Educated Idiots and Uneducated Wise Ones

On another thread, George said:

Speaking of college education. My dad had a 10th grade education. He was a mechanic on the highest performance supersonic fighters we had at the time. He knew mechanics and electronics. He worked on the B-66, the F-89, and the F-101

He was a damned good mechanic and worked on planes, boats, and automotive engines to include agricultural and industrial equipment after he got out of the military. He did ok. He only went back to get his High School diploma because he was an ambulance crew member of a volunteer fire department and he was going for his EMT certification and it was required. He didn’t have a college education, but he was by no means stupid.

Oh, and he eventually got his certification for helicopter trauma medic, again as a volunteer. He only gave that up because he said he got tired of scraping his friends up off the road. He lived in a rural area and most of the calls he responded to involved people he knew. I’m pretty proud of my Pop. He was not a dim bulb but he wasn’t college educated either aside from the courses he needed to take for his certifications.

To which, H.R. replied:

I’ve seen that you have learned the lesson that education does not equal intelligence. Intelligent people will always be educated, be it formally or informally, but educated people can never acquire intelligence if they don’t have intelligence from the get-go.

Thanks for the stories about your dad. I have similar stories to share. Maybe E.M. will throw out an “educated idiots” thread where we can kick this around, eh?

OK guys, here’s your thread…

I’ll start things off with two of mine.

A Very Nice Guy and decent friend got a Ph.D. in Physics. He as a very bright fellow, in some ways, but had trouble with ‘practical things’. Forgetting things like putting gas in the car… and NEVER EVER ask him to work on your motorcycle. (He had some problems with his after he decided to do some work on it…)

Well, time passes… He’s employed at LLNL. His was the “shot” that got stuck part way down the tube at the Nevada Test Range. They decided not to pound it loose, or yank it up, but detonated in place, resulting in some ‘leakage’ of nuclear stuff… I’ve often wondered just how involved he was in the actual deployment of “his gadget”…

On the flip side, in my home town of 3038 souls, there was one very very kind old soul. I only knew him as Rufus. Had a club foot that had kept him out of the World Wars. Road a bike everywhere. He was “Mr. Fixit” in our town. If something needed fixing, you’d “call Rufus”. Didn’t matter what it was, he’d figure it out and fix it. He ate in our restaurant and I got to know him.

He didn’t finish 8th grade, IIRC.

One day he let me visit inside his “house”. He rented a converted garage from someone. He had a twin sized bed, a dresser, and that was about it. One EVERY wall, floor to ceiling, were bins. Nuts. Bolts. Screws. Subassemblies of all sorts. ANYTHING that broke too much to fix, he got, and made “inventory”. When a like thing broke, odds are he had the parts and knew how it went together. From bike to sewing machines to radios. His charge? Whatever you thought it was worth, plus any broken stuff you didn’t want. (We sometimes gave him free meals for fixing things…)

Eventually, at a very very old age of, I’d guess, 90 something… he was riding his bike from one side of town to the other. The railroad crossings did not have gates, and the town had asked for them many times. Well, Rufus was getting a bit deaf and tended to ride looking down at the road in front of him. Didn’t notice the train nor hear the whistle. Instantly dead.

I got to (even as a kid of about 12) be part of the ‘crew’ that picked up the pieces of Rufus from along the tracks…

The town was devastated. NOBODY could figure out what we would do with such a key resource gone. Noone could take his place.

But we did get our crossing gates.

I’m sure each of us knows someone who just knows everything and never did much in school, or someone like Steve Jobs and Woz (who eventually got his college degree after making millions). I’m sure we’ve also met a fair number of “Educated Idiots” who couldn’t do much other than ‘multiple guess quizzes’ after a quick cram.

Feel free to share…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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50 Responses to Educated Idiots and Uneducated Wise Ones

  1. Some sad stuff here, but the theme is easy to agree with.
    Look at all the highly educated individuals leading the world’s governments and organizations, yet they are literally destroying our civilization.
    Education is useful if put to good use. Intelligence isn’t always accompanied by commonsense or humanitarian values.

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    At the time I thought it was sad, too, but not so much now.

    Rufus had lived a very long and full life, and it ended swiftly with little suffering.

    I’ve seen the alternative of folks spending years in agony waiting for an end. I’d rather have the “swift, sure, and very late in life”…

    How many folks can live active into their ’90s and be wanted and loved by the whole town?

    As per some of the “educated Idiots running things”… Now THAT IS Sad…

  3. Thanks for this post.

    My father completed the third reader, in about 1915, but had a lot of street smarts.

    I am a high school drop-out who accidently entered college in 1956 and had a first-class scholar, Dr. P. K. Kuroda, as my research advisor in graduate school.

    Supposedly better educated “scientists” opposed almost every one of these tentative conclusions over the past 50 years:

    1. Science vs. Propaganda

    2. Origin of the Solar System (1975)

    3. The Iron Sun (1983)

    4. Neutron Repulsion

    5. Global Warming Scam (2011)

    In hindsight, the best indicator that a conclusion has some validity was the attempts by “well-educated scientists” to hide, avoid, misrepresent or manipulate experimental data over the past half century.

    My conclusions are summarized in “The Bilderberg Sun, Climategate and Economic Crisis”

    Click to access 20110722_Climategate_Roots.pdf

    Thanks to the kindness of Fate, I am pleased to report that

    Today all is well,
    Oliver K. Manuel

  4. boballab says:


    My Grandfather was kinda like your Rufus.

    He was born on a farm (literally) around Dover Delaware. Grew up on it and learned everything there was to farming, but since he wasn’t the eldest didn’t inherit the farm. Moved to South East Pennsylvania as a young newly wed and got a small farm. Couple years down the road when the Model T was in fashion he taught himself how to fix cars. So besides farming he was the only “mechanic” within 30 miles and opened a small garage (This area of PA has a lot of very old money, I’m talking about going back to England Fox hunting old money). He missed WWI and was too old for WWII. After WWII in the 50’s he sold the farm and opened a taxi service and a towing service to go with the Garage. By the 60’s he sold all that an opened a Mushroom farm that operated in the family into the 1980’s. He died at the age of 94 with a “workroom” full of mowers he was refurbishing, antiques he was restoring and other handyman work. The thing was he never got past the 6th grade, but was the smartest man that I knew. He could fix anything mechanical: Take it apart, figure out how it is suppose to work, fix what was broke and put it back together.

  5. Gary Turner says:

    I forget where I first heard it, but ….

    There are those whose education has exceeded their ability to comprehend.



  6. R. Shearer says:

    I think we are seeing a shift back to the realization that not everyone needs or should have or can afford to have college degee. It is sad, but there are Ph.D.s working as baggage handlers. Times change but some things repeat.

    My dad graduated from high school in ’42. His sister graduated from high school at 16 in the late 30’s and college in the early 40’s. She became a teacher and eventually a principal at several schools.
    After high school graduation my dad promptly “travelled” the Pacific. He had the intelligence to become anything but after the war married my mom, started a family and became a mail man. War has a way of “holding” us back.

    I have a PhD in chemistry, I have a sister with a MS in nursing and another sister who graduated from college.

  7. Joanie in Carlsbad says:

    My grandfather and his brothers were all capable mechanics, woodworkers, builders, tinkerers. Their self reliant lifestyle and their ambitions led them in many different directions, but all did well. My grandfather didn’t go to college but ended up in the second highest position in charge of the streets and freeways of Los Angeles, and when he retired the mayor came to his party. (His father had driven a Model A type asphalt truck building those same streets) Together, the brothers built houses in Palm Springs for homesteading the acreage, on weekends and holidays. They were smart, they were capable… but educated? Not so much.
    When he retired, he built me a doll house that I still treasure, almost forty years later. Every window sash is beveled and the glass actually set in, the bannister is turned oak, the fixtures and brass beds hand crafted, nothing bought, nothing from a kit, no purchased plans…. just his thick, strong fingers working nimbly with the tools that he loved, tools that were passed down from his grandfather, and skills that spoke of years of practice and patience.

  8. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Those of us that “can”, learn. Those that “can’t”, must be taught. Collage is a good place to learn what is written in a book, taught by someone that learned from a book, written by someone that learned from a book. Collage educated people often believe that they have learned all the answers, even if the answers, that they know, are the wrong ones.

    Our present leaders went to collage and learned all about the Great Depression as written in collage books written and taught by collage professors on how FDR saved the world. So they Know how to fix things. Just one problem, no one actually studied the period and the cause and effect of those efforts. FDRs own people said that after 8 years of effort, nothing that they did, worked. Only when, after the war, government control over everything was lifted did things really improve. As long as our leaders believe in greater control to fix things, there can be no improvement and things will deteriorate. Bureaucrats always strangle the civilization that they manage. pg

  9. S.D. Green says:

    This is something close to my heart, although I feel like the Educated Idiot. My father never graduated 10th grade, but he’s well read, he and and some of his slightly more educated friends built our house, he does beautiful carpentry, has restored old vehicles, rebuilds engines…I’m very impressed by him and wish I could do what he does.

    Being his daughter definitely taught me that smarts have nothing to do with how many letters there are behind one’s name.

  10. Doyle says:

    I’m entering a University this fall…in 10 days, in fact. In my advising session, I indicated to the advisor that I was taking the undergraduate courses with the intent to go as high as my intellect would allow, so obviously a PhD was my ultimate goal (brains permitting). I was a bit taken aback when she said that ANYONE can get a PhD in Physics, it is all about the desire to work for it.

    Confused, now, I am.

  11. Verity Jones says:

    It was her job to tell you that ;-) Technically, perhaps yes, with a good supervisor, however it is not for everyone in the sense that some will delight in it while others will just get through it then move on.

    I’ve lots more to say on this issue, but having gone through the education process, the inevitable consequence is that I now have to rush off to work ;-(

  12. Pascvaks says:

    I have, more and more, had the feeling that birds of a feather blog together. We seem to have many things in common, even the kind of grandparents, local Mr. Fix-It, college counselor, etc. I guess it has something to do with human chemistry or physics, likes attract likes. Up to a point.

    Opening this page, looking at the title, I thought: “Educated Idiots”.. yhep, know a lot of them, “and Uneducated Wise Ones”.. hummmm, uneducated wise idiots?? I wasn’t sure I’d met enough of them. to comment Anyway, I do have a dislexic something too, guess there’s some old Hebrew genes in my eyes. If I go off on a wierd bend in the road where there is NO bend in the road maybe you’ll be kind and understand.

    I once made a comment on WUWT to an article about Einstein that even got a chuckle from a certain Stanford physics professor. There was an old pic of Dr. E with some other brains of the day, he looked like he’d just been or was going fishing. I said something like, “Einstein always reminded me of my Grandfather…” Anyway, one of the points I guess I was trying to make was that both were frumpled old guys with a lot of smarts, and I thought my grandfather was equal in all the important ways to the Great One. I have a feeling, if you saw that pic, most of you would say the same. Is this a generational thing? Would our kids and grandkids ever make a similar comparison? To “demote” a highly educated genius to our level, or “promote” us the the exhalted level? You think maybe the length of the generational yardsticks are a might different?

    When a young person is told that a BA or MS or PhD doesn’t matter, what do they hear us really saying? Do they only think in terms of the size of, and seal on, the sheepskin? Wish more kids would comment.

  13. dearieme says:

    Have ‘multiple guess quizzes’ done more damage to the USA than, oh, LBJ & Nixon, FDR & Wilson, W & O, Greenspan and Bernanke, …….?

  14. Paul, Somerset says:

    I’ve never been entirely happy with this idea of dismissing the virtues of formal education in favour of practical skills. In my experience it’s used too often as an excuse for academic failure by people who then go on to find practical achievements equally elusive.

    I think part of the problem is that education these days has become confused with training for work. My experience is that the best way of learning to do a job is by actually doing the job. Only that way do you encounter the challenges, problems and solutions associated with your work.

    The purpose of education, on the other hand, should be to give you enough background knowledge to approach whatever life throws at you with some degree of confidence. If something puzzles you, then a good education should mean you never feel entirely lost.

    To that end, I’d say the most practical subjects I studied at school were not only maths, for obvious reasons, but also Latin and Ancient Greek. Studying the classics not only trains you to think clearly, but gives you such a general “feel” for all European-based languages that nothing, even the most specialized scientific text, is ever entirely incomprehensible. There’s always a familiarity in the words that encourages you to persevere.

  15. Richard Ilfeld says:

    @dearieme yes they have.
    I taught for a decade at the college level (before I knew any better). I found the best way to run a test was to have each student write three essay questions and provide the half dozen points the a proper answer would cover.
    The test was 6-12 randomly selected questions. The kids who wanted to learn thought I was daft – they simply got together, shared each others questions and answers, and aced the test, knowing I would (unrandomly) toss out any questions from the sluggards. Easy Ace.
    I never found a better way to get those who were at all motivated to study, and there was peer pressure to bring the middle of the roaders into the group.
    The only difficulty I had was convincing the dept chair that my inverse Gaussian grade patterns wer, in fact, reflective of reality.

  16. Pascvaks says:

    The short answer I think is yes, but I’m only guessing; who-what’s W&O?

    I’ve thought about this for many years, off and on, and I do admit that I never lost any sleep over it either. In ancient times (and even today) we had Bachelors, Masters, and Doctors. Now I know it doesn’t rally matter much to anyone but it does seem time to reinvent the wheel, if only to complicate and kick the education system a little more than it already is and make it seem that we’re getting our money’s worth out of our personal saving in inflated dollars and the public’s shrinking Federal pork barrel. This invention might also be of some small help to the education system itself such that as numbers dwindle the few students/graduates that remain can be coaxed to pay more to make up for the loss in size of the student body. It should be rather simple for an Ivy League MBA Team (or a Hav’erd MBA on his own) to devise a new system with many more levels which actually attempts to qualify how smart, experienced, and valuable someone really is without having to include the name of the institution where the degree was obtained or their business title and address. Maybe I’m dreaming. Maybe it can’t be done. I guess it really is all academic.

  17. adolfogiurfa says:

    We usually imagine that KNOWLEDGE it is not material, that it doesn´t obey the laws which govern the universe, but it is not: As we are part of the universe, knowledge must be MATERIAL also and thus it must obey the same physical laws. Then, the higher the energy, the higher the frequency, the higher the knowledge. It corresponds directly to frequency. Anyone of us can have, say a “description” of the laws, a “tale” of them, but it does not mean we have the real experience of such. We can not “tune” an HF radio emmision with a LF radio receiver. That is the difference.
    We can not “make gold without having gold”. But, how then can we increase our ability to “tune” such higher frequencies?…
    So the difference between “Mr. Fixit” and the Ph.D. professor is clear: One has just a “description” of the laws, most of the time wrong, the other carries them in his blood…
    How can I increase my capacity of knowledge: Easy!…but hard to do: We should increase our energy level….but first we must know how we lose it (well, here it comes morality et al., the economy of energy it is not flat, good or evil, it is a vertical ladder:Example: You can not become a piano player by just imagine you play piano, you have to practice it perhaps more than 12 hours a day. To climb up a ladder the first thing you have to do is to stand up from your sofa or your dreaming bed.

