In the Mists of Uncertainty

(“Sometimes it’s downright shocking . . . “)

We’ve all seen clips of a Leno-like person on a street corner thrusting his microphone into the faces of some unsuspecting schlemiels and asking the kinds of questions whose misanswers make their old social studies teachers wonder why they’d even bothered.

The knowledge I purvey may be less critical to the commonweal, but I take it just as seriously in my own little world. And more times than I’d care to admit, I discover I’ve left a student without the information she (or he) should have simply because I’ve assumed they already possessed it.

It’s easier with beginners. You can expect that they don’t know anything; so the responsibility for whatever isn’t in their heads rests on you for failing to put it in there. But people who come to you with “a history” or “experience”—those are the ones about whom it’s dangerous to make assumptions. Sometimes it’s downright shocking what you discover people don’t know until you ask them!
It can be terminology which you take for granted not realizing they don’t know what you mean and are too embarrassed to ask. It can be (in your mind) common protocols they’ve never been exposed to. It can even be basic information that just slipped by them along the way. More than once while teaching a turn on the haunches I’ve discovered the rider couldn’t name the sequence of the horse’s footfalls, much less identify them by feel.

If you are a teacher, you can avoid this pitfall by asking your students lots of questions and filling in the blanks when necessary. If you’re a student, if you don’t know something, ASK. In some cases that moment when you’re in the middle of an exercise may not be the best time, but don’t go home before you get an answer that makes sense!