My Most Incoherent Post Ever but I am Posting It Anway

March 4, 2008


I mostly learn by making mistakes and learning from them.

The tuition on this method of learning is very expensive. I probably could have paid for an education at Harvard with what my education has cost me.

Unfortunately, I am a slow learner and not very smart. For example, when I start out some of my classes, I say to my students things like: “This is a new class I am working on developing. On the average, I have to teach a class five times before I get it right. This is #3 in this series, so it’s better, but not very good yet. I will apologize to you in advance. Fortunately, the class is free. Not only that, I always offer students double their money back if they are not happy with a class, but under these circumstances, I offer you four times your money back. In any case, you are welcome to leave now or to stay for the class.”

I don’t tell them that five times is only the average. In one case, I had to teach a class many times over a four year period before I finally got it right. I am a good enough teacher that I could fake it enough to look like a real class, but I knew that it was a piece of junk. The students had a vague feeling that they had been swindled, but they weren’t sure how.

In another case, I had stopped teaching a subject fifteen years ago because I knew my class wasn’t working. Recently, I figured out how to teach the subject by questioning the basic assumption of the software I was teaching. This software is only useful for questioning basic assumptions I explained to my students and demonstrated in moderately entertaining ways. Several students got my point. One (perfectly nice person) did not. He said, reasonably enough, that he wished I would just teach the details of the subject and not spend time explaining why it was faulty. Other students (politely) argued with him and said my eccentric presentation had been very useful to them. “See,” I said, “What works for one person does not work for another. That’s another important point you are learning from this class.” The frustrated person was not any happier with the explanation from the happy students.

So in the unlikely event, I got into Harvard, I would not be smart enough to pass. I would flunk out at least five times before I graduated.

Though about five years ago, I read an article in Atlantic by a Harvard graduate explaining how dumb and useless the education now offered by Harvard University is. If he was smart enough to get into and graduate from Harvard, then his analysis of the university’s flaws and uselessness had to be correct, right?

So dumb as I am, and as many mistakes as I make; I can truthfully say:

1) I went to six high schools to graduate.

2) I went to four colleges to graduate (with two degrees)


1) I have only been married once. My brother, who is much smarter and talented than I am, had to be married two times before he got it right. Nyah, nyah, bro.

2) I owned only one business it failed spectacularly. OK, my brother started one business and has been successful with it. Nyah, nyah, self. Well, I am seriously thinking about starting another business when I retire, so there is abundant opportunity to fail again.

3) I have only had one child. She still speaks with me. She has never been married, but she has only had one relationship and that has been successful. My brother has three children. They all speak with him, and one works for him, but one has already been divorced.

On the other hand, I have had eight major jobs (and a variety of part-time and supplementary jobs, but they don’t count much) and not been very successful at any of them, though I have often been useful at most of them in spite of my employers’ inability to recognize my usefulness.

Also, if I went to Harvard, I would entertain some of my professors as I was flunking out. That has to be worth something, but damned if I know what.


8 Responses to “My Most Incoherent Post Ever but I am Posting It Anway”

  1. This is the method that most people use for learning things. An equally good method is to learn from other people’s mistakes, but it’s not always entirely accurate, as circumstances are never exactly parallel.

    I think you’ve learned pretty well from observing other people’s mistakes. You’ve figured out that it’s a better idea to be a decent human being than to be an asshole, and that it’s a good idea to tolerate people’s quirks and differences if they’re not hurting themselves or anyone else.

    I’m not sure they teach those things at Harvard.

  2. modestypress Says:

    I have a Masters degree in Education. (No need to mention that it came in a CrackerJax box.)

    I think I could teach a class at Harvard called “Educate Yourself by Making Mistakes.”

    And if I make it without losing my day job, I will be quitting from my day job. However, I am not expecting a phone call.

  3. pandemonic Says:

    I’m totally lost.

    You can compare yourself to your brother or to others in the world, but it doesn’t make any difference. Even if you and I had the same shared experiences, the outcomes would likely be different.

    I wish I would have graduated from college, although I know that’s not a real measure of a person’s smarts. I know plenty of PhDs who can’t figure out how to operate a vacuum cleaner. I am related to one (whose doctorate is in communication) who doesn’t speak to family members. Go figure.

  4. modestypress Says:

    pandemonic said, “I am totally lost.”

    I call myself a “Radical Agnostic.” I also call myself a “high agnostic.” A high agnostic is very close to atheist. It is probably reaonable to say of me, also, I am totally lost.

    Pauline, who reads my blog, but sedom comments here, though she has a good blog of her own where she makes plenty of good comments, is an evangelical Christian. I’ve described her as a “low agnostic.” A low agnostic can be a religious believer, but uses common sense and pays attention to facts and logic. She accepted my label.

    I guess what I am saying is I seek to find categories to put people who don’t fit into categories. pandemonic, you may fit into one of those categories, but remember what Groucho Marx said, “I’m not going to pay good money to join a club that lets in people like me.”

    (Hint: I take bad money.)

  5. pandemonic Says:

    Ha! Me too. I mean about the bad money.

  6. renaissanceguy Says:

    Like you, I refine my teaching as I go along. The odd thing is that many times a lesson that works with one group of students falls flat with another group, and vice versa. As you point out, there is always a student or a few students who do not react to a certain lesson the way others do.

    In the end we just do our best, no?

  7. I really believe that the only way to make a mistake is to quit. If you eventually succeed, then all of your previous attempts merely become a process to success and not failure at all.

  8. Hilariousness…I was reading today’s post on another blog I read, Spectrum Siblings, and this post was in the possibly related list!

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