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Since I’m up, I might as well write out this concept I’ve been thinking about lately. Here’s a potential rambling #thread about the idea of feeling/looking “stupid” & it’s relationship to our learning process.
The other night I was thinking about how often I see students not want to speak in class for fear of feeling/looking “stupid.” I really hate the ableist implications of the phrase as well as the way this fear gets in the way of learning.
People talk about “feeling stupid” in situations where essentially they find out they didn’t know something or their previous knowledge was incorrect. This is particularly the case when their ignorance is revealed in front of people or in public/digital space like social media.
Having one’s ignorance about something displayed in public is often met w/ emotions of shame, embarrassment or even anger, at ourselves or at the person or situation that publicly displayed our ignorance & made us feel/look stupid. I want to try to reframe this experience.
Instead of thinking of these moments as times when I felt/looked stupid, I want to start thinking about them as moments when I learned in public. Learning in public is a vulnerable thing because we are actively gaining & processing new information in the presence/view of others.
An example: One day this semester I left my laptop at home & had to borrow my department’s spare one which is a Mac as opposed to my usual PC. I never use Macs so during lecture in front of 200 people I literally had to get students to tell me how to scroll on a webpage.
I felt so embarrassed & dumb. I thought my students were all going to think I didn’t know how to use computers, despite the fact that the class had clearly seen me work my own laptop perfectly fine all semester up to that point.
My emotions were a response to learning in public how to use a new laptop & not catching on right away. My ignorance was fully on display as I fumbled to move between my PowerPoint slides & a YouTube video & back.
I smiled through it all (because teaching is 75% performance art anyway) & I was probably the one most aware of my public learning in that moment, but my embarrassment was there nonetheless.
For my students in gender studies the fear of learning in public is often that ppl will think they are a bad person if they say “the wrong thing” or use offensive/wrong terms or something of that nature. So they don’t speak sometimes to the detriment of their grade.
I repeat: sometimes the fear of learning in public even in the context of a classroom causes students to avoid speaking even when they know their participation is graded. They would rather have a lower grade than risk looking/feeling stupid.
On social media when people make the kind of gaffes my students are often afraid of making in class, there are really 3 main ways ppl respond:
1. Delete it & pretend it never happened
2. Get angry at or defensive toward the individuals who point out your error or ignorance
3. Admit what you didn’t know. Seek out the information to know for the future and don’t make the same mistake again.

Ideally, we always do some version of 3, but really, I think 2 is more common.
It’s so easy to react to feeling/looking “stupid” with embarrassment, shame or anger, but I want my students & all of us to be more willing to learn in public & own that public learning.
The ppl I most admire, the ppl I consider leaders, are those who are willing to learn in public, to grow in front of our eyes. In her book Unapologetic (which yall should get) @CharleneCac reminds activists that we all didn’t know something at some point & had to learn it all.
She urges us to be patient with those who are still learning (& who actively seek to learn) & to never been so bold as to think we ourselves have stopped learning. She mentions her own learning in disability issues & how she follows the lead of other experts in that area.
I have been personally impressed with @jameelajamil as a model of learning in public. She regularly ups her intersectional feminist game, admits when she doesn’t know something or made an error & shares her new knowledge w/ her followers (ex: her recent video on captioning apps).
It takes a great deal of courage (which @BreneBrown says we can’t have without vulnerability) to learn in public & resist the embarrassment, shame or anger. For me, I think reframing “feeling stupid” as learning in public will help me move past those negative emotions faster.
This is reminds me of an @OctaviaEButler quote I found in her papers at @TheHuntington. She wrote: "Don't be too proud to learn…Learning hurts. Real learning isn't just acquiring information & repeating it…Real learning involves conscious deliberate change of mind and behavior"
Instead of “feeling stupid” I’m going to try focusing on the learning that I’m doing in those moments when I initially feel embarrassed or ashamed of my ignorance. Sometimes learning hurts, but I am always always better for it.
If you’re still reading this thread, thanks sticking it out. I hope this #LearningInPublic idea resonates with some of you. Back to my late night pain management bbs. 😘
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