What is it about people that forces them to give every indication through verbal and body language that they understand what is going on, when in reality they have no clue. I notice this mostly in class.
Early in my teaching career I would ask if everyone understood. There would then be a general consensus of nods and grumbles. I quickly realized that no one wanted to look stupid in front of the class so I was not getting an honest assessment of what was happening. So I started to ask, "What do you understand?" And then point to random students most of whom would anwer, "Everything."
This is like asking my six year old son what was his favorite part of a story and he relplies, "All of it." A wholly uninformative and most likely incorrect answer.
I am reminded of a project I did in high school which I inadvertanly produced a work of insight. We were asked to make a coat of arms and to have a motto attached to it. I thought it would be funny to quote Weird Al Yankovic (When has this ever failed?) and proclaim my motto: "Dare to be Stupid." I thought it was ironic. My teacher, Mrs. Dunnington, however thought I was the 432nd coming of the Dalai Lama.
From her perspective, as a teacher of honor students, it would take a great feat of courage to risk failure and ridicule. It is through failure (and success) that we learn, but often grade grubbing sycophants care only for the success.
Even today it takes willful determination for me to admit in front of others that I do not know something. On occassion I have let my internal debates as to whether I should ask a question go on for days so that the opportunity to learn has long since passed.
The internet makes it easier for us to hide our ignorance. Now if we don't know something we can just google it (bing it?) and not run the risk of looking stupid.
I guess the problem is that many of my students are unaware of the fact that they don't know. My job is to illuminate the boundaries of their knowledge and give them the kick in the ass to push those boundaries farther.