Saturday, April 03, 2010

In Which I Expose Albert Einstein's Big Lie, As Well As Other Fallacies Of Democracy (And No, I Haven't Started Drinking Tea)

Rick and I were in the car not so long ago when a minivan zipped past us at a pretty good clip. I was immediately on alert because I have a Major Minivan Theory, and I wanted to see if it held true yet again. (My Theory is that most minivans are under-utilized; I maintain that the vast majority of minivans are not transporting large families/groups of people and are, therefore, wasteful and unnecessary.)

But I digress.

The driver was alone in the van (ha!), and as she sped away from us, I caught a glimpse of her bumper sticker. The minute I read it, I became derisive and outraged. Here is what it said:

Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

What in the hell kind of bullshit is that? How can anyone truly believe that, let alone unabashedly market it and advertise it? Just because it is part of a quote from Albert Einstein doesn't mean it is Scientific Fact. You know, this idiocy is another overly simplified Great American Lie, right up there with

1. You can be whatever you want to be.
2. Anyone can be President.
3. If you want something badly enough, you can make it happen.

Now, while it is true that Bush 43, aka The Angel of Death, would seem to buttress the assertion made in #2, all clear-headed people know that this statement simply isn't true. He may have been a buffoon and an ersatz cowboy, but he was a rich, well-connected doofus with a political pedigree and a republican family name equivalent to the Kennedys. That isn't just "anyone." And before someone flings the name Barack Obama around, please do a little research. He's much closer to "Anyone," but he's a lot closer to a "Somebody." Do poor, uneducated people ever run for government office? Let's just start with that.

With respect to Lie #1, which should really be nipped in the bud right after elementary school, if not sooner, I can offer my own experience. I have always had a natural affinity for animals. I had many pets as a child, and no animal is anathema to me except perhaps the snake. I decided in high school that I wanted to be a veterinarian. In college I began a pre-vet program of study and worked my ass off. Guess what? I couldn't cut it. Once it got into hardcore math and chemistry, I just washed out, pure and simple. All the love in the world for animals--or imagination!--can't stand in for basic subject material. That, and I discovered an abject abhorrence for the sight of blood.

But I really, really wanted to be a vet! Oh. Well.

You can just imagine the scene, though, right?

(Interior. Office of veterinarian exam room. Man rushes in with injured Irish Setter. Dog is limp, bleeding. An unidentified organ is protruding from stomach area; it glistens in overhead light.)
Man: Dr. Nance, our dog was hit by the ice cream truck! It just happened! We came as quick as we could!
Nance: (back is to Man; pulling on latex exam gloves) I'm glad you got here as soon as you did. Let's have a look. (turns around) Oh good heavens! I--I'm--The poor thing! How awful! What's his name?
Man: MacDuff.
Nance: Oh, I love that! But you know, MacDuff was Scottish, not Irish. That's from Macbeth, and---ugh! What is that? (points to organ thingy hanging out; begins to gag a little)
Man: I know. It's pretty bad. Will he make it?
Nance: That's--bloody--that's--his stomach. Excuse me. I have to go throw up.
(end scene)

Point is, I could NOT be a veterinarian. I wanted to, but I COULDN'T. Not only was I not smart enough in the subject areas required, but I just didn't have the temperament. I could imagine myself as one, but...not gonna happen.

Now, #3 seems to be the same as #2, but really, it's not quite. If you've ever watched the show American Idol on television, then it is a perfect example of how stupid this tenet sounds. How many times do these sobbing wannabe singers whimper, "But I really, really want this"? Well, sweetheart, I really, really want this blog to get me a book deal, but guess what? That isn't happening either! Ha! Desire alone is not enough. I had a student many years ago--a junior--who had to write a career narrative, a short essay in which he had to explain his plans for his future career. This student--I'll call him Jason--wrote about becoming a professional basketball player. I asked him if he currently played for the high school team. No, he didn't. I asked him if he ever had. No, he had not. I asked him if he played in junior high. No. Did he play for his church or for the city recreation league? No, none of those. I asked if he planned to try out next year or in college. No, he didn't see those things happening. "Jason," I said gently. "How do you think you'll make the NBA if you don't play anywhere that a professional basketball scout would see you? They don't normally just drive around small towns like ours and see kids out on playgrounds or in driveways." I suggested that he might want to have a backup career plan, just in case.

Well, that was not what he wanted to hear. He exploded. "Don't come up here with your essay!" he yelled, turning around to face the class. "She is killing our dreams!"



The point that I wanted to make was, just because he wanted to be a professional basketball player didn't mean he was going to be. He was doing absolutely nothing to get him anywhere near that goal. He had just as much chance of being a pro basketball player as I did. NEWS FLASH: IT IS ALMOST 15 YEARS LATER. HE IS STILL NOT IN THE NBA.

