David Bruce: Education Anecdotes

Jay Leno attended Emerson College, where he was a mediocre student at best. However, one semester he surprised his parents by getting straight A’s. This is what happened: For one semester only, Emerson College implemented a “progressive” idea — it let students grade themselves. Mr. Leno recognized an opportunity when he saw it, and he put himself on the dean’s list. The next semester, Emerson College reverted back to its old system of grading, and Mr. Leno received his usual D’s and F’s. His father asked, “WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO?” — and Mr. Leno said that his courses were harder this semester than last semester.

What counts as a good education varies from culture to culture. The white American settlers once took some youths of the Six Nations and gave them an eduction, then returned them to the Native Americans. However, the Native Americans were dissatisfied because the youths knew nothing about hunting and trapping, or about making war. Therefore, the Native Americans approached the white settlers to say that if the whites should give them some youths to be educated, they would make sure the youths learned the important things in life.

When soccer superstar Julie Foudy was ready to attend college, she had scholarship offers from several universities, including Stanford and North Carolina. Stanford was expensive — $20,000 a year — and Ms. Foudy was offered only a partial scholarship of $2,000 a year to go there. North Carolina was much less expensive; in fact, when the North Carolina coach visited her, he said, “How would you like for us to save you $80,000?” (Ms. Foudy ended up going to and graduating from Stanford anyway.)

Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller’s father is a university physics professor. As such, he knows to take a look at the big picture. Whenever Shannon is upset because she didn’t get a high enough score on a chemistry test, he will ask her a few questions to test her knowledge, If she knows the answers — she usually does — he will tell her, “So you forgot a few things for one hour, but you told me everything you were supposed to know. What’s important is that you learned the material.”

In 1903, Dr. Kaufmann Kohler became President of Cincinnati, Ohio’s Hebrew Union College. A youthful guide named Samuel Caplan took a group of people around to see the sights of the college, and coming to Dr. Kohler’s house, he announced, “This is where Dr. Kohler lives.” He then picked up some gravel and threw it against an upstairs window. Instantly, the angry face of Dr. Kohler appeared. Mr. Caplan turned to his group and announced, “And that is Dr. Kohler.”

When he was ready to enter junior high school, Eric Gregg, who was later to be the third black umpire in the major leagues, looked at the school in his neighborhood in inner-city Philadelphia. He decided that the school was “nothing but a dead end,” and he decided that he wasn’t going there. Therefore, completely on his own, he faked an address and attended a much better junior high in another neighborhood, riding city buses by himself to get to the school for classes.

King Wej was depressed and unable to enjoy life, so he said to Si-tien, a Buddhist priest, “I am troubled, I am pained, and nothing gives me pleasure. What shall I do?” Si-tien took King Wej to see King Hsu, who sat on his mat, talking, smiling, laughing, eating, and drinking with other people. Si-tien then told King Wej, “Sit down near him, and do as he does. Joy is something to be learned.”

Caroline Gall was a veterinarian who made a good salary, something that made many women envious of her in the 1970s. She once said, “If they would just go ahead and do something instead of bitching all the time. I run into housewives who will say, ‘I wanted to be a vet, but I can’t stand chemistry.’ Well, I can’t stand chemistry either, but I learned it.”

Zero Mostel was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Middlebury College. Also being given an honorary doctorate was David Rockefeller, who was interested in insects and had a collection of 50,000 rare specimens. When Mr. Mostel heard this, he said, “I also have a collection of 50,000 insects — cockroaches.”

A college professor once got upset because his students were only half-listening to his lecture, and he told them, “I’m offering you a dollar and you’re only taking fifty cents.” A friend of author Peg Bracken was in that course, and she says now that she didn’t take even a nickel, for she can’t remember the name of the course.

Rabbi Stephen S. Wise knew a couple who had gotten their son accepted into an excellent boys’ school before he was even born. Rabbi Wise asked what they would have done if they had had a girl, but they assured him that they had considered that and had also applied for their child’s admission into an excellent girls’ school.

Amy Chow, who won gold (team) and silver (uneven bars) at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, got into gymnastics by accident. When Amy was three years old, her mother wanted her to take dance lessons, but the dance studio thought she was too young for lessons, so her mother enrolled her in a gymnastics class instead.

Elfi Schlegel missed a lot of school while performing in gymnastics at a young age, but her competing in international gymnastics had an advantage for her class. After Ms. Schlegel returned to her native Canada after competing in another country, she would give a class presentation on that country.

Marguerite Yingst Parker was one of comedian Richard Pryor’s schoolteachers. She came up with an original way to motivate him to attend school. If he attended school on time for a week, she would allow him to perform a school comedy routine in front of his classmates.

Mme. Viardot-Garcia was a famous voice teacher in Paris. Once an American woman wanted to take two lessons with her. Why two? The American wanted to go back home and say that she had taken lessons with the famous Mme. Viardot-Garcia.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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