached to this dome. The dome rotates, giving us day and night. Underneath the Earth there is water. Around the edges of the Earth is a vast, impenetrable ice sheet. The north pole is at the center of the Earth.

...

"Point #7: The United Nations’ logo correctly shows the shape of the Earth. Since they are the supreme governing body of the Earth, they should know how it is shaped!

...

"Point #9: This one you can try yourself! If the Earth is a sphere, then the ground must be slightly curved. This means that the floors of buildings must be slightly curved. Lay a ball or a pen on the floor. Does it roll?

"Point #10: If the Earth is a spinning sphere, then all of the water in the oceans would be flung into space!

...So you get the point. If I had more time, I would have made the lesson more compelling.

Most students exhibited some form of cognitive disequilibrium. About half ended up going along with the concept of a flat earth. About half were skeptical. A few, especially one student, got quite interested and came back at me the next day with lots of evidence and reasons to the contrary. So it had the intended result for at least a few students. And at the end of it all I think most got the point that we should rely on evidence, not simply what people say.


>And at the end of it all I think most got the point that we should rely on evidence, not simply what people say.

...well...yes and no. For basically all of our beliefs about things outside of our immediate environment, we rely on evidence that other people have collected. I can't determine that the earth is a sphere by my own observations any more than a man could 5 thousand years ago.


You can determine the spherical nature of the Earth using your own observations -- but you do have to be perceptive.

The way the stars and shadows change with even a small shift in latitude was a dead giveaway to men ~2500 years ago. Even if you never left home, you might notice that the masts of ships on the horizon come into view before the hulls. And on second thought, why would a horizon exist on a flat world anyway?

For this example at least, you certainly could rely on first-hand evidence. You might need people to put the pieces together for you, but you can make the raw observations yourself fairly easily.


It is a fun exercise to figure out how far away the horizon is.

If the radius of the Earth is r, and you have height h, then from the top of your head to the center of the Earth to the horizon and back to the top of your head is a right angle triangle. The hypotenuse is r+h, one side is r, and the other must be sqrt(2rh + h*h). Under the assumption that r is much bigger than h, that means that the distance to the horizon varies as the square root of the height.

This assertion is surprisingly easy to check with ships. Furthermore if you pay close attention on a commercial aircraft, you can actually see that the horizon is a little bit below level!


Adding in that the Earth's radius is about 6.4 megameters, and starting with h=5 meters you get that the horizon is about 8000 metres away. So from 5 meters up the horizon is about 5 statute miles away. Then to double the distance, multiply the height by 4.


You seem to have framed it well, and tried to do it when age-appropriate. Those probably mitigate most if not all of the misinforming and destruction of trust issues.

Still, there are empirical studies on how people, when presented with information of the form "not X", "X is a myth", etc, will forget the "not" and "is a myth" parts of the information first and thus be left more ill-informed than had they never been presented the information (I'm in the middle of packing, so no link, sorry; but I seem to recall something about a "Myths about the Flu" pamphlet in one such study). Other studies address people's fallibility when it comes to usefully remembering where they learned particular facts. So if you are going to keep doing such lessons it might be helpful to look into such research and perhaps try to assess later just how your lessons had done, aging-well or breaking-down over time, in memory.


In the public schools I attended, the fallibility of teaching staff was readily apparent and didn't require a special lesson.


What were the results?


Did somebody was on that lesson and missed the next ?


No amount of deception by the teacher makes any of their science-y explanations correct.

It's not that they had an alternative model of how it could have happened, and tried to offer a explanation with a technical term. It's that they were just throwing out technical terms.

If a teacher shows an egg being pushed into a bottle with a match in it, and one student guesses 'quantum tunneling', that answer is just as wrong as the answers in this essay, and driven by the same process of inserting magic words.

If they had mentally searched through potential technical explanations and couldn't find an answer, and were unwilling to take the time to question every pre-supposition, the correct answer is "I don't know".


The author does hint at a correct answer: "...none stooping so low as to say 'I don't know" or 'This seems impossible.'" That's not a stupid answer. The point is by giving it "their best shot", the students were revealing their lack of understanding of the subject material.

The lecturer, a person in a position of trust, starts with a query coming from a place of deception

That's a far more important lesson to learn. Certainly it would be time consuming to question "each an every pre-supposition" but some situations may warrant it more than others - particularly when something's happening that defies what you already know about nature.


> The point is by giving it "their best shot", the students were revealing their lack of understanding of the subject material.

But why shouldn't students presuppose that they don't understand everything about the subject material (and thus the way they form guesses reflects it)? Why shouldn't they assume that there might be some counter-intuitive wrinkle that was not covered yesterday which will today be explained? The experience of finding such things out is common for them, that is a major reason they are there at school... finding out things they didn't know, and being told things about the depths of a topic that isn't always obvious on the surface.

Do you not see anything the least bit odd about holding them so guilty for making that presumption in this case?


No. I can't say it any more clearly than the original article: " If "because of heat conduction" can also explain the radiator-adjacent side feeling cooler, then it can explain pretty much anything."

If they see something that is specifically contradicted by theory of x, they should assume there's some wrinkle or some theory of y. They should not say theory of x explains something that flies in the face of theory of x. It means they don't understand theory of x.


> It means they don't understand theory of x.

You still haven't given a reason for why their formation of guesses should be constrained to only those guesses that presuppose that they understand well "theory of x".

For instance, if their previous lesson on heat conduction included a statement about how different materials conduct differently (meaning but not specifying the differences in thermal conductivities or the dominant type of heat transfer), then that "different" might easily be thought to extend to something that behaves like a Peltier cooler.

If you went to a building regularly and when there, once a week at least, your current understanding of topics was shown to be quite incomplete, at best, then how long is it really rational to continue constraining your guesses about "how" to only just those allowed by your current understanding of all the terms. Eventually it becomes reasonable to start considering that no term is so sacrosanct that you can't revise or extend it in the face of the teacher showing you some clever corner of the great mass of human ingenuity that we have built up over a few millennia for, among other thing, impressing our children.

See, they may have simply built up a reservoir of something like intellectual humility in the face of their own possible ignorance. Something, that if you can't see at least the possibility of, I have to think you may have all but lost entirely.


If you went to a building regularly and when there, once a week at least, your current understanding of topics was shown to be quite incomplete, at best, then how long is it really rational to continue constraining your guesses about "how" to only just those allowed by your current understanding of all the terms.

I neither said nor implied any such thing. No such meaning could be reasonably derived from my statements. I don't appreciate strawman arguments, or suggestions that I have "lost entirely" my "intellectual humility" even though my first post stated "I don't know" is not a stupid answer.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: