Madonna King: The delusion of many men … and the understated grit of this girl

A surprising number of men think they could safely land a commercial jet in an emergency.

A surprising number of men think they could safely land a commercial jet in an emergency. Photo: Getty

In the midst of ATAR panic last year, my year 12 daughter found her father’s final-year report card.

And her idol’s protestations that the geography mark was recorded incorrectly went out the window with the speed of her derision.

He’d painted himself as a bit of a geographer over the schooling years, as well as a mathematician, scientist, English master and economist.

Ever-ready with an answer, he was usually right. But at no point did it look like he ever countenanced that he might possibly be wrong.

This is a touch of the Dunning-Kruger effect, perhaps – an explanation by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of how people can shows spades of overconfidence and believe they can do anything.

A sneaky suspicion that men are endowed with more of the Dunning-Kruger effect than women is illustrated by a poll this year which showed 32 per cent, or about one in three Americans, were confident they could safely land a passenger plane in an emergency situation.

A passenger plane!

And this is despite no documented record of an unqualified passenger ever managing such a feat.

The only help this confident lot would need, they said, was from air traffic control.

But break down those YouGovAmerican poll figures, and it shows a big chunk – almost 50 per cent – of those believing they had the skill of a commercial pilot were men.

They were able to apparently see past the advanced theoretical knowledge that commercial pilots boast. They believed they had the aerodynamic knowledge needed, and understood the details of flight operations, performance and planning.

Inherently, they believed they could make speedy, accurate, complex and time-critical decisions that would save the lives of hundreds of passengers. And they were in no doubt they had the physical ability to control the aircraft.

At one level, such confidence is simply inspiring – even if it is wholly misplaced.

But here’s the rub: Only one in five women thought they could do it.

Perhaps this explains another oddity to many; why men also claim to think about the Roman Empire so often.

They think and say and perhaps even believe they do. But perhaps they don’t?

Certainly the robust confidence that allows an accountant or journalist or builder to say he can land a plane fills boys at a young age.

How many times have you been asked to join an audience to see your nine-year-old (usually a son) do a double-somersault into the pool, or to hold court at the family barbecue.

Izzy Miller and her mum. Izzy saved a runaway bus from hitting a petrol station. Photo: A Current Affair

Many girls are able to do this too, but educators see a sharp drop in the self-confidence of teens – but especially girls – as they climb through high school.

Indeed, a lack of resilience and belief in themselves is one of the biggest concerns held by those who teach female students in mid high school.

And that is what makes the story of Izzy Miller even more inspiring.

Izzy is the 14-year-old who shot to national recognition this week after she saved a runaway student bus from hitting a petrol station in New South Wales.

Izzy, who is in year 9 at Casino High School, was on the bus with about 20 other school students when it started its driverless path away from the school – and moved in a direct line to a petrol bowser and mini-mart.

“It was heading near the petrol tank and no one was doing anything so I jumped up, got into action and steered it away,’’ Izzy told reporters.

Not sure which was the brake and which was the accelerator, she tried them both and worked it out in a matter of milliseconds.

And then, remembering the single driving lesson given to her by her uncle in a paddock a few weekends earlier, she steered the bus and her anxious peers to safety.

“It was pretty scary to think that, if I didn’t do anything, something bad could have happened.”

But she did, and it’s a story we should all celebrate.

A teenager whose quick thinking prevented what could have been a disastrous incident.

A year 9 student who is now being acknowledged by her peers, school and wider community with both a certificate and a gift of $100.

A young woman who said she had no idea how to find the brake or steer a bus – let alone a commercial plane – but did it, without fanfare.

And there might be a lesson there, for all of us.

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