School taught me that not knowing things was embarrassing.
After multiplication quizzes, I’d be called to the front of the room and asked if I had been studying in front of the “boob tube” since my scores were so low. Everyone would laugh. I was usually great at math, but this was the first time I was stuck.
I never failed a test until college. I was studying to be an engineer and failed many tests. Even typing this up it feels weird. Like it should be a secret and maybe these shortcomings can still come back to haunt me.
Tests were long and intense. Once, my 36% was a B. The teacher was impressed if you got through part of one question. Some tests were worth 20% of your grade and only had two questions. That means an entire letter grade was determined by a single problem. You had to know everything.
I made the mistake once of skipping over one of those highlighted grey boxes with side information in my textbook. There was a question on the test about that one paragraph in that grey box. I could tell you the page number, but not what was written there.
My manager at my first real job gave me the exam for my certification. After each question he would ask, “Are you sure?” He told me never to guess. Guessing gets people hurt. Just say “I don’t know” and look it up. Always look things up. Information changes as we learn. Memorizing means you could know old data. In school, saying “I don’t know” is shameful. At work, saying “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you” was vital.
In Johannes Kepler’s first book, he though the planets moved according to platonic solids and used meticulous math to prove it. However, he is remembered for his later books where he proves himself wrong. He used observational data obtained from Tycho Brahe to determine orbits were actually ellipses.
I made two failed tests into platonic solids to remind myself that learning isn’t knowing everything at once. Knowledge should be pliable. Learning is a lifelong endeavor that isn’t meant to be done alone.