  18. dearieme says:

    “what’s W&O”: I had in mind George W Bush and the International Man of Mystery, B H Obama.

  19. Pascvaks says:

    I feel like the dumbest guy in town. It makes perfect sense, but for the life of meI just couldn’t see it. If it had bee two rattle snakes I’d be dead by now. I feel like Chuck Norris with egg on my face.

    NOTE: The ref to the one and only “Chuck” comes from a great post at WUWT today. Check it out if you haven’t seen it. I also put a comment over there that further explains the problem of “AGE” ;-)

  20. Tom Zachary says:

    My Dad always told me, “Son, don’t let your schoolin’ interfere with your education!”

    Semper fi!

  21. larrygeiger says:

    Hi Doyle: For such a young guy, it that’s what you are, you have found a place to receive some wisdom. That, in itself, regardless of what you decide to do with your education, is a good sign. Listen to the Chief and pay attention Grasshopper.

    Vance Nerron Geiger was one of the quickest and brightest men I have ever known. He was my dad’s father. He could skin a cow, tan the hide, and make a pair of shoes. He ran the shoe shop at the Florida State Peniteniary during the depression when the “prison farm” shod and fed the prisoners through their own labor. He was a welder and worked in the shipyards in Jacksonville. He always had a boat with a “kicker” (outboard engine) and it always worked. He would sometimes fiddle with it, but it always got him there and back on time. Can’t say that he caught that many fish, but I’m not sure that was always his goal :-) Everything around him worked. Cars, refridgerators (he had one for almost 40 years), mowers, boats, tractors, and belt powered tools. He completed the eighth grade. He could swim like a fish and I have seen him recover dropped lures in 12ft of water in the St. Johns. In the muck. Yuck.

    Francis Bradley Geiger started college several times but never finished. He was my dad. He could do anything electrical/electronic. He wired houses and installed the video switcher in the LCC at KSC that recorded all of the video for the Apollo launches. He cabled golf courses at Disney World and installed a video switcher there. He tested semiconductor chips at Harris. He knew how to make a three-way switch work. He built radios and a “Hi-Fi” with tubes. He installed switchers in telephone exchanges and managed microwave relay stations. He managed the microwave relay to the tower on Mt. Pisgah for WLOS radio station in Asheville for a while. Why do I still have v = ir rattling around in my brain???? Thanks dad.

    I am my dad’s boy in a computer way. Both of my brothers have PhDs and are college professors. Me, I’m just worker bee programmer. I do have a Master’s in Computer Science and I know what a finite state automata is, but mostly I just write code, clean up code, find data, organize data, and straighten folks out when they wander off into a dead end that they can’t back out of. I have built hardware systems, networks, servers, virtual servers. Terminated Cat 5 cables, etc.

    It’s been a lot of fun. My boy is an Architect. If you think your PhD is tough, you should see what architects go through to get licensed. It goes on for years! And years! He builds schools in Puerto Rico, mobile launch towers and new windows for the LCC at KSC, lightning towers at Wallops, and stairways up the side of the oxygen and hydrogen spheres at Launch Pad B.

    My neighbor has an air conditioning business. He added a whole wing to his house. He does plumbing, electical, and concrete. He stuccoed the entire outside of his house and replaced all of the windows with hurricane windows. He tore up his kitchen and is completely rebuilding it. He spent two days in there with a jack hammer moving the plumbing and electrical. There is not much that he doesn’t fix on his own.


  22. j ferguson says:

    Not practical does not necessarily mean not useful.

    During a period in which I was responsible for the design of “stylish” office buildings, our First Guesser was a Harvard Graduate whose efforts did not always seem buildable on first exposure. On the other hand, he was able to concoct designs very quickly that clients liked and usually with less than half the information actually required to do a real project.

    Second guessers who were practical were always able to massage his designs into projects that did not involve attempts to fool Mother Nature.

  23. Verity Jones says:

    Can I muddy the waters a bit with ‘self-aware’ educated idiots?

    “…(something indistinct)… ”
    “I thought you were supposed to be intelligent – you have a PhD don’t you?”
    “Yes – but I never said I had any common sense”

  24. H.R. says:

    Dang-it! I just spent 30+ minutes entering the first of three tales and hit a wrong something; POOF! All gone. Double-dang-it!!!

    I had cataract surgery Wednesday and my eyes are worn out for now. I’ll have to do it all again later.

    I’ve really been enjoying the stories and additional insights. Excellent stuff!

    Thanks for getting started, E.M. (and George)

  25. kuhnkat says:


    thanks for taking the W&O bullet for the rest of us. My first guess was a railroad.

    Well not really, but I had no idea either.

  26. kuhnkat says:


    like the rest of us, you need to compose in a local editor and copy and paste to the Blog. Don’t know how many hours I have wasted over the years with strange glitches that ate long posts!!

  27. George says:

    Pop taught me that if you do good work at a fair price, people tell others and they will seek you out and you will never be hurting for work. If you are run over with work, more than you can do in a day most of the time, then you aren’t charging enough money. I think those are pretty good words of advice for anyone with a small business engaged in a trade of any sort.

