Stupid Ideas That Don’t Seem So Bad Now
When I was a teenager decades ago, I saw a lot of smart adults do stupid things. For example, my boss at a fast food place would leave the restaurant for hours at a time. That was a bad idea because the teens running the place when she was gone stole a bunch of money from the cash registers (I never did, but I suspected it was happening).
My high school teachers were usually smart, but sometimes they did stupid things too. One of them would often leave the classroom to make copies and would always act shocked that her room was destroyed when she returned. Another teacher would invite students to her apartment after school (she sincerely was helping students though), and that was stupid because it gave her a bad reputation even though I don’t think she ever did anything inappropriate (except invite students to her apartment in the first place).
Another teacher always showed his son tests ahead of time, and that was dumb because the kid sold the answers to desperate students. The son didn’t even charge much. Looking back, all of that stuff was dumb, and it doesn’t look any better now.
But there was one high school English teacher who did something that I thought was really stupid, and now I’ve changed my mind.
His name was Mr. Randall, and he was okay, but every week he’d give us a pop quiz over a story in the our literature book. That might sound reasonable, but he never told us ahead of time what the story being tested was. It wasn’t a pre-reading test or a pre-test that didn’t count. The pop quiz actually was a grade that he kept and counted.
“It isn’t fair,” a brave student complained to him early in the school year. “You never assigned that story to us.”
“Anybody can pass a quiz if he or she has read the material,” Mr. Randall said. “It takes true talent to excel when you don’t know ahead of time what is being tested.”
I thought this was a stupid idea, especially since it was hurting my English grade. I was used to getting great grades in English during previous years, and it had always been easy. Now I was struggling. I couldn’t believe Mr. Randall was counting the grades. I told my mom and dad, expecting them to take my side. I thought maybe my parents would call the school and complain to them about Mr. Randall. Instead, my dad laughed.
“You’d better read everything in that literature book then,” he said.
I failed a couple more quizzes about stories from the literature book, and the grades always counted. When my first term grade was a B+ (the pop quizzes weren’t the only grades, and I got 100s on everything else), I knew I had to change strategies. One weekend, I skimmed over all the stories in our literature textbook. It took a while, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
My teacher “surprised” us with a pop quiz that week (I think it was “The Tell-Tale Heart.”), and I scored a 100. If you knew a little bit about the stories, the quiz questions weren’t that bad. After that, I was a straight A student in English. At the end of the year, I was one of only a few students with an A for the year, and other students (who were probably much smarter than I was) were angry that they got a B+. I just imitated my dad and said “You should have read the literature book.”
Maybe it was a poor teaching technique, but this pop quiz idea doesn’t seem so bad now. Maybe I’m biased because I had an A and a bunch of future Ivy League students were pissed off at the B+ that each of them had earned. Maybe this just proves that you can rationalize any bad idea if you try hard enough. I see a lot of people rationalizing a lot of really bad ideas.
This experience prepared me to be flexible in my professional life. For example, several of my bosses have recently adopted the meeting policy of “Five minutes early is on time, and on time is five minutes late.” At first, this policy seemed like a jerk move, especially when it was delivered in a smarmy tone of voice, but I know what these bosses mean. When you’ve sat through years’ worth of meetings like I have, you know how late people can slow everybody else down. Even if they’re on time, people need five minutes once they get to a meeting to prepare themselves.
While everybody else complained about the new policy, I just got to the meetings seven minutes early. When five minutes early is on time, seven minutes early is still early.
Maybe Mr. Randall didn’t mean to prepare me to be mentally flexible. Maybe he liked to torment students by giving pop quizzes over stuff that hadn’t been assigned yet. Being surrounded by kids all day can warp a person’s mind, I guess. Either way, when I look back, this idea doesn’t seem as bad as it did when I was in high school.
That’s easy to say now. I don’t have to take pop quizzes anymore.
What do you think? What ideas that seemed stupid when you were a kid seem to make more sense now?