// Reader Comments – Stuart Firestein

Stuart Firestein

One of the surprises that comes with a first book is the number of people who write you – many of them are friends and colleagues and that’s of course quite nice. Many are people who you have not heard from or been in contact with for years, sometimes decades, and that’s amazing. Others are complete strangers who either read the book or heard you on a radio interview and were moved to write something, often personal, that connected them to the material. Those are often worth sharing, and that’s what this page will do.

Here’s one that I have shown to more than a dozen colleagues, because its such a wonderful story, and a perfectly accurate description of what education should be.

Thanks for Ignorance: How it Drives Science.
One of my grade school arithmetic teachers began the first day of class with a statement:

“I assume all of you learned your multiplication tables through 12…” He waited while all of us sat frozen; we had all learned our tables through 10. Terrified that he would spin around, point at me and say, “Quick–7 x 12,” I raised my hand and admitted that I’d only learned my tables through 10. He then asked the class how many had learned their tables through 10. Everybody raised their hands.

“Alright,” he said, looking at the raised hands. “Kathy gets an ‘A’ from me this year because she’s just learned the one thing that is essential to learn: When to say, ‘I don’t know.’ “

This lesson remains the single most useful experience in my educational history.

Kathleen Erickson
Minneapolis, MN