    PopPop taught me that you can’t keep taking from anything. Not from the soil, not from the forest, not from the sea, not from individuals, not from the community. Everything comes from something and you can’t take, take, take without also ensuring that you are nurturing what you are taking from to ensure your supply is sustainable. He is sort of the exception to this tread though because he was college educated. As far as I know, he was the only farmer in the county with a college degree in agriculture. He was too young for WWI and in WWII the Farm Bureau gave him a job helping to raise food production in the area. He was declared to be in service to the country and was exempted from the draft. But he never flouted his degree and probably the only people that knew he had one were the government and his family. He was all about keeping it simple. He was a firm believer in “if you take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves”. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually knew boballab’s grandad. His business operation ranged from SE PA all the way down to Cape Charles, VA and that part of the world was a lot smaller then than it is now.

    Heck, I might have even shoveled horse manure into a pile that went to his mushroom farm, it all went to some mushroom farm in PA, but there’s a lot of them. Would be a fun coincidence, though.

    My dad and my uncle are the ones people could bring anything to and they would figure it out. My uncle’s place today (he’s in his 70’s now) looks about like that description of Rufus’ place. He has all sorts of things. Need “leathers” for a 1930’s German water pump? He probably has em down in the cellar someplace. If he can’t find what he needs to fix it, he can often make what he needs from scratch. The cellar is a plumber’s nightmare though. There are pipes and valves everywhere. Want hot water to the spigot out by the cedar tree? No problem, you just shut this valve off and turn that valve on and you have hot water to that spigot. He did graduate from high school, but just barely. He was too young for WWII and was exempted from the Viet Nam draft because of injuries from multiple accidents (he was a truck driver when he was young and had a few accidents). He and Pop once fixed a main bearing for an old Chrysler by cutting a piece of leather from Pop’s belt as a replacement when they were stranded on the side of US 40 in the 1950’s. It got them to the next town big enough to have a store where he could buy the right one. I have no doubt that there is nothing those two couldn’t figure out. If a human being built it, those two could figure it out.

    Here’s one my uncle figured out just by describing it to him: When Pop was sick with cancer, I moved back home to run the shop. A lady brought me a car. The problem was that sometimes when she pressed the brake it would go all the way to the floor and then if she pumped it again, it was fine. It didn’t always do it. It only did it when there was no traffic and she was driving down the highway and had to hit the brake for some reason but it didn’t always do it. They had changed the rear brake cylinders and the regulator and the master cylinder at another shop. They were telling her that it must be something in the front calipers as that was the only thing left that it could be. I couldn’t make the problem happen for me no matter how I drove it. Finally I called and told her I couldn’t do it but I asked her how fast she drove when it was happening. She said about 70. Speed limits were about 50 where I was driving. So I took it out on US 301 and drove about 70MPH for about 10 minutes and pushed the brake and it went right to the floor. Pumped it once and it was fine the rest of the way back to the shop. I explained it to my uncle over dinner that night and he told me exactly what the problem was and he was right.

  28. George says:

    Note, PopPop is a local term where I grew up for one’s grandfather.

  29. boballab says:


    That is the “local” term where I grew up too in Northern Delaware/SE Pa. Also if he was in the Ag business in the 50’s/60’s time frame then more then likely they met since my grandfather was one of the “leading lights” of the community.

  30. George says:

    Well, I know he did business around the Kennett Square area. If they didn’t meet, they might have been at least aware of each other.

    And the problem on that car was a pinhole exhaust leak in the exhaust pipe where it passed under the brake line going to the right rear wheel. At high speed, enough exhaust would leak to heat the like, boil the fluid and cause a bubble. This would cause the break pedal to go to the floor but would move the bubble to a cooler area of the line where it would condense. In traffic when you had to use the break more, the fluid would often be moved around and wouldn’t get hot enough to boil. When I explained the problem to him, he simply said “exhaust leak” and went back to his mashed potatoes. I checked, sure enough … that was the problem.

  31. George says:

    Heat the like should be heat the line.

  32. boballab says:


    He started out with a farm just outside Unionville PA and where he started his garage. After WWII he sold the farm and moved the Garage to Kennett Square and started the Taxi and towing side of the business. Later on he had the Mushroom Farm in Unionville Pa.

  33. Pascvaks says:

    Ref. my last, I see I mentioned but did not ID or give the link for the “Friday Funny” at WUWT, soooo soddy, it’s a great one! –

  34. Verity Jones says:

    @George & boballab
    I love the fact you’ve found a possible connection – it is such a small world isn’t it!

  35. H.R. says:

    @kuhnkat: yeah, I know. I was on the netbook instead of the notebook and it’s way too easy to hit a wrong something. Fat fingers, bad eyes, small keypad… it’s got disaster written all over it :o)

    1st Tale = My Idiot Educated Oldest Brother

    Bright fellow. Skipped 2nd grade and could have skipped a few more. They ran out of math to teach him so his teachers talked the Uneversity into letting him take classes in the summer when he was 15 & 16 years old. Could have graduated high school at 15 but my folks kept him in ’til just after his 16th b-day for social reasons. Got offered a full ticket to Yale to study math. Turned it down for a partial scholarship for playing French horn at a small private college. Any knowledge written or taught at any level in just about any field; he can absorb it. Amazing eye-hand coordination and skills.

