David R. Henderson  

Tea and Empathy

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Reminder... Laidler and Sumner on the Stat...

[BTW, I almost made it to the top of Half Dome. Last year, I was intimidated by the series of steep switchbacks just preceding the cables at the top. On Saturday, I got to the switchbacks, felt intimidated again, had a nap, woke up feeling better, and made it to the top of the switchbacks. That's a personal best. Then I saw a traffic jam: the wait to get up the cables was at least an hour and waiting around would have caused me to get back down in the dark. Veterans of the hike said they had never seen such a jam. In all, I walked 20 miles that day, because we took the John Muir trail on the way down. Maybe next year. Thanks to those of who sent best wishes and encouragement.]

I've been following the discussion of the tea parties, intellectuals, etc. (here and here.) Here is my two cents worth, an excerpt from the education chapter (Chapter 16) of my book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist's Odyssey. Here it is:

I'm convinced that that is why so many millions of people associate learning with pain rather than with the pleasure that accompanied their first learning in life. In fact, I think the standard school setting turns the classroom into the intellectual haves and have-nots, creating a distinction where one doesn't exist. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Orris, divided the class into the Eager Beavers and the Busy Bees. Within seconds of hearing who was in each group, everyone in the class, beavers and bees alike, knew that the Busy Bees were the "slow" learners and the second-class citizens. But, being a member of the Eager Beavers, I was strongly tempted⎯and I didn't resist the temptation⎯to think of myself as superior. For the remainder of my school career, and part of my college career, I carried that way of thinking with me. Those who did well in classroom settings, I thought, were intellectually superior to those who didn't. Along with it, I held the view that working-class people weren't intellectual, and I thought of myself as an intellectual. I could have easily gone through life with that view. But, thank goodness, something happened in the summer before my last year of college that changed my thinking on this dramatically.
At the start of that summer, I hitchhiked to Thompson, Manitoba, a mining community in northern Canada, to get a high-paying blue-collar job because I wanted to make enough money to pay for my last year of college. I ended up getting a job as a diamond driller's "helper" in an underground nickel mine at Soab Lake, 40 miles from Thompson. About 300 men worked in this mine and lived in the adjacent mining camp and, with two years of college under my belt, I was the most formally educated person in the entire group. I am a very social person and I wanted interaction and conversation. These, therefore, were the people I had to pick from. So within a few days, I was sitting around with these guys, ranging in age from 18 to 45, arguing about the upcoming provincial election, the wisdom of the socialist party's proposed government takeover of the auto insurance industry, and various other political issues. I learned quickly that many of these people had reasons for their views and could argue them, and that they weren't noticeably worse at making their case than most of the students or even many of the faculty at the University of Winnipeg. The main differences were that they were blunter and put on fewer airs, and that some wanted to line up hippies against the wall and shoot them. (Some of the U. of Winnipeg students agreed about the firing squads, but wanted the guns aimed at capitalists instead of hippies.) By the end of that summer, I had concluded that the population cannot be divided into an intellectual class and a nonintellectual class; instead, I concluded, everyone is to some extent an intellectual. The college professor is an intellectual who, it is hoped, applies his intellect to his teaching and research. The skillful auto mechanic is an intellectual who uses logic to eliminate various possible causes of an engine's failure in order to narrow it down to the actual cause. Everyone is an intellectual. Compulsory schooling has robbed millions of people of the knowledge of their intellectual birthright.

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    "By the end of that summer, I had concluded that the population cannot be divided into an intellectual class and a nonintellectual class; instead, I concluded, everyone is to some extent an intellectual. The college professor is an intellectual who, it... [Tracked on September 15, 2009 7:19 AM]
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Adam writes:

Amen to the idea that "schooling has robbed millions..."

BTW: How about some photos from Half Dome?

Alex J. writes:

In the fourth grade, I was put in the slow section of math class. I was strongly tempted, and did not resist the temptation, to think of my teachers as incompetent. For the remainder of my life, I have carried that lesson with me.

JH writes:

When using the self checkout line at the grocery store, I used to always stand my 2 liter of soda up on the belt. When it reached the end of the belt, it would fall over and roll to the end of the table. This, of course, would increase the chance of an explosion when I get home and open it.

One day, a grocery store employee saw me put the first one on the belt standing up and then fall over at the end. He said, "Lay it flat on the belt and it won't fall over." So, I laid it down...perpendicular to sides...it just kept spinning and didn't go anywhere. I thought to myself, "That guy's an idiot. Why am I listening to a lowly grocery store employee?" He looked at me, without signaling that he thinks I was an idiot, and said, "No, turn it the other way." So, I turned it parallel to the sides and it went right through without falling over at the end of the belt.

Afterward, I felt bad that I looked down on him simply because of his job. It probably took him 2 seconds to figure out the best way to send items through the self checkout. Here I am a college educated man and I'd still be putting my sodas on the belt standing up if it wasn't for him.

guthrie writes:

This excerpt sounds very similar to the introduction to the book 'Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre' by Keith Johnstone (a professor at U of Calgary and inventor of Theatre Sports). In his classes he consciously works against what he sees as 'destructive practices' that schooling routinely engages in, such as you've described. Highly recommended read, if only for the substantial introduction!

David R. Henderson writes:

To Adam: My friends were the ones with the cameras. I've got a few of the photos from them, but don't yet have the ones they took at the cables. Also, I'm not sure how to attach photos to this blog.

To JH: Great story. Sometime soon I'll post on how a high-school dropout taught capital theory to a Ph.D. grad student friend and me when we were starting out at UCLA.

To Guthrie: Thanks. I'll check it out.

David R. Henderson writes:

Oh, and to Alex J: Thanks for that story.

wm13 writes:

It's probably incorrect that the Busy Bees thought of themselves as second class citizens. In my field, most practicing lawyers make a lot more money than law professors, and most practicing lawyers think of law professors as impractical airheads, but the law professors don't internalize these views and think of themselves as inferior. Similarly, I don't think that most econ or finance professors think of themselves as inferior to investment bankers.

Matt C writes:

> It's probably incorrect that the Busy Bees thought of themselves as second class citizens

Unbelievable.

Kids who do poorly at school do not become econ professors or investment bankers. Even if they're not very bright, they figure this out quite early.

Then they get their noses rubbed in their lack of ability for another ten years or so. They are trained to see themselves as losers.

silvermine writes:

Indeed.

The "mob" may have never been taught who Hayek was, or who Locke was in order to argue philosophy with the "elite", but they understand it in their souls.

My kids will know.

Cyberike writes:

I agree with the main point of the article, but there is also a ton of literature out there that equates increased education with improved health and happiness, regardless of other factors.

Dezakin writes:

Bah, the blue collar working class as a majority, aren't intellectual. They dont bother learning or trying to learn or they wouldn't be stuck as blue collar underclass after all. But their sin is the same as the intellectuals, and thats being a slave to ideology. Sure they'll make their arguments, and for the most part they'll vote on the lines of an ideological tribe.

Chris writes:

Great thoughts, David. Have to read your book sometime soon.

FWIW I'm guessing the "high-school dropout" was one Thomas Sowell?

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