(Did you see that coming?) I'm sure he imagined himself in the NBA. But that's not enough. It never is, is it?

Imagination is never MORE important than knowledge. That is just patently absurd. At some point we have to stop selling our children--who eventually become adults, you know--these glib, slick, meaninglessly dangerous axioms. Because they believe them. And many of them go on living their lives expecting things to just happen to them because they want them to.

We know better, and so should they.


  1. Nancy8:24 PM

    First, I want to say that this was the funniest thing I've read in a long time,Nance. I chuckled all the way through it.BUT.....

    Are you telling me that I cannot realize my life-long dream of becoming a synchronized swimmer? Just because I'm deathly afraid of water,weigh 250 pounds and am severely allergic to hair spray and glitter?

    Say it isn't so......

  2. Oh. Really wish you would have written this about 35 years ago. And that blogs had been invented...Damn you, Albert, and your hypnotizing hair!

  3. I really want MY blog to get me a book deal, but guess who got a deal instead? Bush 43, aka, Dubya, aka "Shrub." Get it? Little Bush? And I don't think he EVER learned to spell, do you? PS: Hope the Easter Bunny left special treats in your basket today!

  4. What's that saying ... a goal without a plan is simply a dream? The exception might be becoming a celebrity. Just about anyone can become a celebrity in our country. For what that's worth.


  5. Shirley--Sadly, this IS the "YouTube" generation. And so many people, but not just young people, are willing to become briefly famous for anything, even something embarrassing or pathetic. My big issue is that we as a society have been telling young people for SO LONG that "you can be whatever you dream" that we don't bother to temper it with the reality of hard work, planning, and plain old sweat equity. Lots of people think life is something that just lurks about and happens. Which, as clear-thinking mature people know, just isn't (or doesn't have to be) true.

    Melissa B.--Or the dreaded Alaskan Airhead, who has two TV contracts and another book deal in the works. How frightening. She is the Octomom of the republican party. In so many ways that it is unfathomable, come to think of it.

    dbso--oh, hell. and here I thought I was always a Woman Ahead Of My Time! LOL.

    Nancy--Just click the heels of your ruby red slippers together and say, "I think I can, I think I can...". No wait. Somehow, that doesn't sound right....

  6. Case in point: my 17-year-old daughter wants to ride in the Olympics and other world-class equestrian events. Is she sitting at home dreamy-eyed, looking at the posters of her equestrian idols? Sure, maybe 10 minutes a week. The rest of the time, she's a high school senior with a B average, rides two or three horses every single day in our horse-training business, started her school's equestrian team, deals with our horse clients, helps manage all aspects of horse care, and goes to horse shows as often as we can afford it. She has written letters to about three dozen different horse businesses asking for sponsorships, and has a fan club of clients who help her in her equestrian endeavors whenever they can. Will she get to the Olympics? Chances are good that she will at some point. Far better shot than Jason and the NBA, because she understands about ambition, and is not afraid of hard work. She imagined it AND NOW WORKS HER ASS OFF TO GET THERE.

    You can imagine anything. It's that work part that counts.

  7. Anyone who teaches students older than 12 can attest to the fact that imagination will get you nowhere without knowledge. These stupid, stupid people.

  8. I think the average sixth and seventh graders in America, those who have not been groomed from infancy toward some role, believe that people are just BORN to be what they become. That's the age where the hormones start telling them to notice and compare themselves to others, and they jump to the magical conclusion that those who are good at something were just gifted with it from birth. LUCK IS ALL. And, of course, they are SLIGHTLY right, we are born with raw material that trends in certain directions. But it usually really is news to these kids how people go about becoming good at something. Should they have gotten that news, lost that magical thinking, earlier in their lives? They didn't. They don't. They do it in middle school, most of them, and kind teachers like you are often the ones who do that job.

  9. Anonymous6:51 PM

    i absolutely 23576512364% agree with this! but why would you ever want to be a vet? i mean, yeah you see animals....sick animals. you should've been aiming for something a little less grueling. like, dog walking, or grooming, or even sitting. no skill what-so-ever, and you could've been what ever you wanted to be. but this blog is so entertaining that maybe if you find a penny heads up, see the end of a rainbow, throw a horse shoe, throw salt over your shoulder, and break a leg it might just be a book.