    So, bright fellow – math, music (any instrumant), art, languages. Not one lick of common sense. He banged around odd jobs – driving instructor, executive assistant for a car restorer, night auditor at hotels (before computers) where his arithmetic skills would allow him to finish the the billing and books in 1/4th the time as anyone else, so then he’d read or go to the kitcken to learn cooking from the chefs, sign painter – and he finally wound up with the U.S. postal service where he would route letters through the sorters.

    Again, not ONE lick of common sense. Don’t ever ask him to fix anything, make a financial decision or plan (okay – just do the exact opposite, though), or do anything of a practical nature. Projects never get done as they wander off into ever more esoteric improvements until they are useless for their original purpose. For all things practical in day-to-day living, he’s an idiot.

    DO ask him to play at your wedding, tot up your books, teach you to fish for carp, cook up a new dish (but he’d close a restaurant in a week if he started one), or make something nice for your walls.

    If he’d been a caveman, he would have been the guy to figure out the exact spot to spear a mammoth so it would fall with one poke – then he’d probably go walk up to one in bright daylight in the middle of a heard to show you – squish! – totally missing the practical considerations of how to get close enough without detection so you can throw the spear.

    /Tale one

  36. H.R. says:

    BTW, forgot to mention one of my brother’s best traits. He never pontificates and never mentions his education or ‘smarts’. The old expression is that he “doesn’t put on airs.” He’s an excellent listener and almost everyone he meets is instantly at ease with him. He is a well-liked and likeable fellow and I love him a bunch. Just please don’t ask him to fix anything :o)

  37. Jason Calley says:

    Uneducated wise ones? My dad, raised in back woods Ozarks, could make or fix almost anything. Modified his plow so that he could ride on it and not walk behind. Let the mules do the work. He died young when I was just a child, but for some reason, I always remember a lamp that he made out of an old telephone. He added an upward extension with the bulb and shade and wired it into the phone hook so that you turned it on and off by moving the earpiece from the hook. I remember he made a wooden framed, gas powered, go-cart back in the 1950’s and got it up to about 60 mph. When the first Sputnik went up, he explained gravitation to me. Bright guy, not afraid to attempt things.

    As for the educated idiots, this is a second hand story but the teller (a friend and retired flight instructer for both fixed wing and helicopter) swears it happened to him at a small airport in Florida. A local recreational pilot had just landed after a brief flight and called my friend over to take a look at his plane. “It felt funny while I was flying, it didn’t handle right.” Friend and pilot check the plane over and find that one of the horizontal stabilizers is missing a bracing strut that runs from the fusilage diagonally upward to the stabilizer. Pilot says, “Ha! We’ve found the problem! The missing strut must be causing asymetric airflow over the stabilizers. If I remove the strut on the OTHER stabilizer, the plane will fly right.” Friend says “No! No! NO! Those struts are there for a reason, the stabilizer NEEDS those struts for support!” Pilot says, “You don’t know what you are talking about. I have a DEGREE IN ENGINEERING and know what I am doing!” Pilot removes strut, takes off, manages to clear runway before stabilizers fold up and plane does nose dive into the ground, result, one dead pilot.

    I asked him three different ways, and my friend swears this is true.

  38. Jeff Alberts says:


    Note, PopPop is a local term where I grew up for one’s grandfather.

    Hehe, I grew up in Northern VA, and never heard the term “PopPop” until I met my now wife in the mid 90s. She was born in PA and grew up there and in NJ, and all the grandkids say “PopPop” or “PeePaw”. Sounded so bizarre to me.

  39. commieBob says:

    I’ve been reading a book on the brain called “The Master and his Emissary”. There may be a reason why people can become educated-stupid. At risk of gross over-simplification, here it is:

    The two halves of the brain have different purposes. The left half evolved to focus on specific things and tasks; grasping and manipulating objects, for instance. The right half evolved to pay general attention to our sensory organs and thereby the environment in general. The right brain is responsible for warning us about an approaching predator while our left brain is busy concentrating on something else.

    In our case, the left brain deals with specific things, like calculating an exact sum, and the right brain supplies context. The right brain often/usually sees the general solution for a problem and the left brain crunches the details.

    The functions of the halves of the brain show up clearly when there is brain damage. People with right brain damage will believe anything as long as it is self-consistent. They lose the right brain’s ability to compare the reality of an assertion with their own lived experience. In other words, the right brain is the mind’s B.S. filter. The left brain is happy to process data out of context and the right brain is not.

    People with right brain damage often think they can do anything and are often disappointed and confused when their performance does not live up to their expectations.

    Our education system generally trains our left brains at the expense of the right brains. We are trained to process de-contextualized data with our left brains and our right brains don’t get much of a workout at all.

    The result is well educated people who make really stupid, elementary errors in judgment (like believing in CAGW). They literally are not in their right minds.

