Merriam-Webster defines an Urban Legend as “a story about an unusual event or occurrence that many people believe is true, but that is not true.” Urban legends can range from those popular with children, like the Bloody Mary legend, to pop culture legends, like John F. Kennedy's "jelly doughnut" speech. Likewise, education has its fair share of urban legends, like the following three examples.
1. Some students are just "math people"
Often, students who find that they are better at math are painted as “math people,” while students who have more difficulty with the subject claim, “I’m just not a math person.” Many have come to believe the myth that some people are just born with an innate, genetic talent for math. But is this really the case?
While some students may be a little bit better at math than others, according to Miles Kimball and Noah Smith, anyone can become good at math with a little “hard work, preparation, and self-confidence.” Believing you are or aren't a math person makes this concept a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those students who are better-prepared get better grades and, therefore, think they are math people. Those who get poor grades simply because they weren't well-prepared compare themselves to their peers and believe they just aren't math people.
However, should these preconceived notions about innate mathematical ability be let go in favor of encouraging all students to work hard and be adequately prepared, an overall uptick would be noticeable across the board because everyone is a math person.
2. Students growing up today are "digital natives"
As fewer college students remember a time without the Internet, the concept of “digital natives” has become more popular. This concept refers to the idea that those who have grown up in the digital age have an innate understanding of technology, the Internet, and social media.
A recent study by Eszter Hargittai, a professor at Northwestern University, debunks this myth. In her study, Hargittai found that a quarter of the students she surveyed at the University of Illinois at Chicago had not changed the privacy settings on their social media accounts or adjusted the content of these accounts for job seeking purposes. This suggests that many students do not realize the effect that their social media accounts can have on potential employers. Furthermore, about one-third of respondents could not properly identify the purpose of the bcc function in an email.
This being the case, the digital natives myth does not hold true. Just because a three-year-old can properly work an iPhone does not necessarily mean that he/she will grow up to have a deep understanding of technology. Being a true digital native requires a deeper understanding of the uses, benefits, and hazards. While many are now growing up in the digital age, they have yet to master their understanding of it.
3. "Those who can’t, teach"
For many teachers, the old adage “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” can be annoying at best, and insulting at worst. This commonly used phrase insinuates that those who choose to become teachers only do so because they “weren’t good enough” to make it in the real world.
Often overlooked is the fact that teachers not only need to be experts in their subject area, but they must also possess the ability to pass that expertise on to a student. Working with students can be an exceptionally difficult job, and not everyone that “can” is able to teach.
The ability to teach is not a trait everyone is born with. It’s easy to scoff at those whose jobs we believe are trivial or easy. It is hard to accept that even though we can “do,” we are not all cut out to “teach.” Therefore, as one blogger so aptly put it, maybe the phrase should be “those that can may choose to do or teach, but those that can’t shouldn’t do either”
This story is part of our newly expanding K12 coverage. If you would like to subscribe to the Education Dive: K12 newsletter, click here. You may also want to read Education Dive's look at 6 new back to school products for districts and classrooms.