Confusion in school is normal. Without confusion, there is no learning.
Have you ever done a crossword puzzle or a word scramble game? Personally, I like cryptograms and Sudoku. People who haven’t tried Sudoku look at it as a math game because it has numbers, but it really isn’t about mathematics at all. It is a logic game. In the easy levels of Sudoku, you learn a simple set of rules and, through a process of elimination, you fill in the empty squares with numbers until all the squares are filled.
When you get to the medium-difficulty level the task becomes more difficult. You have to deal with confusion. You have to add special rules to help you fill in the squares. Many people don’t want to go the extra steps to learn the more difficult rules, but learning them is no harder than it was to learn the original rules. It’s just that the game asks more of you, keeps you in the state of confusion for a longer period, and in the process it weeds out those who don’t like to think that hard.
College works the same way. It weeds out people who don’t want to learn and apply new rules to their toolboxes.
The easier levels of Sudoku are . . . well . . . easy! Once a Sudoku player gets to the higher difficulty levels, though, the game becomes more complicated. I can do the middle levels fairly easily now because I have taught myself those rules, but I am still learning the next set of rules to get me through the harder games. What happens now is that I have hit a wall based on my skill level, and I know where that wall is.
When I get a few minutes to spare I play on a Sudoku app on my phone. The games are progressive. They start at the easiest level and increase to nightmarish complexity. I am comfortable up to the difficult level. When I hit the wall just beyond that level, I have applied all the rules I know but still have a quarter or a third of the Sudoku board to fill out. I don’t know what to do next.
I don’t like to give up, so I use strategies that I have cobbled together and adapted in order to get all the way to the end. These strategies work most of the time, but not always. Sometimes I have to admit that the Sudoku has me stumped. I’m lost in a state of confusion. At those times I revert back to brute force and try something until it fails, erase back to the last known good point, and try something else. Sooner or later I get the board filled out. I never leave a game unfinished. I don’t have to be the best Sudoku player in the world to finish the board, I just have to push myself through the frustration of not knowing exactly what I am doing and keep going anyway. I always get there.
Confusion gets us in its grip, but we can fight back.
Writing can feel like that, especially academic writing with rules on how to say things, how to cite sources, how to format the paper, how to write a thesis statement, an outline, and so on. We make mistakes along the way. Confusion gets us in its grip, but we can fight back.
It’s okay–just go back to the last known good point and work the essay along a different path. Try each assignment, each task, each response, with the expectation that you will find ways to adapt and learn new rules. As you do, your mind will become convinced that you can do just about anything you set your mind to. Once it believes that one important key concept, you will never be intimidated by challenging learning (i.e. confusion) again.
Oh, by the way, school doesn’t weed anyone out. People remove themselves from school. They either don’t want to do the work, or they don’t believe they can do the work. The first case is one of personal will. Teachers can’t fix that. The second is not true. Work on the first case and ignore the second.