Another dot in the blogosphere?

Over-simplification misrepresents

Posted on: February 28, 2015

Yesterday I ranted about about the problems with over-simplification or glossing over details by painting with broad strokes.

Today I illustrate how they not only misrepresent, they also perpetuate mistakes.

One of Clint Eastwood’s iconic movie lines was “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

Video source

The problem is that he did not say that. He actually said, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?”

It does not roll off the tongue nor is it concise as the misquote. It is an attempt to combine the two sentences into one and seems to capture the essence of the threat.

Here is another example. I like collecting memorable quotes from famous people. As I do, I have discovered that quite a number of the quotable quotes were never said by those people.

A 2011 NYT article, Falser Words Were Never Spoken, highlighted how Gandhi’s did not actually say “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

it turns out there is no reliable documentary evidence for the quotation. The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Again, the shorter misquotation seems to capture the essence of what was said. So what is the harm in perpetuating the spirit of a phenomenon or concept seemingly correctly even it is was presented wrongly?

Ethically speaking, everything. It is a misrepresentation.

Pedagogically speaking, it perpetuates the wrong thing, does not encourage critical thinking (promotes blind acceptance), and removes context.

Simplification tends to happen when there is a curricular race to run and too much content to consume. It seems to be the efficient thing to do.

The problem is that it is not the effective thing to do. Most humans are not machines that can be programmed with information.

I reflected before about the problem with rote and how it is confused with memorization. We do not remember things simply by repetition or by force. Not all learning and evidence of learning needs to a result of rote or over-simplification.

Content is not king. Context is. To get to context, it is important to tell and relate to stories. Stories that fill paragraphs, pages, or books. Stories that stir emotions and build personal relevance.

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