  40. George says:

    PopPop is pretty much Delmarva up into Southeastern PA. I have heard PaPaw and PaPop in the hill country of Virginia and West Virginia. That was explained to me thusly: Generally in those parts large extended family live either in the same house or at least on the same property. So it won’t be unusual for the “old folks” to be living with one of their kids’ family. Dad is usually called Pop or Pa (pronounced Paw). When your grandchild is born, you are no longer Dad, you are Pappy, PaPaw, or PaPop in order to reduce confusion for the little ones. Grandma is MaMaw. So hearing MaMaw and PaPaw up in the hills is pretty common. The first “a” is as the “a” in Pappy or Mammy.

    There are a lot of fading dialects in that part of the world. Delmarva had two distinct dialects. The “waterman” dialect from about Tilghman Island, MD through Smith Island down to Tangier Island, Virginia and farther South spoken mainly on the offshore islands in Chesapeake Bay but also in some of the smaller coastal harbors such as Rock Hall, MD. Quite a different dialect is spoken inland but is also unique to the area. If I were to talk to an old timer native to Salisbury, MD or Milford DE., they would have the local dialect I grew up with. That is fading now. Southeastern PA has its own regional twang and I hear most when people say such words as “night” which sounds to me like “noight”. It used to be that you could hear someone talk and tell of they were from the “upper shore”, “lower shore”, “tidewater”, or “Western shore” just by hearing them speak a sentence of two. That isn’t so anymore and honestly, I believe that is a shame.

  41. George says:

    Here is an example of someone doing a pretty good “western shore” accent:

    “Natty Bo”, by the way, is National Bohemian which was the house beer for the Baltimore Orioles for many years.

    The old time “waterman” accent is in this one but its hard to hear from all the background noise. But when I hear this particular accent, I get a little homesick. Listen to the guy to the guy near the end talking about his coffe maker.

    Which is *extremely* close to the North Carolina outer banks accent:

    This is supposedly pretty close to the accent that was believed to have been spoken by the original settlers of the area in the late 1600’s. You can tell the difference between the waterman accent of North Carolina with the inland North Carolina accent. The outer banks accent sounds pretty much like the coastal Delmarva accent.

  42. George says:

    By the way, the guy in the second video is talking about a house (sounds like “hice”) that burned down and the investigators believe it was caused by either the toaster or the coffee maker. I think it was his parent’s place or his parents lived there with him but the video is too short to get all the context.

  43. George says:

    Ok, it was his parents house. I got that on the second listening.

  44. George says:

    Hehe, I grew up in Northern VA, and never heard the term “PopPop”

    But you would have heard it just across the river in Maryland, say Prince George’s county or even going South down into St. Mary’s. Many of the regional dialects were formed by natural barriers that limited travel until fairly recently in our history. If you had to take a ferry to get across a river or travel 50 miles out of your way to use a bridge, it would limit the number of folks that communicated back and forth. That is why the Maryland side of the lower Potomac has a completely different accent from the Virginia side. Virginia “tidewater” on the “Western Shore” is different from Virginia “tidewater” on the “Eastern Shore” even on the Chesapeake Bay. There was a time when you could give me a few minutes in conversation with someone and I could pretty much pick out the region of the area where they grew up and people 20 miles from each other might have completely different accents. Someone from Rock Hall, for example, would sound completely different from someone in Chestertown or Crumpton or Millington but the ones from the latter three would have pretty much the same accent. But someone from South of Dover would have words they used that would tip you off that they were from the “lower shore”. Milford, Seaford, and Salisbury would sound pretty close. When you got South of Crisfield it would start to change again a little.

    I am sorry, I have run this thing WAY off topic with this dialect crap, just that thinking of these old timers and mention of certain places I haven’t thought about in a long time brought back memories and made me a little homesick.

  45. pyromancer76 says:

    I have a Ph.D., was founder and dean of an undergraduate program, have a second degree, too, and my brother is has a professional doctorate. Both our mother and father have high school educations. My father would complain about educated idiots; however, it would never occur to my brother or myself to think of our education as anything other than specialization in one area of expertise. These accomplishments did not make us any better than those who knew stuff in their own areas, whether construction, farming, accounting, or whatever. Both parents were excellent in their fields; my father was called in to correct the chemistry in big manufacturing runs when the Ph.D.s did not know what was up or down. To me this attitude of the intelligence of the average American — and therefore our committment to equality of opportunity — is particularly, especially American. The elites (the bureaucratic/academic robber barons of the end of the 20 C and beginning of the 21st are toast. It will be a fight, but we all know them as uneducated pretenders offering nothing productive and using up American resources. They will only last for a while longer n a few states (like my own, CA, unfortunately), but the money is gone. Time for them to get educated!

  46. H.R. says:

    A tale of one Grandfather

    Lest we forget, a little more than 100 years ago, education was not always a given and all that was expected of children was enough schooling to read, write, and cipher. Even that was optional depending on the needs of a family or the interest of the particular child. Only a small percentage of students went to high school and very few went to college.

    My grandfather on my mother’s side was brought to America (Texas) from Bohemia when he was 4 years old. The family worked as farm labor and the idea was, over time, to save enough to get a small farm. My grandfather only had time enough to complete second grade – you showed up when you were allowed a break from farm work and went to the next grade when you completed the work for that grade. I’m not certain, but I believe my grandfather finished second grade at 9-10 years of age. That was enough because by second grade you could read write, and cipher. Farm work was most important because what needed to be done had to be done when it had to be done and all for the survival of self and the family.

