A teacher of a class of seven and eight year olds posed a simple problem to her class.
“There are four blackbirds sitting in a tree. You take a catapult and shoot one of them. How many are left?”
“Three,” answered the first seven year old with certainty.
“One subtracted from four leaves three.”
“Zero,” answered the second pupils with equal certainty. “If you shoot one bird, the others will fly away.
“Stop being so mean to blackbirds,” says Molly from the outer edges of the page.
I read this story yesterday and it’s exactly the thing I would have loved as a kid. When I read it, I went straight into school maths problem mode and said, ‘three.’ But then enjoyed discovering the ‘trick.’
I asked chap and he said, “None.” Smart arse. I thought I was the queen of outside the box thinking! I soon revert to conditioned training when it comes maths – clearly.
I think this little vignette is a powerful metaphor that illustrates heaps about perspective. Neither of these pupils were wrong once their perspective was explained.
And in engaging with this puzzle, it also illustrates our relationship with the need to be ‘right.’
I think we all like to get things ‘right’ and I do wonder if It comes from a childhood schooling where we were given ticks or crosses. We were probably quite fragile with respect to self esteem anyway (back in those emotionally illiterate days), so to receive the ultimate ‘correct-good’ or ‘incorrect-bad’ judgement was a lot to hinge our little delicate psyches on! At school self esteem correlated directly to academic achievement.
I wonder (considering myself and observations of others), if an uneasiness with agreeing to disagree, a need to persuade others that what we are saying is right (whatever we are speculating about: fact or opinion) and the ridiculous satisfaction we sometimes get when we prove someone else wrong – might come from this little delicateness – no? We are so uncomfortable with being ‘wrong’ because of how we were made to feel as a child???? Just speculating. Again.
I’m going to cliché.
We learn more from mistakes don’t we? And mistakes don’t always turn out bad – especially if we can get over the fact we have made a mistake, reassess, reposition and make a ‘new’ most of it.
Fear of making mistakes can cause people not to even have a go – that’s a component of low self-esteem. I remember reading somewhere that the same fear can be blamed for non-finishers’ behaviour. If you don’t finish, you don’t get judged.
So what I suggest is a new relationship with making mistakes. I am not talking about mistakes that put people in unnecessary danger, but those little mishaps, those little attempts that didn’t quite turn out right. Let’s not feel disappointed, let’s not berate ourselves or feel deflated. Let’s celebrate the learning they gave us. Let’s also forgive others for their mistakes and not be like those tickky/crossy role-modelling teachers from our childhood. And I will draw on something I wrote ages ago.
This new relationship needs to start by re-conceptualising mistakes.
Perhaps we need to rename 'mistakes'..............
• an interesting diversion,
• an enjoyable, slight, off-task
• a meaningful learning route
• a worthwhile bash against convention
• what had to be done/thought to arrive where we got to
• a creative expansion
• a back burner for now
• not the one we chose today
So whether your mistake is ruining a recipe, taking the wrong turn, giving the wrong present, getting a fact wrong, saying the wrong thing…....see it as the learning opportunity it is and don’t be hard on yourself!