Just because I'm learning it doesn't mean I'm stupid

Most introduction to wine books are deeply unsatisfying. Why?

It’s because when people try to take the role of educator, they forget that many of their readers are actually quite smart. In many cases, the educator is dealing with people who are significantly smarter than they are.

Educators usually patronize their readers. They make the mistake of thinking that because they are in possession of a body of knowledge that their readers lack, they are therefore smarter than their readers.

There are lots of things I’d like to learn more about. Cheese, for a start. And maybe coffee. And Japanese food and drink culture. But I don’t want people to tell me about these things in the way they might talk down to a 10 year old child. I can deal with the complex bits and the interesting stuff, but what I need is for the teacher to make these subjects accessible.

Accessibility doesn’t equal dumbed down. We can have the richness of content, but it needs to be packaged in the right way. It needs to avoid relying on a corpus of background knowledge. And it needs to be interesting.

Rather than Cheese for Dummies, I want to read Cheese for Smart People. Who just don’t know much about cheese yet. And one day I’d love to write an introduction to wine book that doesn’t patronise or talk down to my readers, but recognizes that they are smart and that they want to read something interesting.

Knowing stuff doesn’t make you smart.

2 comments to Just because I’m learning it doesn’t mean I’m stupid

  • I have to hold my hand up here! I have fallen into this trap on more than one occasion. I am still finding my teaching and writing style. Should tuition not be tailored, shifting tone and style, according to the audience it is pitched at? I am currently reading your Wine Science book (good read) who are your target audience? Sounding patronising is something I try to avoid, but the assumption of knowledge can be just as bad for both tutor and pupil. Very thought provoking thanks.

  • Yes, this is very true, and sadly it’s an easy mistake to make. Years ago I was given the advice that you should assume your audience is ignorant but intelligent — in the sense that they lack subject-specific knowledge but they do not lack the ability to understand it if it is explained in a suitable manner.

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