Act like you’ve done this before…

“Act like you’ve done this before.” This phrase is based on the assumption that an individual should just “know” what to do or how to act, even in novel situations. This phrase is deeply rooted in the “curse of knowledge”.

Has there ever been a time in your life when circumstances required you to “act like you’ve done it before”? Even though you did not have the knowledge nor the skill set to do so. How did you feel in that situation?

For me, one situation that comes to mind, is the occasional social gathering where I offer to help the host and am subsequently asked “Will you start a pot of coffee?” Simple enough request right? For me, no.

I don’t drink coffee, in fact I despise coffee. (I know, right? What kind of monster am I?) Therefore, I have never had a need to learn how to make coffee. You would think the above average amount of times I’ve been asked to make it would have prompted me to learn, but no, no it hasn’t.

Pretending to know how to start a pot of coffee is not easy, believe me, I’ve tried. I usually explain that I don’t drink coffee and therefore, I’m not really sure what to do. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve been told, “sure you do, it’s easy, you’ll figure it out”. Which then results in water, coffee grounds or a mixture of both seeping over the counter, partially due to my stubbornness and refusal to learn a skill I will NEVER need and partially due to the fact that I really have never learned how to make a pot of coffee.

An easy enough skill to learn, I’m sure, but that is my point. What may seem easy to one person may not seem so easy to another, and the well-intentioned, inspirational, “sure you do, it’s easy, you’ll figure it out” will not change that fact.

The “curse of knowledge” in this case, for all you coffee drinkers out there, comes with your years of experience of making coffee. Throw in a dash of assumption that everyone has had the same experience, sprinkle in some forgetfulness, specifically that at some point in your life (prior to the onset of your lifelong addiction to coffee) you too did not know how to make a pot and there you have it, a perfect example of the “curse of knowledge”.

Now I don’t mean to call out all the coffee drinkers of the world. I happen to know and love many wonderful people that make it their drink of choice. No my point is to highlight a skill that for most is second nature.

There are so many skills like this in the world. So many skills that are assumed, so many skills that require the development of underlying explicit skills. So many skills that we assume students have when they walk through the doors of their school each and every day.

As educators we can recognize this, recognize our own cognitive bias. We can remember to not assume experience, knowledge, or understanding. We can remember what it is like to not know something, to be unsure in a situation. Whatever that story may be for you, keep it tucked away as a reminder. As a check, to ensure that you are not experiencing the “curse of knowledge.”

I know anytime I am sensing my own frustration with a student, all I have to do, is recall any of the multiple times I have watched coffee grounds drip to the floor.



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