David Bruce: Education Anecdotes

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As a youngster, Jim Thorpe frequently ran away from his boarding school, which taught the ways of white people and ignored Native American culture. However, his father valued education and each time his son ran away, he made him return to the school. Once, after Jim had run away, his father took him back to the school. Jim went in the front door and out the back door. By taking shortcuts home, he managed to reduce the 23-mile journey to 18 miles, and he managed to walk home faster than his father was able to drive his horses and wagon home. When his father reached home, Jim was waiting for him.

In 1905, wealthy philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $10 million for the establishment of the Carnegie Teachers Pension Fund. He did this after discovering that college professors in the United States seldom earned more than $400 a year, with no retirement benefits. Even office clerks at Carnegie Steel made that much. The fund provided retirement benefits for professors at 52 colleges. Later, more colleges met the requirements for membership — for example, they could not discriminate against a student’s religion — and so Mr. Carnegie donated another $5 million to the fund.

Gymnast Tracee Talavera and her older sister, Coral, attended an elementary school in San Francisco that was attended mostly by African-American children. Sometimes, the black children taunted the Talaveras by yelling at them, “You white honkies!” Coral would run to and hold the hand of a white teacher, but Tracee shouted back, “I am not! I’m brown!” This was her way of telling the African-American children that her heritage was Chicano. In fact, Talavera de la Reina, which means “Tiara of the Queen,” is a town near Madrid, Spain.

When children’s book illustrator Julie Downing was in high school, she told a guidance counselor that she wanted to be an artist and go to the Rhode Island School of Design. Apparently, the guidance counselor had heard about starving artists, so he suggested that she learn typing in case a career as an artist didn’t work out. Ms. Downing went ahead and applied to the Rhode Island School of Design and swore that she would never learn how to type. (Later, she decided to write books as well as illustrate them, so she learned how to type.)

As a young student of voice, Italian baritone Tito Gobbi had a little money — enough money to pay for food, or enough money to pay for voice lessons, but not enough money to pay for both food and voice lessons. Because he was so dedicated, he used hs money to pay for voice lessons. Fortunately, his voice teacher, tenor Giulio Crimi, noticed that his young student was becoming thinner and thinner, so he refused to accept payment for his lessons until Mr. Gobbi could afford to pay him.

When Billie Jean King was growing up in Long Beach, California, a tennis pro named Clyde Walker started giving free lessons in the public parks to any children who showed up. Each day, he traveled to a different park to give a lesson, and he soon noticed that no matter which park he went to, Billie Jean was there to receive instruction. He asked, “What are you up to? I just worked with you yesterday.” Billie Jean replied, “This is how I’m going to get better.”

When Michael Moore, author of Stupid White Men, was in his sophomore year in college, he tried for an hour to find a parking space so he could get out of his car and go to class. After an hour, he gave up and shouted, “That’s it — I’m dropping out!” Then he went home and told his parents that he was dropping out of school. When they asked him why, he explained, “I couldn’t find a parking space.” He never attended class again.

Janet Lynn was such a talented figure skater that when she was only three-and-a-half years old, she was already in a skating class for teenagers. One problem arose when the teacher of the class told the students to write a paper about figure skating — Janet was so young that she hadn’t learned yet to write. Fortunately, she was able to pass the class by drawing pictures with crayons.

After discovering the world of dancing in his reading, Kenneth MacMillan decided that he wanted to study dance at the Royal Ballet School. Therefore, he forged a letter from his father and sent it to Ninette de Valois. The forgery succeeded, and he began to study dance. In 1946, he became a founder-member of Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet.

A recent fad is to collect the high school yearbooks of famous people. Anyone who collects comedian Robin Williams’ yearbook won’t be surprised to see his name listed in a column of students thought to be “Most Humorous,” but they may be surprised to see his name listed in the column of students thought to be “Least Likely to Succeed.”

Trey Reely studied trumpet as a child, but in the eighth grade he felt that he was too busy to take lessons. His father, however, convinced him to take a lesson every two weeks. This worked out well. Trey studied enough that he didn’t forget everything he knew, and eventually he started taking lessons his usual once a week.

In 1978, Cal Ripken, Jr. signed a contract to play baseball for the Baltimore Orioles organization. For an 18-year-old, Mr. Ripken showed remarkable intelligence. His signing bonus was only $20,000, but he insisted on a clause requiring the Orioles to give him a four-year college scholarship if baseball didn’t work out.

Comedian Jay Leno once wanted to do something special for Hattie Hannigan, an English teacher he had studied under while attending Andover (Massachusetts) High School. He gave her a videotape, on which 16 Hollywood stars, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Debbie Reynolds, and Linda Gray, sent her greetings.

At New York University, Judy Blume took a course in how to write from children’s author Lee Wyndham. The course must have been effective, because Ms. Blume soon sold a story to a children’s magazine. To celebrate the sale, Mr. Wyndham gave her a red rose during a class.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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