Certainty and Uncertainty: The Fire


A heater catches on fire in your room. It’s a little fire, but you know it’ll get bigger and bigger… because, well, that’s how those things go. Do you sit next to it, throw up your hands and say, “Well, there’s a fire.”

Watch it burn and condemn yourself?

This is what I asked my students. It seems intense, I know. But, it’ll make (more) sense soon. It came after a lesson on certainty and uncertainty had me doing an impromptu lecture about at least letting their be a chance something good could happen.

It’s hard for them. And I (somewhat) get it. Hard to see past their exams, that is. These kids are pushed to the brink with these entrance exams. I’m not going to pretend to know all the details, but I do know these things which help exemplify it:

+ One of our classes was told they have to stay until 5 p.m. to study for their exams because they had been doing so poorly. And, sure enough, you walk past the classroom and they’re all sittin there studying. (Can you imagine if a teacher tried to do that in America? It’s like 36 kids…)

+ The kids go to “cram school” after regular school to study for exams

+ My third-year students get half-days just to study for exams and we barely have class in January, solely so they can study.

So, knowing those small, alienated details, it might make more sense when I tell you that I posed this question to them, “Will you do well on your exams next week?” Over half the class said, with 100% certainty they will not do well.

The rest of them were uncertain or 50/50. None of them thought they would do well. None of them. It is possible, perhaps, modesty had a factor in that. But, it really made me sad that more than half of them were 100% sure they would not do well.

Hence, the fire. I told them that they haven’t taken the exam yet and already thinking they will fail — that they are sitting next to fire and watching it burn everything away even though there is a chance they could stop it.

There’ s always a chance. But, a lot of people, somewhere along the line, lose sight of this. It doesn’t matter what country you’re in.

At least be 50/50, I said. At least give yourself a chance. Because there are ways to put the fire out. There are ways to remedy a problem. If the exam was the fire, there are buckets of water all around which can help. You just have to try. There’s a chance I will fail, but at least, that means there is a chance you’ll succeed.

It’s quite possible they had no fucking clue what I was talking about. But, if even one kid got it, well, I think that can be contagious in the end. Just like that damn fire.


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