The Power of Wrongness

Yesterday in my English Language class, we were talking about comma splices and a student raised his hand to argue with the correctness of this example: “Cinderella searched for love, Jack searched for gold.” His argument boiled down to ‘what if it’s a stylistic choice?’ and he said if he had a student who wrote a sentence similar to this, he wouldn’t tell them they were wrong but first ask them if they knew that this was a comma splice and then if it was a stylistic choice.

It doesn’t bother me that he took offense with the example and decided to argue with the professor. What bothers me is that he said he wouldn’t tell his student they were wrong if they made this mistake.

When did it become wrong to tell a student that they’re wrong? Because this student is not the only person who is reluctant to correct a student. My math teacher mom tells me that her coworkers tell her all the time that she can’t tell her GT math students that they’re wrong. Why? “Because it lowers their self-esteem.”

This is the most absurd reasoning I’ve ever heard. First, lots of things lower a kid’s self-esteem. Yes, being told they’re wrong is one of them. You know what another one is? Finding out years later that, because that one teacher let them keep making the same mistake over and over, they can’t do basic things like multiplication or construct a sentence properly. The idea that some confidence, even shaky confidence, is better than no confidence at all is ridiculous and extremely harmful to a person’s psyche. Which is better: having a lowered self-esteem because someone pointed out you’re not perfect, or having self-esteem as sturdy as a house of cards that can be torn just as easily and leaving you even more broken?

There is, of course, a correct way to tell someone they’re wrong. It’s called “constructive criticism,” the purpose of which is to point out mistakes while also suggesting ways to fix them, and it can be done very tactfully, with hurt feelings reduced to a minimum. It gives a student a chance to improve for the next time and to decrease the number of mistakes, so the constructive criticism comes less and less.

People expect teachers to be passionate and knowledgeable about their content area and engaging to their students while simultaneously as neutral and unbiased as Switzerland. We must do everything and nothing at the same time – everything we can to teach and nothing to hurt a kid’s feelings. We’re all going to hurt kids’ feelings eventually; there’s no way to get around it. But you can limit the hurt you may inflict and use it to help them become better, and isn’t that what we as teachers want the most for our students?


About kaylamartinson15

"Life's too short to proofread!" -JS

3 thoughts on “The Power of Wrongness

  1. mattcleland says:

    Omg, yes. I almost had an aneurysm when that kid said that. And he’s made similar comments all semester. I think, yes, it could be a stylistic choice — but it’s probably not and it’s probably wrong. And it’s okay for us to point that out.

    More than that, you’re right, it’s our responsibility to let kids know when they are wrong. Especially on something so objective.

  2. This was a great post. I agree that there are many different things in a child’s life that will lower their self-esteem. But, we as teachers will do our students a great disservice to them in the long run. If we don’t teach them the correct information, such as grammar, then they will run into future bosses/supervisors who will not care about their self-esteem, and will let them know when their grammar is incorrect. By letting the child think that what they are writing is a “stylistic choice,” then they will remain “stylistically” wrong, and come off as uneducated. It always hurts to be corrected, but as you explain, when done constructively, then it will help the student to understand why they are being corrected, and more willing to accept what they have been told. It’s called feedback, and it helps to make the individual stronger.

    (For the Workshop)

    I did not find any grammar/spelling mistakes. I also felt that your argument was very effective. You started the post off with an effective opening paragraph. You made it personal and relatable to some who were in the same class, but at the same time, others who are not in the class can follow along.

    Then you move into your main argument very well. It was very discernible by the part of the blog where you state,

    “Yes, being told they’re wrong is one of them. You know what another one is? Finding out years later that, because that one teacher let them keep making the same mistake over and over, they can’t do basic things like multiplication or construct a sentence properly.”

    Then I felt that you gave your argument validity by offering a solution with constructive criticism. Finally, your conclusion ends your argument nicely with a “food for thought” question in your last sentence.

    I really could not find anything that could use work. Ironically enough, I couldn’t find any grammatical errors, as I’m not strong in grammar. It was a great post, and you write a lot better than you think.

  3. Kayla,

    I’m going to save some space/time by just re-iterating what James and Matt posted above: this is a thoughtful and insightful post about the how powerful it can be to tell someone they are “wrong” in the “right” way. I especially love the metaphors and parallels that you employ in this post. The descriptions help me to visualize your point! Well done.

    Here are some suggestions for our workshop feedback:

    It would be nice to have some images or links embedded in this post. Writing on paper doesn’t allow for a quick insertion of other types of media, and I think utilizing multiple forms of “text” within one post is part of the blog genre on the whole.

    That being said, no meaning is lost without images/links. My point is that these tools might enhance your ideas here.

    This post is organized well and appeals to our English Education audience!

    I look forward to reading more of your work :]

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