Smorgasbord Posts From Your Archives – What You Don’t Know by Norah Colvin

We begin a series of posts by educator Norah Colvin who shares her thoughts on our approach to learning as individuals… we have all heard the expressions that ‘ignorance is bliss’ ‘What you don’t know won’t hurt you’ but shouldn’t we be the judge of that. The desire to learn and keep learning whatever age you are, is a gift that is not offered to everyone. Are we making the most of that gift?

What You Don’t Know by Norah Colvin

 One of my favourite quotes is that of Manuel in the BBC television series Fawlty Towers: “I know nothing.” I love quoting this but, just like Manuel, I too am learning. And what a wonderful gift it is to be able to learn.

Recently I read a post  This time it’s Personal by Tony Burkinshaw on his blog.

He explained unconscious incompetence in the following way: “A total ignorance of just how much you don’t yet know for the simple reason that you don’t yet know enough to recognise that you don’t yet know what you don’t yet know.”

This got me thinking about knowledge and learning and about some of the subtle ways in which our attitude to knowledge and learning is manipulated.

When I was a teenager, my brother wrote for me in my autograph book: “What you don’t know won’t do you any good either.”

My father was not impressed and stated quite emphatically, “What you don’t know won’t do you any harm.”

I think he subscribed to the same philosophy as many of my teachers: “Ignorance is bliss.”

I mentioned in an article To school or not to school, a belief that the natural curiosity and eagerness to learn I’d had as a young child had been somewhat diminished during childhood by the attitudes of others around me. That’s not to say that they didn’t want me to do well in school, for they did, and always encouraged me and supported me to do my best; but it was my best at what the teachers told me to do and what the teachers told me to learn.

Ready for school – year 2

Knowledge is power; and one of the easiest ways to suppress and maintain power over others is to keep them ignorant.

While I am certain that my own willingness to be manipulated and need for acceptance also contributed, an encouragement of curiosity and active inquiry would have had the opposite and more positive effect. I am sure there are others who may not have bent so willingly under pressure and whose natural love of learning flourished despite it or even in response to it. But I know there are many more who bent and failed to rebound and are now trapped by their “unconscious incompetence” in an unassailable comfort zone; not knowing what they don’t know, for “Ignorance is bliss”.

I am one of the lucky ones for, while I know a lot about some things, I know that there are things that I don’t know, and lots of them! Rather than make me a conscious incompetent, it makes me a willing learner, and passionate about ensuring the flames of curiosity and love of learning are maintained in others.

Throughout their childhoods, I encouraged my children to question everything, including me, for I wanted them to arrive at their own understandings and did not want their thinking to be restricted the way mine had been.

For many of you, a love of learning and an ability to acquire knowledge may have been a constant throughout your life. I ask then, that you do not dismiss those who don’t have the advantage of your information and your education. Many do not know what they do not know and they can’t even begin to imagine the questions they could start asking to ignite their learning.

If they have had their natural curiosity suppressed and their wills broken, been convinced that submission and conformity were the way to being “good”, and willingly entered the cage and threw away the key; instead of judgment, derision and laughter, what they need is to be shown the open doorway … shown what they don’t know so they too, can start asking questions and filling in the gaps in their knowledge to regain power over their own lives.

The saying “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is very true.

How many times have you heard someone bemoan, “I wish I knew then what I know now”?

What can you do to encourage a love of learning or pique someone’s interest today?

How has your attitude to learning been influenced by the attitudes of others?

©Norah Colvin 2013

Norah raises some interesting points. It was clear from talking to my mother’s generation who were in their late 80s and early 90s that certain things were considered unnecessary for them to know at school and then as they progressed through life.  Especially when you add in the gender specific factors that were at play until the world wars changed women’s roles in society forever. Even when I was at school in the 1960s there were courses that were considered not necessary as you were already earmarked for less academic pursuits.

Your feedback would be gratefully received.

About Norah Colvin

I am an experienced and passionate educator. I teach. I write. I create.

I have spent almost all my life thinking and learning about thinking and learning.

I have been involved in many educational roles, both in and out of formal schooling situations, always combining my love of teaching and writing by creating original materials to support children’s learning.

Now as I step away from the classroom again, I embark upon my latest iteration: sharing my thoughts about education by challenging what exists while asking what could be; and inviting early childhood educators to support children’s learning through use of my original teaching materials which are now available on my website

Connect to Norah via her websites


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I am now looking for assorted Festive posts for December, recollections of Christmas past, family, humour, short stories, poems, recipes etc.. Have a delve through your previous December posts and if you are not planning on re-using.. pop them over to me at

43 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts From Your Archives – What You Don’t Know by Norah Colvin

  1. Pingback: Smorgasbord Archives – What You Don’t Know by Norah Colvin – The Militant Negro™

    • Thanks Tony.. and I agree with you.. I look at my mother’s generation, born before 1920 and how she rarely read a book and got all her information from the Television which was a step up from her mother’s generation. With the Internet our horizons have expanded so enormously to the point of almost too much choice. Still I have set myself a priority list. One thing at a time. Sally

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think one thing at a time is wise advice, Sally. We are very lucky with the availability of information at our fingertips now, but we still have to ask the right questions to get the answers to what we want to know.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    I have the very great honour of being featured among the lovely Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives series on Sally’s Cronin’s blog. Sally has graciously shared one of my earlier posts What you don’t know.
    Thank you, Sally, I am delighted to be featured on your blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is a brilliant post by Norah, for so many centuries the status quo has conspired to hold so many different levels of society under, from slaves, working people, women just to name a few. Norah is right, knowledge gives freedom and the power to change the world into a better place. Brilliantly put!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. So lovely to see Norah here Sal. I love reading Norah’s wisdom. The world could certainly use more parenting skills like Norah’s. It’s so essential to allow children their curiosities without feeling they have to hold back in fear to share their thoughts or express themselves. ❤ xx

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ah Norah, Knowledge is empowering and changes the mind. I creates an attitude of questioning rather than acceptance. It is much easier to control the ignorant as they do not question and form strong opinions. My Mother’s father did not believe in educating girls.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Many of us girls suffered similar fates. Why be educated if all you’re going to do is get married and raise a family? Thankfully that idea has changed a lot. We’ve seen it change in our lifetimes. It’s fairly incredible. Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Such a truism Norah; nicely put. If I look back, and putting things simply it was clear both my parents were as keen as keen that my brother and I had an education. Dad though believed (and I am simplifying) in having a view and then seeking to find out about it (aka how to justify the view) – a sort of ‘make a posit and try and support it’ approach; mum had no views and simply sought out an answer from which a view might be formed. Mum’s approach certainly led to frustration ‘what do you think we should look up?’ but eventually to a deeper understanding of the whys and hows than dad’s more didactic approach (which is vaguely scientific if you ignore some of the inevitable prejudices when forming an initial hypothesis).

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting, Geoff. It is great that we were both encouraged to get an education, in my case, not too broad an education and not too much critical thinking. The straight and narrow was fine for me. Sounds like your parents had a good mix of encouragement in their differing attitudes.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – Christmas Promotions, ABBA, 1984, Garlic and Onions and a cast of many | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  8. Pingback: That’s what friends are for | Norah Colvin

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