David Bruce: The Funniest People in Families, Volume 4 — Education

Education

• When James McNeill Whistler was at West Point, he was a much better artist than he was a soldier. In fact, he may deliberately have gotten himself thrown out of West Point. During a chemistry oral exam, he was asked to explain the properties of silicon. He said, “Silicon is a gas …,” then the instructor stopped him — and failed him. Years later, Mr. Whistler joked, “If silicon had been a gas, I might have been a major general.”

• Charlie Brown of Peanuts seldom got respect. Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz once had a “Charlie-Brown” moment. When his high school planned a reunion, Mr. Schulz’s name was placed on a list of “missing” people, although he was world famous. None of his schoolmates thought that the Charles M. Schulz they had gone to school with could be the famed creator of Peanuts.

• A young boy once asked school librarian Anne Betts for a book about whores. Surprised, Ms. Betts asked why he wanted a book like that. The boy explained that his 8th grade teacher wanted him to do research on that topic. Ms. Betts sent the teacher a note, and the teacher sent back a note explaining that he wanted the boy to do research on the Roman poet Horace.

• Mary Carter Smith’s grandmother raised her and often told her as Mary was growing up, “Child, learn that book. Nobody can take that away from you.” Young Mary learned her lesson well. When her grandmother told her to go to bed, Mary immediately got under the covers — with a book and a flashlight. As an African-American adult, Ms. Smith became a griot (storyteller).

• Thurgood Marshall engaged in mischief when he attended grade school, and as a punishment he sometimes had to stay after school and memorize a portion of the Constitution of the United States. By the time he graduated, he had memorized the entire Constitution. This came in handy later when he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

• A student once asked Professor Charles T. Copeland of Harvard, “Is there anything I can do to learn the art of conversation?” Professor Copeland answered, “Yes, there is one thing. If you will listen, I will tell you.” Following a period of silence, the student said, “I am listening.” Professor Copeland replied, “You see! You are learning already!”

• The late Herman Kahn was a brilliant mathematician who had the ability to concentrate on more than one thing. In high school, a teacher once caught him reading a science fiction magazine during a lecture and so thought that he was ignoring the lecture, but he was able to repeat the lecture — word for word — back to the teacher.

• Neil Armstrong received a Navy scholarship that allowed him to attend Purdue University. He was excited and raced home to tell his mother. She was so excited that she injured herself, breaking a toe when she dropped a jar of preserves on her foot. Later, Mr. Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon.

• Elaine Garzarelli’s mother wanted her and her siblings to get good educations. To ensure that the children could study and read in quiet, she used to hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the front door. As a grownup, Elaine became known as the “Wizard of Wall Street” because of her financial forecasting abilities.

• Students frequently begin preparing to leave the classroom before the bell for dismissal actually sounds. This habit annoyed Shakespeare scholar George Lyman Kitteredge of Harvard, who once told his students, “Just a minute, gentlemen. I still have a few pearls to cast.”

• When photographer Margaret Bourke-White was in high school, she wasn’t allowed to chew gum. Therefore, she chewed gum away from her house, and she left the chewing gum on a telephone pole at night so she could retrieve it the next day and chew it some more.

• Like other college students, when Isaac Newton headed off to school (in his case, Cambridge University), he purchased necessary supplies. He bought ink, a notebook, a lock for his desk, a pound of candles — and perhaps most important, a chamber pot.

• As a 13-year-old, future writer Charles MacArthur spent hours locked in the bathroom reading the novels of Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. He read them there because his religious family regarded “promiscuous reading” as sinful.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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