educating adults through the trauma of being wrong —

Let’s call it the cognitive dissonance awareness approach.

Since 2018, many well-educated people have lined up to tell me how wrong I was about something they only believed they knew. Something they thought they understood — who could be trusted, for example, or the importance of professional standards — didn’t match up with what I was saying.

And as the minority voice, it meant I had to be wrong. Dyscognitive assurance feels like pride in being so sure you’re correct that the already inconceivable idea you might not be can be dismissed outright. Adult learners have had more than a generation of assurance that writing jargon like “conflict” means what it means in plain English. No writer needs to learn how to use its literary definition.

I emailed a prof because they had taught “metaphor” as its simple English definition. An instructor should understand the difference between the English definition of a metaphor and its use as a tool of clarity which compares one known thing directly to something else where the reader is asked to draw their own comparison between the two concepts.

It is the language of dopamine rewards. A new comparison builds a new connection to two disconnected things. That connection feels rewarding to the reader, independent of the language of the text.

It’s not just a comparison between two things not using like or as. Two unknown things to the reader can’t allow the reader to draw any conclusion unless it is to state how muddled both concepts are. The instructor told me I was wrong.

A week later — and probably for no causal reason — I was summarily thrown out of class for asking the most gentle way I could if the dark thought in the non-fiction prose was intentionally placed there. And then I wasn’t invited back into the class because I insisted actual policy written for that exact situation be followed.

But I had been held responsible from our first critique class for the offence a learner felt having their English definition of writing terminology challenged. If conflict is people arguing then no work of fiction needs conflict. And if the methodology doesn’t require conflict, it can’t unbelieve tension is Hitchcock or better.

It’s not the Dunning Kruger keep-going-up-forever. It is shaped like a slide for a reason. Learners have to get as far as they can go with confidence and time before they can even consider competence might also be a factor.

There are two pathways to reach a stage where the competence of a confident person are more or less on par and a box canyon leading off to the side that goes nowhere. A learner doesn’t have to understand the value of competency to learn how to become an excellent writer.

They are on the same steep ramp all writers are on, but their ramp has a steep acute angle up to the top right-hand corner that is at least achievable if the learner can learn on guidance alone. There’s a tonne of advice on how to make the steep climb from tonnes of writers, but it’s written in a language that writers who start out with an outlier amount of raw talent and have the stability or tenacity necessary to practice for years before it can become something that can produce enough support to live on part of its income. This gives the author the time and energy necessary to at least somewhat concentrate on it while still supporting themselves and their family.

The second type of writer also keeps doing what they are doing well, but that follows the law of diminishing returns The further up they go without ever attempting to become more competent, the more their writing focuses exclusively on what the learner can already do flawlessly.

There’s a third way to competence/confidence parity. It is a learner making it up a staircase where the height of each rise can be as high as the learner’s head or higher. Because each learner has to reach the end of what they can do with their new-found competence and their existing confidence before they need to figure out the next part of what is holding them back. It’s a path up to the righthand corner full of plateaus and confidence snakes you thought held weight until you tested them.

And worse, the more you start to learn, the more what you thought you knew barely scratched the surface. It’s not just a matter of finding instructors who can explain how to get where they are because they had to scramble up the learning staircase. Writers who just needed better guidance can only learn how to give better guidance.

The learning staircase was hard enough when most people had to move to cities. Writers had nothing to do but practice writing until they had the independence necessary to move to the city to meet the right person who was impressed with their writing to give them a seat at the table with literary giants who — almost guaranteed — looked like older models of themselves.

Today’s learners have to find instructors who understand how to teach how literary terminology is used to write to a professional level. If the learner learns the jargon as plain English words, most writers can’t conceive anything can be more complex than a metaphor being a comparison that doesn’t use like or as.

Everyone knows a metaphor is the simplified definition that fits on a standardized test. To suggest otherwise would feel like blasphemy. It is the unpleasant sensation is the brain reacting to cognitive dissonance by shutting down all its chains of thought as though a sentient, chain-following virus had been released in its sub-basement.

You can’t teach a person their layperson’s understanding of professional jargon is incorrect because they know what those words mean. This methodology forces learners to find their own platform where their reward for getting more confident in what they’re doing well isn’t improving the average outcome of the writer’s submission.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s