I got in a straight-up argument with a child the other week. I am not proud.
I told him that I liked his new cowboy boots. He seemed affronted, and told me his shoes were not boots. They were shoes.
Which was confusing, because they definitely looked like this:
According to me, his shoes were boots because they came up over his ankles. According to him, though, they were not boots because the bottoms were smooth — the soles had no treads.
Before we could decide what to call his shoes, we had to agree on the definition of boots. And though I could call up class dictionaries and Internet resources, that doesn’t do much to convince a seven-year-old whose definition is derived directly from his life experiences. I repeat: it is useless to have even the most authoritative lexical wordbook when faced with a second grader’s logic. It’s not that they don’t respect or recognize the authority; it’s that they don’t get it. In the absence of direct instruction re: what boots are, he came to a logical conclusion based on his own observations of the world.
Is this a big deal? It is if you’re not aware of it. We had a debate over what to call his shoes, and it went on embarrassingly long before I realized we had different definitions. Different definitions, different starting points. He doesn’t have the same decades of experience as I do. And simply lording my knowledge over him doesn’t make him more interested in learning. People tend to double down on wrong beliefs when they are presented with evidence to the contrary — it’s called the backfire effect.
I don’t know how to get around the backfire effect. Spending fifteen minutes arguing with a kid in the hall does not do it. I do know that sometimes we develop wrong beliefs, and that we need to unlearn them.
And it’s not always the kids with the wrong belief that need unlearning. Sometimes the one who needs to unlearn is the grownup.
(Not about the boots, though. I was right about the boots.)