  10. Anonymous--Oh, I've still ended up "being what I wanted to be", which is an English teacher. And doing some writing here and on my other blogs. As far as why I wanted to be a vet rather than just walk or groom or babysit dogs/pets, those other options don't interest me in the least. I wanted to really get to know all animals and be able to work with them and HELP them. And I am fascinated by the inner workings of the body. Sadly, all of that still isn't enough. But my Well-Worn joke about my career is: I became a public school teacher so that I could still work with animals but with a lot less blood. (rimshot) Thanks for commenting and for the kind compliments about the Dept.

    The Other Nance--You know, you are exactly right when you mention The Luck Factor. Even today, I have some people tell me HOW LUCKY I AM that I have a teaching job, a nice house, a good husband, etc. AS IF ALL THAT STUFF JUST SUDDENLY FELL INTO MY LAP! Sigh. It's downright insulting, really. I try to talk about this often in my class (nice thing about Literature--you end up teaching LIFE along the way) and it's amazing how kids look at me like I'm a guru or something.

    Mikey--Hey, there you are! Nice to see you. And I agree with you, but would venture to say that even 12 is pushing the upper limits.

    Life@FF--Good for her! (And do you know, I've never ridden a horse!? It's on my List Of Things I Really Want To Do Someday, though...)

  11. I too hate that kids are told they can be whatever they want to be. Because you're right, it just isn't true. If you don't have the brain power, you're not going to be a doctor. If you don't have exceptional athletic skills you'll never be a professional athlete and even if you do excell at a sport, you probably still will never play professionaly. I could go on and on (and I think I will, over at my place so this comment doesn't get too long). There is a difference between teaching children to dream big and teaching them to find something they're good at and dream big within their ability. And somewhere, society has gotten away from that.

  12. As always, Nance, wit and wisdom from the Dept.! I wanted to be a marine biologist, working with Jacques Cousteau on Calypso and doing biological drawing on the side. (I am a 4th gen. Californian, so not such a stretch, right?) Too bad I could not get a math tutor. Instead, everyone just told me I was a natural born idiot and anyway I was just a stupid girl who didn't need to know math. So I gave it up. Then I was going to be an artist. My parents said over their dead bodies. (Well, their bodies ARE dead now! I should go for it.) Their idea? Forced me to be an English major. Yeah, that was practical. But! Who knew! ENGLISH MAJORS CAN GET JOBS! And I've loved my career writing, editing and teaching. Not that I'd ever admit my parents might have had a point.

  13. Sputnik--Thanks. Why is math always in our way? (Although...the whole swimming thing would have been in my way also. Never did learn how, and I don't much care for the water.) Do you paint or draw (or create art in whatever medium you fancied) now as a hobby?

    Nina--I like your phrase "dreaming big within their abilities." That's the key, really. When I taught ninth grade, they had to do a research project involving careers. I had a girl who wanted to be a neonatal care nurse. She started researching it and found that it required a ton of college with heavy emphasis on math and science, two courses she had failed already. She was heartbroken. I directed her toward daycare career opportunities and she was thrilled to find out about the local community college's two-year program which included an on-site daycare center. All she really wanted was to hold and play with babies and help take care of them in some very real capacity.

  14. It's such a mix...between not wanting to squash someone's ambition and dreams, and yet wanting them to know that life doesn't plop itself into your lap. You have to work for it. And it's easier for some people than it is for others. And for many, it looks easier than it is. Sigh. You can make all of the right choices and work your ass off and actually be damn good at your chosen profession, and still not make it. It's happened in my own household, and I suspect to the majority of the athletes who work their asses off to get to the Olympics or major leagues. Hard work, skill, and wanting it enough are sometimes not enough. Sometimes it also matters who else you're competing against, and how much skill/luck/work/desire they have, and what happens to be in demand at that particular time.

  15. I tell my kids that the life they see themselves living as adults won't just appear when they graduate, and that the life they enjoy now is the result of their parents working for almost three decades.

  16. So much word, Nance. When I taught in Detroit, I would sometimes look at my black, female students and think, "There is a significant portion of men out there who hate you just because you're female. And there is a significant portion of white people who hate you because you are black. You will have to work at least twice as hard in whatever you choose to do...please choose wisely." Some of the girls had unusual names and I know that this will also keep them out of some jobs. (In my lawyer days, one of my bosses refused to entertain the notion of calling anyone who had a "black sounding" name). So some of them already start with a bunch of haters on their they were living in poverty where having babies out of wedlock was expected and sometimes encouraged. So how the HELL could I tell them that they could be "anything"? Hell, I just wanted to tell them to not get pregnant until they were 30!

  17. TeacherPatti--It was always so hard to "get real" with my students. One of our principals flat out told us never to say anything to discourage a single student from focusing on college or his/her chosen career. I had kids who still had not passed basic math who told me they were going to be pediatricians and engineers. Sigh. I was, basically, told not to help them. So frustrating.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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