The lucky ten thousand

Recently, one of us attended the New Scientist Live festival in London. Randall Munroe, a physicist and ex-NASA roboticist best known for his xkcd webcomic, presented some of his thoughts. In his talk he referred to one of his more well-known illustrations called Ten Thousand:

Ten Thousand by Randall Munroe

He talked about how sometimes people are made fun of by others for not knowing something that ‘everyone knows’. We can think of our own personal and professional instances of this and how it made us feel. He gave the example of young people (described by one journalist as ‘ill-informed netizens’) who tweeted on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic that they hadn’t realised the 1997 film was based on an actual incident. They’d gained their knowledge about the film before they had become familiar with the historical event. Munroe stressed that these people shouldn’t be mocked; it is logical that the order that people discover things will differ from person to person, based on their life and cultural experiences. He then calculated that if there is something that ‘everyone knows’ by the age of thirty then in the USA that means that 10,000 people under thirty discover it every day. These people, he suggests, shouldn’t be teased but should be supported to develop their knowledge and celebrated as the ‘lucky 10,000’.

You are probably wondering how this relates to young children and their childhoods. We can think of two important reasons. Firstly, those working and interacting with young children are perfectly positioned to support them in being a member of the ‘lucky 10,000’ as often as possible. We can do this by taking opportunities to provide children with ‘provocations’ (as the Reggio Emilia approach would suggest) that spark their interest, stir emotions and provoke discussion. Aim to create exciting, innovative experiences for children that allow them to explore, imagine and develop their thinking. Alistair Bryce-Clegg, a consultant in early years education, gives some wonderful examples of provocations for early childhood settings.

Secondly, we need to challenge when others ridicule children for not knowing what they ‘should know’. In September 2017, an article in the Daily Mail reported that many children have ‘appalling knowledge of food sources’. It was based on research from the British Nutrition Foundation who led with the headline ‘Tomatoes grow underground and pasta comes from animals, according to UK school children and teens’. Let’s not fuel messages that it’s acceptable to make fun of children for what they don’t know or what they mistakenly believe. Randall Munroe would suggest that’s a sure-fire way to discourage them from asking questions in the future about information they aren’t sure about, from admitting they don’t know things and also from sharing what they’ve learnt.

So, what opportunities are you going to take to support the children you know in being part of the ‘lucky 10,000’? How are you going to share the message with others that finding new things out is something to be celebrated, not derided for? And what steps are you going to take to get your own ‘lucky 10,000’ moment?

Randall Munroe allows this comic to be shared as it is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License. Have a look at his website for more of his work.

2 thoughts on “The lucky ten thousand

  1. Mike

    I can see that being in the lucky 10,000 collective is a ‘fact-of-life’ for all of us at various points on life’s journey. I’m all for making our inevitable initial ignorance an edifying learning opportunity rather than a detrimental one for others, hoping I receive a similar response when I demonstrate a lack of understanding on a given subject also. So on that note I for one will seek to champion this sound philosophy!


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