Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I don't know

It's so easy to say the three words, "I don't know". By saying that, you don't have to put more effort anymore. You don't have to try anymore and you certainly don't have to blame yourself for not knowing. Just by saying I don't know, you absolve yourself of all responsibilities. Suddenly, it's other people's problem - those who 'know' - and you just have to wait for them to help you solve it.

The difference between a good student and a bad one can be seen by how easily they say those three words. Good students face as much difficulties as bad students when they encounter something new, but their attitude makes all the difference. They seldom say I don't know. In fact, they seldom give up. They'll work on a problem until the problem gives way. If they can't do it, they'll try it again and again. If they can't solve it without some guidance, they'll seek the necessary guidance and find the necessary skill set and knowledge to solve it. They own the problem. They want to solve it. It's their focus and never say die attitude that makes them winners, eventually. Good students work on a problem longer than others, outlasting those who say "I don't know" the instance they encountered difficulties.

Bad students are just like tissue prata on a rainy day. The moment the first raindrop hits the prata, it crumbles and soften, losing all shape and structure. They lack the tenacity to fight and they certainly don't own the problem. If you don't own the problem, it's not your problem, so you don't have the motivation and determination to finish it till the end.

Like a prata hitting the first drop of rain. Can you imagine it?

This kind of attitude will last long into your adult life and beyond your student days. If someone ask me what's the point of learning 'cheam' trigonometry and differential equations and integration, this is what I would tell them. In learning a particular subject, there is a set of syllabus laid out by MOE and a hidden set of syllabus of LIFE. The syllabus by MOE are the learning objectives for that particular subjects. These outcomes will be tested in the exams but will be soon forgotten once the student leaves school. However, the hidden curriculum - the syllabus of LIFE - these are much much more precious and have long lasting effect in your life, well beyond the context of the subject. To succeed well in maths, besides knowing how to do the content well, you also need to have a set of characteristics. In maths, it could be logical thinking, carefulness, tenacity and creativity. For example, no matter how good you are, if you're not determined, as soon as you hit an obstacle, you'll give up. In that way, you'll never be able to do well in the subject. Those little habits you do while doing maths - like forcing yourself to try again and again, or checking, or asking around for help but working through the sums yourself - reinforces good character over and over again throughout your study life. These things last, long after you forgot the solution to the integration of ln x and differentiation of cot 2x.

I must have learn tenacity by playing computer games. In those days, SEGA games seldom comes with autosaves or save-any-time-you-like. You only save at a certain point, or mostly, none at all. I remember playing contra or sonic, carefully working through levels and levels and not having a save point anywhere in sight. You die often. You try again. You die again. You try again. UNTIL THE GAME GIVES UP OR YOU GIVE UP! The reward for not giving up and winning the game is often just that you can see a lousy pixellated victory at the end game and perhaps some sob story to convince you that the hero won against all odds.

So, do yourself a favour. Don't say "I don't know" so easily. Fight hard and fight harder.


Singapore Man of Leisure said...


During my corporate life, refrains I like to use:

"Yes Boss, I'll look into it."

"I'll get back to you on that excellent question!"

Yes, I'm just faking it until I succeed. Doesn't mean I good employee ;)

Ahem. I don't like math does not mean I bad student OK?

Of course ownership lies on the student to stand up and say I just not that into maths. With lower expectations, teachers can relax a bit.

But then we are talking with teenagers below 16 - HELLO!

Fish can't climb trees. (But they swim pretty well)


15 HWW said...

Hi LP,

Interesting insights. I still recall this student I had. He wasn't the smartest, but he was always willing to take that first step to try, unlike some of my smartest students. Obviously, he performed above expectations for his PSLE.

Guess Plato was right in "Meno", that the ability to solve problems is innate in all of us. We just need to have the right attitude and maybe, some "guidance".

la papillion said...


I know what you mean :) I'm also thinking hard into this question - if they are not good at study, will they become successful in life? I believe the ans lies in the attitude, not so much in the results. If my student can do the things he don't like and adopt a can-do attitude, I'm sure he'll excel when he does something he likes it very much with the very same attitude.

I'm making a leap of faith by bridging his attitude towards his study and his attitude towards life. Might not be the same, but it's the closest estimate I can get :)

la papillion said...

Hi 15 HWW,

Between intelligence and diligence, I'll put my bet on diligence :) I blogged this post because I just had a student that baffles me. He's obviously a very smart student, but he is always finding excuses for not doing well himself. He's a sportsman, but other than that, he is quite bad in his studies and had to repeat his sec 1. I always believe that sportsman has this inherent drive and determination in him, just that he didn't channel it properly towards the things he don't like but had to do. He is the one who kept saying I don't know and just fold up his arms and watch me explain how to do.