On Being Wrong

Kathryn Schulz is an author who’s spent much of her writing career thinking about being wrong.  Not being wrong herself, per se, but wrongness in general.  This TED talk clip has made the rounds – even last week, a colleague at school showed it.I like the clip for many reasons: first, though she hides behind her mousy appearance, she is doing philosophy – and more important, injecting into common discussions a philosophical bent.  What is a study of wrongness but really a study of epistemology – how do we know what we know?

Second, because she makes a crucial point: when we are wrong it feels, usually, like we are right.  And, as I’ve written before on the Kruger-Dunning effect, this has led to a lot of underperforming organizations.

Third, because she advocates risk taking – something I think is not rewarded nearly enough in teaching.  Important improvements in our field are not going to be achieved with an overly-conservative fear of failure.

But one of the reasons I can’t entirely subscribe to her views is that what begins as a careful examination of human fallibility turns into a “what-makes-us-human-is-our-mistakes” love-in.  She seems to make the claim that serendipity is more valuable than accuracy or being right. And while I do believe that we are wrong more often than we are right, and that humility is central to building a better teaching profession, I think she goes too far in giving up a preference for rightness.

The universe is likely only one way: it’s our job to try to approach a better understanding of it.  In teaching, it is crucial to building better schools.  And while it’s certainly hard to know who is who, some people must be right and others wrong.  I would rather we determined, more often than not, who the former are and ignore the latter.

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