    My grandfather served in WWI in the trenches and was lucky to survive it. He came home to Texas, married and became a sharecropper. He never got his own farm (a couple of his older brothers did get their own farms) as sharecropping in South Texas is not exactly a guaranteed path to riches. He gave up farming when WWII came along to work in the shipyards at Houston (welder or riveter – I’m not sure). After the war, he stayed in Houston and worked at a dairy until he retired.

    He was retired by the time I had my first memories of him. I didn’t know he only had a second grade education until I was much older and was surprised to find that out. He knew so much about plants, weather, agricultural economics and politics. He was always reading when he wasn’t working. I remember that he took two papers, a couple of news magazines (back when they really were news magazines) and he didn’t buy books, but he always had one or two out at a time from the library that he would be reading. He took care of educating himself.

    He didn’t call in plumbers, carpenters, or mechnics. He took care of things himself. He taught himself to weave cast nets as a retirement hobby/extra income activity. He ate well in retirement as he always had the best, most bountiful garden in town (fact – not wispy wishful-colored memories). People driving by would actually stop now and then just to take a look at it. He had a practical knowledge of home remedies that worked and he was smart enough to know the limits of those remedies and to see a doctor when it was called for.

    He was quite an intelligent man, had yards of common sense, yet he only had a second grade education.

  47. j ferguson says:

    Father in law, now departed won a scholarship to MIT in 1928 (+/-) from Thomas Edison. He had placed first in a New Jersey science fair and he was one of four to receive these scholarships plus an Edison floor model radio which still works and has a little bronze plaque that indicated it was a gift from Thomas Edison to Gordon Burns.

    Gordon got to 4th year at MIT in 1933. He got a summer job with the Bell System and then continued to work and wound up with an MS and a full-time job there in 1934.

    He spent his entire career in the Bell System winding up in Holmdel, NJ.

    He attended a meeting at Teletype in late 50s where it was decided that their expertise and future did not lie principally in communication, but in small electro-mechanical functions. he confessed that he thought they were right – at the time.

    Later he was on AIEE committee RS-232C. We think he led the team that developed the Bell Dataset – the one with a dial and a handset on it.

    Go ahead. Date yourself and admit you know what I’m describing.

    He kept in contact with friends that he made at MIT, some of whom I met twenty years ago. They were a conspicuously bright gang.

    Late in their lives, we had dinner with one. He told us what Gordon had been like at school. He was never the quickest with anything but he ALWAYS prevailed.

    He had seemed plodding to us in technical conversations and would never discount any possibility before it had been clearly demonstrated irrelevant.

    Anyone reading this who would like an example of this sort of approach to analysis might read Adam Smith’s “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” Smith is relentless, no stone is un-turned, it’s all there and you would have to be off the chart to come up with anything in the subject area that he hadn’t considered in EXCRUTIATING detail – another Scot.

    Gordon worked like that. He spent his last years at home designing a fusion “reactor.” He had an Appple II, and a fortran compiler and he ran particle “cluster” trajectories in a theoretical racetrack accelerator he’d devised. The runs took 3 days. He did not program instinctively and his code lacked filters for trivial errors such that a 3 day run could produce nonsense results yet still take 3 days. He iterated this for maybe 8 years. John Wheeler (Black Hole) lived in same community and suggested that Gordon’s path might not lead anywhere. Gordon had to find out for himself.

    He told me it was a blind alley when he was 92. He wrote up what he’d tried and what hadn’t worked, and was a bit miffed that no-one was interested.

    This was a guy who complained during a visit that the furnace seemed to lack its old oomph. We went down to look at the filters – which on inspection looked like a candidate for paleo-chronology. He’d had no idea that furnaces had filters. They had never been changed.

    (BTW, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, be ready for what happens when you fire up the system with the new filters. The sudden increase in velocity in the ducts blows an astonishing amount of dust into the house. We had to get professionals to collect it.)

    He was also the devisor of a plan to get rid of the wet leaves at “camp.” They would load them into a canoe, paddle out to the middle of Newfound lake, rotate the canoe and the leaves would sink into the lake. It worked but the canoe went down with the leaves. fortunately they’d picked a spot where the depth was only 40 feet and some brave soul was able to dive the canoe and get a line on it.

    There are countless other similar stories. With Gordon it was always get the theory under control first, then go look at the reality.

    And E.M., He was the guy who invested in Thorium Power while it was still closely held. We’ve sure got a bunch of LTBR, now.

  48. j ferguson says:

    E.M. if you get a chance could you add another line to above.

    “How I miss this guy.”

  49. Wayne Job says:

    In the sixties, seventies and eighties in Australia I took great delight in the knowledge that all our best and successful business leaders had no real formal education. They were just intelligent with common sense.

  50. Wayne Job says:

    If one needs a sense of reality in education one only needs to read the letters of the farm boys writing home to family in the American civil war. Their grasp of the English language and common sense makes todays youth look stupid.

    Much needs to be done in the education system.

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