David Bruce: Education Anecdotes

A young warrior started a fight with a peasant, but no matter what he did he could not defeat the peasant. Astonished, the young warrior asked the peasant how he had acquired such skill, and the peasant explained that he had been taught by an old master in the village. The young warrior visited the old master, but instead of listening and learning, the young warrior bragged loudly at great length about his accomplishments. The old master listened politely, but when he poured tea for the young warrior, he filled the teacup and then kept on pouring, causing the teacup to overflow and spill. Finally, the young warrior pointed out that no more would go into the teacup, and the old master replied, “The cup, young man, is much like your mind — so full that anything else put into it will only spill out.”

In the late 1860s, the American Medical Association decided to advocate the raising of standards for the education of physicians by recognizing the schools that met stricter standards and not recognizing the schools that didn’t. Harvard raised its standards, requiring oral and written exams in several areas of study, terms lasting nine months each, and three years of study. Students’ reaction was decisive — during the years following the raising of standards, Harvard medical school enrollment dropped by 43 percent. Many students decided instead to attend medical schools with lower standards. (But by the 1920s, higher standards were in place everywhere in the United States.)

Union organizer Mother Jones knew the effects of child labor at first hand. To learn about working conditions in Southern mills, she had taken jobs at some of them, where she had worked alongside children. Once, she saw heavy machinery tear off one of the fingers of a child employee. Another time, she attended the funeral of an 11-year-old in Alabama who had died in a factory accident. In 1903, Mother Jones drew attention to the situation of children working in the mills in Philadelphia by having them display their injuries — some children were missing thumbs that had been cut off at work, while other children were missing entire hands that had been cut off at work.

Pioneer teachers in the west often had to be resourceful. In Kansas, a tornado headed toward a new schoolhouse. The schoolhouse had a cellar, but no door had yet been built to serve as an entrance to it, so the teacher grabbed a hatchet and chopped a hole in the floor so her students could reach safety. Fortunately, the tornado moved away from the schoolhouse, and no one was hurt. Afterward, the parents of the students teased the teacher and said that after scaring away a tornado with a hatchet, she should have no discipline problems with her students.

Allison was eight years old, lived in Minnesota, and was being educated at home — a process called homeschooling. Her parents were her teachers, and they were very creative at coming up with original ways to teach Allison. For example, at breakfast one day, Allison pretended to be a waitress and wrote down each person’s order, figured out the total cost of their meal, and made change from the money her mother gave her. The words she misspelled on the orders were added to her spelling list, and her father checked her math to make sure it was accurate.

Franz Liszt once read a score by a young man who could not write music. Liszt pointed to a place on the score, then said, “This must not be done in music.” The young man haughtily replied, “But I have done it.” Liszt dipped his pen in an ink well, then splattered the ink all over the young man’s white waistcoat, and said, “This, too, can be done, but it must not be.” Then Liszt bought the young man a new white waistcoat.

When Oprah Winfrey was five years old and in kindergarten, she wrote a letter to her teacher, saying that she felt that she deserved to be in a higher grade. Her teacher agreed, perhaps because Oprah had started to learn to read when she was only two and a half years old, and put Oprah in the first grade. Later, because of her educational attainments, Oprah was able to skip the second grade, too.

As a teenager, Jennifer Capriati played professional tennis, making millions through endorsing products and winning tournaments. Nevertheless, she was also a student and had to turn in homework. Often, at important tennis tournaments, she would fax her homework to her school, Palmer Academy in Wesley Chapel, Florida, then go out and compete. (As a teenager, she also studied on the road with a tutor.)

The native Americans known as the Western Mono are basketmakers. One of their traditions is that a basketmaker must give away the first basket that she creates — this encourages generosity. Contemporary basketmakers such as 11-year-old Carly Tex learn the craft by making baby cradles for dolls.

Every Navajo blanket has an opening in its border. Sometimes, the border will be dark, with one piece of white-colored yarn reaching to the edge of the blanket. This is done so that the weaver will keep her mind open and be able to learn more. When one’s mind is closed, one is unable to learn.

As a high school student, George Lucas, who grew up to make the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, seemed unremarkable, but an art teacher recognized the talent that was hidden inside him. The art teacher told young George’s parents, “You have no idea what ability this boy has.”

When Steve Wozniak gave his valedictorian speech at the University of California at Berkeley, he spoke about his formula for happiness, saying, “H = F3. Happiness equals food, fun, and friends.” He also said that “the only way you can measure life” is “by the number of smiles per day.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s father was hard to please. Hillary would come home from school with a report card full of A’s, and her mother would be pleased and say, “Oh, that’s wonderful, dear.” However, her father would say, “You must go to a pretty easy school.”

Author Boze Hadleigh used to have a teacher who told him, “You either have class, or you belong in one.”

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Free davidbrucehaiku eBooks (pdfs)

Free eBooks by David Bruce (pdfs)

Free eBook: YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIND

David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore: Retellings of Classic Literature, Anecdote Collections, Discussion Guides for Teachers of Literature, Collections of Good Deed Accounts, etc. Some eBooks are free.

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