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i vividly remember the first time i was made to feel dumb for asking a question

a few days ago i was sitting outside the pharmacy waiting for a prescription and as one does decided to match my mental pain to the physical by going on twitter. sure enough, the first thing i see is a viral tweet of a young woman calling another young woman’s tiktok “the dumbest video” she’s ever seen, as it was questioning the realness, reasons and origins of mathematical discovery.

these questions raised in the video are at the core of mathematical philosophy, which often doesn't have room in our education system because, i mean, how could you possibly represent that subject in standardized testing – the real enemy, honestly! anyway, this video is probably not the dumbest video anyone's seen – even if it was at least one day before any of us watched the video of elon musk presenting the neuralink.

this is actually a smart video and she is asking great questions that our parents and education system train us to be afraid to ask because there is a huge stigma on actually being wise (knowing what you don’t know) https://t.co/Z0GZTOtm33

— jenn (@jennschiffer)
[August 27, 2020](https://twitter.com/jennschiffer/status/1298995606002663425?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw)

later in my thread i said "i vividly remember (and am reminded of constantly, even though it happened in 1st grade) the first time i was made to feel dumb for asking a question" and i wanted to share that story with you, today.

when i was in first grade, i worked up the nerve to finally ask my doctor the question that was burning in my brain for what seemed like forever: "why do all of my nails have white marks on them?" instead of answering my question, the doctor chuckled as she took my blood pressure (my favorite part of doctor appointments) and said "that's a silly question, let's talk about why you're here." my dad chuckled, too! i remember it vividly because it's the earliest memory i have of feeling both embarrassed and betrayed.

by the way, my hypothesis is that the leukonychia was caused by my nervous nail-biting habit which i finally kicked once i was living on my own, bless.

believe it or not, i was a super quiet kid. as an adult, i'm definitely not! i think that the voice i have today grew largely in part from the frustration of not being satisfied with the answers that adults gave me to my questions or calls for support. today, my voice continues to get louder with frustration as adults continue to dismiss the validity and power of "i don't know" as an answer. this is what motivated me to post that twitter thread; here is a young woman saying she doesn't know and asking the questions she has, and people were calling her dumb for it. not on my website!

at the heart of this discussion, i feel there are two things that are unfair: people declaring that all of math is a construct, and the certainty that we're still being conditioned to think it's bad to ask questions or (especially for underrepresented groups) have the answers. while it unnerved me to see young people torn down for questioning anything, it warmed me to also see that social media gives them the space and confidence to post that questioning and reach older folks like me to encourage and join them.

i'm going to continue to encourage that curiosity, and also remember to mute twitter threads before taking naps.

xoxo jenn

this was published August 29, 2020 under living storytime