“If you aren’t afraid of getting it wrong …”

My Evidence professor says we are going to go over the hardest problem in the book. He explains that it is the best-written problem, with the most complex answer, in the entire semester.

He gives his usual speech about he doesn’t embarrass anyone, ever, and I have my usual thought: How would you know? Isn’t embarrassment 99 percent internal? My tag sticking out doesn’t embarrass me, I’m embarrassed by my tag sticking out. (Yes, law school logic is infecting my inner monologue.)

Then, he asks for a volunteer: “So, if you aren’t afraid of getting it wrong …”

I had gone over the problem with a classmate ahead of time, and worked out the kinks we recognized. The problem-based teaching method isn’t entirely new to me — my Criminal Law class was about 30 percent working through hypotheticals — but this course is made or broken on your understanding of three to six problems from the textbook each day. Even worse (in a class of 70 or so students), participation counts, and it’s primarily on a volunteer basis. “What the heck?” I think, and raise my hand.

“Ms. Margolis!” the professor shouts.

Oh, great. I am the only one with a hand up. I guess I’m in for it.

“Just so we’re clear,” I couch my reply, “I’m definitely not afraid of getting it wrong, or I wouldn’t have raised my hand.”

I outline the scenario, and start to give my take on the outcome. I’m on a roll. He interjects, “But what about …”

I try to give the answer. I know the answer. But my terminology is just slightly off. I feel clumsy, unsophisticated.

He throws me a bit of a bone. I still fumble, flustered by my misstep.

“Anyone else?” he says.

I guess my turn at the hardest question in the book is up.

But there’s always next class, and the one after that, and the one after that. Participation doesn’t stop counting just because you give a dumb answer (or an answer that makes perfect sense in your head but comes out sounding less than). I keep participating, more or less, because that’s how I learn best. I need that feedback to tell me where I’m floundering and where I’m all set. Luckily, I’m not afraid of getting it wrong anymore, and somehow, most of the time, I don’t.


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