Thursday, October 6, 2016

Unconscious Incompetence

My go-to lecture for assessment in education is a five-stage model of degrees of competence. It’s based on the idea that we pretty much already know how we’re doing in different areas and without affixing permanent labels of A,B,C,D/ smart, okay, stupid and so on, we can view learning as a continuum and watch ourselves progress through dedicated effort and practice. The five stages are:

1)    Unconscious Incompetence: I can’t do this and don’t even know I can’t do it.
2)    Conscious Incompetence: I can’t do this and am painfully aware that I can’t do it.
3)    Awkward Practice: It feels clumsy still, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.
4)    Conscious Competence: With intense focus and concentration, I can do it!
5)    Unconscious Competence: It’s so wholly a part of me that it feels effortless, I don’t even have to think about it.

If you’ve ever taken up skiing or surfing or clarinet or learning to speak Hungarian past the age of 10, you will have been nodding your head, recognizing yourself at each of stages 2 to 5. With this model, learning is always a possibility, a potential, fed through effort, guidance from someone ahead of you and inner motivation to keep improving. Your success is a moving target, constantly in flux. In current education terms, this is called “Growth Mindset” and is a good antidote to letting others brand grades onto our psyche as the main standard of assessment or keep beating ourselves up about how smart our neighbor is compared to us—or unduly praising ourselves over our neighbor in the other direction.

When I’m explaining this in my workshop, the one I have the hardest time describing is Stage 1. Don’t we all know when we can’t do something or don’t understand something? I sometimes give the example of the 3 year old who doesn’t “Freeze” when the music stops and doesn’t even notice that he/she is the only one still moving. It’s a hard stage to work with because when we don’t know that we don’t know, there’s no motivation to improve or move forward.

But now— sadly, tragically, dangerously— evidence of people stuck in Stage 1 is at an epidemic proportion, drawn out by a businessman who thinks that not losing all of the millions/billions of dollars he inherited qualifies him to be the leader of our nation. And his supporters will say things that an interviewer will correct (see The Daily Show Interviews of Trump supporters) and they don’t even realize the contradiction. Like the woman who said a woman can’t be President because her hormones would cause her to start wars. “Haven’t all the wars been caused by men?” “Yes.” But no light bulb moment ensued.

I’m sure you’re as tired as I am of having to keep talking about this severely unconsciously incompetent delusional man and believe me, I'm tired of having to think and talk about him and his followers. If I’m right that the majority of the American people are better than this, it will all be like awakening from a bad dream in a month or so.

But then our work begins. To move all voters from Stage 1 to at least Stage 2 and keep inching them toward Stage 5. “Because of my habitual practice in rational thought and basic decency, I can see clearly through all this B.S. without much effort.”

May it be so.

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