"Why do we have to learn all of this dumb stuff?"
Of all the complaints and questions I have heard from
my students during my years in the classroom, this was the
one most frequently uttered. I would answer it by recounting
the following legend.
One night a group of nomads were preparing to retire
for the evening when suddenly they were surrounded by a
great light. They knew they were in the presence of a
celestial being. With great anticipation, they awaited a
heavenly message of great importance that they knew must be
especially for them.
Finally, the voice spoke, "Gather as many pebbles as
you can. Put them in your saddle bags. Travel a day's
journey and tomorrow night will find you glad and it will
find you sad."
After having departed, the nomads shared their
disappointment and anger with each other. They had expected
the revelation of a great universal truth that would enable
them to create wealth, health and purpose for the world. But
instead they were given a menial task that made no sense to
them at all. However, the memory of the brilliance of their
visitor caused each one to pick up a few pebbles and deposit
them in their saddle bags while voicing their displeasure.
They traveled a day's journey and that night while
making camp, they reached into their saddle bags and
discovered every pebble they had gathered had become a
diamond. They were glad they had diamonds. They were sad
they had not gathered more pebbles.
It was an experience I had with a student, I shall call
Alan, early in my teaching career that illustrated the truth
of that legend to me.
When Alan was in the eighth grade, he majored in
"trouble" with a minor in "suspensions." He had studied how
to be a bully and was getting his master's in "thievery."
Every day I had my students memorize a quotation from a
great thinker. As I called roll, I would begin a quotation.
To be counted present, the student would be expected to
finish the thought.
"Alice Adams - 'There is no failure except ...'"
"'In no longer trying.' I'm present, Mr. Schlatter."
So, by the end of the year, my young charges would have
memorized 150 great thoughts.
"Think you can, think you can't - either way you're
"If you can see the obstacles, you've taken your eyes
off the goal."
"A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything
and the value of nothing."
And, of course, Napoleon Hill's "If you can conceive
it, and believe it, you can achieve it."
No one complained about this daily routine more than
Alan - right up to the day he was expelled and I lost touch
with him for five years. Then one day, he called. He was in
a special program at one of the neighboring colleges and had
just finished parole.
He told me that after being sent to juvenile hall and
finally being shipped off to the California Youth Authority
for his antics, he had become so disgusted with himself that
he had taken a razor blade and cut his wrists.
He said, "You know what, Mr. Schlatter, as I lay there
with my life running out of my body, I suddenly remembered
that dumb quote you made me write 20 times one day. 'There
is no failure except in no longer trying.' Then it suddenly
made sense to me. As long as I was alive, I wasn't a
failure, but if I allowed myself to die, I would most
certainly die a failure. So with my remaining strength, I
called for help and started a new life."
At the time he had heard the quotation, it was a
pebble. When he needed guidance in a moment of crisis, it
had become a diamond. And so it is to you I say, gather all
the pebbles you can, and you can count on a future filled