David Bruce: Education Anecdotes



In order for Louise Brooks, hick from Kansas, to become Louise Brooks, star, she writes that she “had to get rid of my Kansas accent, to learn the etiquette of the social elite, and to learn to dress beautifully.” She got help in learning all three. A soda jerk who attended Columbia and spoke beautifully laughed at her accent and made fun of her accent by telling a story about “mulking a kee-yow,” so she said to him, “Instead of making fun of me, why don’t you teach me how to say it?” He did, and after a few weeks of study at his counter, she lost her accent. Learning to eat correctly took time. She was scared when she first saw a boiled lobster and would not eat it. One night, she was sawing at a squab on her plate and it suddenly shot off her plate. The waiter took it away, brought a fresh squab, and carved it beautifully. After that, she sought instruction from waiters on how to eat, working from the top to the bottom of the menu. She writes, “There was how-to-bone-a-brook-trout night, how-to-fork snails night, how-to-dismember-artichokes, and so on, until we came to the bottom of the menu, which included a dessert of the understanding and proper pronunciation of French words.” Learning to dress beautifully was difficult. She solved that problem by taking $500 (a lot of money in 1922) to Milgrim’s, a fancy clothing store, and got help from Miss Rita, a salesgirl who came from the Bronx. Miss Rita took the job of dressing Ms. Brooks seriously and dressed her beautifully. Ms. Brooks writes, “At last, my beloved New York was able to present a Louise Brooks who was neither Kansas nor Broadway nor Hollywood nor Park Avenue but uniquely herself.” Ms. Brooks starred in the great movie Pandora’s Box.

Some student hacks (pranks) at MIT involve the classroom. On 25 October 1985, students arrived for a physics lecture. On their way into the classroom, they picked up what they thought were class handouts, but one of the handouts was hacked. It was an assignment sheet, and the assignment was to create a paper airplane. Following the instructions on the hacked assignment sheet, the students made paper airplanes and at exactly 11:15 a.m. launched hundreds of airplanes at the professor. Here are some other notable hacks: 1) In 1949, students who were taking a class early Saturday morning showed up wearing pajamas and robes. 2) In 1978, a student who was going to take a final exam spread a tablecloth over his desk and then placed on it a corkscrew, three bottles of wine, some cheese and bread, and his regulation No. 2 pencils. 3) In 1982, students reversed every desk in a lecture room so that instead of facing the front of the room (and the chalkboard), they faced the back of the room. This hack took much work because every desk was bolted to the floor.

An Athenian once saw Aesop, teller of fables, entertaining some children and playing games with them. Aesop was laughing and enjoying himself. The Athenian, however, did not approve and told Aesop that grown-ups should not waste their time in such a way. Aesop then pointed to the Athenian’s bow and asked if sometimes he unstrung it. “Yes,” the Athenian replied, “if a bow is never unstrung, it will lose its elasticity and become useless.” Aesop said, “The same is true of people.”

German mathematician David Hilbert was very absent minded. One day, he started talking to fellow mathematician Helmut Hasse, who was working in class-field theory. Mr. Hilbert asked about the theory’s foundations, and Mr. Hasse mentioned a certain theorem that excited Mr. Hilbert. “This is extremely beautiful,” he said, then asked, “Who created it?” Of course, the person who had created the theorem was none other than Mr. Hilbert himself.

In one of her classes, Marcia Worth-Baker decided to involve her students in an activity in which they put the ancient Greek god Zeus, god of lightning, on trial. However, the student playing Pandora, the prosecutor, got a lot of laughs when she announced that Zeus’s crimes included cutting in line and reading other people’s e-mail.

Isaac Asimov believed in the importance of lifelong learning. He told a story about nonagenarian Oliver Wendell Holmes studying a Greek grammar while he was in a hospital. Visitor Theodore Roosevelt pointed out that Mr. Holmes was well into his 90s and asked him why he was reading a Greek grammar. Mr. Holmes replied, “To improve my mind, Mr. President.”

Lots of teachers love their jobs. Syndicated columnist Connie Schultz met a teacher who told her about a young boy who lagged far behind his peers in reading. The teacher worked with the boy for months, and finally the boy read out loud an entire page by himself. The teacher said, “I wish you could have seen his face. He put his book on his lap, raised both hands in the air, and shouted, ‘I can read! I can read!’”

Enrico Caruso once took up the flute. After he had taken a few lessons, a man asked him to play into the horn of a phonograph, and he made a recording of Mr. Caruso and then played the recording for him. Mr. Caruso asked, “Is that how I sound?” The man replied, “Yes. Can I sell you the record?” Mr. Caruso replied, “No. But I’ll sell you the flute.”

In 2012, a high school in San Jose, California, had eight female Asian-American students with the last name “Nguyen.” The class yearbook allowed students to include a quote, and the eight students, whose photos and quotes were next to one another) arranged their quotes (one or two words per student) to form a message for yearbook readers: “We know / what / you’re / thinking, / and / no, / we’re / not related!”

Experience sometimes makes children smarter. Here are some examples of things that children have learned through experience: 1) Never trust a dog to watch your food. 2) Never try to baptize a cat. 3) Never try to hold a cat and a Dust Buster at the same time. 4) Puppies still have bad breath even after eating a Tic Tac.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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