What Donald Trump and Albert Einstein Can Teach Us

Albert Einstein was, among his many roles, a philosopher. His book of opinions is freighted with ideas about learning, education, and life. I have just finished my next book, whose working title was Teaching with Questions. Heinemann will bring this book out in the spring of 2010. I spent the last two years writing the 180 pages that are sitting here in front of me with my editor's notes all over it.

I thought often of Einstein's "thought problems" and his use of (and comments about) questions as I worked. Neil Postman said once that kids enter school as question marks and graduate as periods. This does not need to be true; it is certainly not true in my classes. I wanted to share a few quotations from Einstein that I have had in mind lately in today's blog:

Love is a better teacher than duty.
–Albert Einstein

If I were given a problem and one hour to solve it, I should spend the first fifty-five minutes asking questions and the last five minutes using those questions to solve it.
–Albert Einstein

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard
old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks
real advance in science.

–Albert Einstein

Information is not knowledge.
–Albert Einstein

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.
–Albert Einstein

The only source of knowledge is experience.
–Albert Einstein

There is, of course, a point to all these quotations: we must read widely, feeding our own and our students' curiosity. We speak fondly and often about the idea of "life-long learning" and pay lip service to always learning something new, but like so many diets we often fail in the execution of these ideals. Talk to Bill Gates, any original artist, writer, or musician, or anyone respected in a field and you will find someone who is, at their core, curious.

Donald Trump, not someone I am used to quoting, said in an interview a few years back two things that stayed with me:

  • I ask the questions no one else is willing to ask because they want to pretend and give the impression they know everything. Because I am willing to ask questions, even obvious questions, I get the information others do not.
  • I get up at 5 a.m. and read the newspapers for two hours. No one needs more than five hours of sleep. When I arrive at the office a few hours later, I know more than most other people at the table.

Think about Donald Trump and Einstein–surely two people rarely linked to each other–as you plan your next class and choose your next book. I'm reading Darwin's On the Origin of the Species, John Updike's Rabbit novels, and Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. They are related in some interesting ways I have yet to discover but will, and it will enrich my teaching.

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