Natural Learning: The Role of Telepathy

In Your Bones

I’ve been writing in a number of posts on this website about the Mess-Around Theory of how to learn.  That’s the name I made up for a theory I invented,  and I’m laying odds it will pretty much work for anything you want to do or get good at or know. Since that’s the way little babies and other creatures learn anyway, I could have called it Natural Learning, but you probably wouldn’t have bothered reading that. But ask yourself  How did I learn the billions and billions of things I know in my bones? Yes, in your bones.

                                                                Yes, In your bones

Yes, In your bones

Here’s the remarkable thing: When natural learning really gets rolling, it’s hard to separate it from what people call Telepathy, as you’ll see in the continuing story of Sandra Artrip and Rosie, the genius boxer,  out in Modesto:

Beyond Skin-Deep

Sandra told me lots of stories about telepathy – or whatever you’d like to call it — between the two of them. I’m telling you this, because we all do have this capacity, and we can turn it on whenever we want, whenever we’d like to  really get past the skin of anything in our lives.

I’ll pass on to you some ideas about how that might work and, more important – this is the good part – how we can “read the mind” of a piece of granite – or how we can let a theory of relativity tell us all about itself, or get into “Ode to Joy.” That would certainly come in handy in dispatching a challenging school subject like calculus or getting a good look at a Rembrandt, wouldn’t it?

While I was writing about Rosie,  I got an email from Sandra about a pan of carrots that almost boiled dry.

Sandra and Rosie

Why, who makes much of a miracle? — Whitman

I was in another room and couldn’t see Rosie.  All of a sudden I felt her tell me to come look for her.  She was waiting impatiently.  As soon as I put my eyes on her, she ran and took me right to the stove and started jumping up in the air. The water was almost gone in the pan. Somehow she knew, even though she’d been in another room – her hearing was bad – and there wasn’t a burned smell.

Even more remarkable, when it appeared that Rosie had indeed lost all her hearing, Sandra got an earache.

Four weeks ago, Rosie totally lost her hearing.  I thought it was because she was getting older.  About that time I started getting earaches myself, but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. But it started getting really bad.  I couldn’t touch the side of my face. I went back to the doctor, and she still couldn’t find anything.  That night I was using a heating pad on my ear and I noticed Rosie’s ears were way down on the side of her head, not a normal position.  Rubbing her ears I realized she had an earache.  First thing in the morning I ran her to the vet.  She had two seriously bad internal ear infections and a ruptured ear drum.  They flushed her ears and repaired her ear drum.  My earache disappeared.  Maybe we have this link because Rosie and I are closer than most people are to each other. I do know that when I’m sick, she responds as if she is sick also.

The Poem of Creation


     A matter of making connections

Getting into each other’s heads should not be surprising. But before I  connect Rosie and tips on schoolwork or brushing our teeth, let me back off a bit and give a fairly respectable “scientific” explanation about why we don’t get telepathic messages all the time. We’ve become comfortable, for example, with the idea that our living rooms are chock full of round-the-clock radio and television broadcasts – programs that can be picked up anywhere on the planet, even out in the solar system, if our receivers are tuned to the right frequency. Ah, but, as Thoreau observed, “few are the ears to hear.’

Recently a radio was created at the University of California that is 10 nanometers thick and several hundred nanometers long.  (A human hair is 50,000 to 100,000 nanometers thick.) It works by vibrating thousands to millions of times a second in tune with AM and FM signals.



Telepathy and the Way We Learn


Brains are transceivers that may be set vibrating to frequencies of kindred transceivers.


If there was a clear channel between Rosie and Sandra, as indeed there was, then of course they  got each other’s  messages.  Not getting them would be the strange thing.

These messages are not in English, of course. When Sandra speaks of  Rosie telling her things, she says “I felt she was telling me,” “I’d wake up feeling her talking to me.”

How to learn physics

These messages are in the language of nature, of which human language is a pale abstraction.


In fact, interspecies communication involves a different kind of packaging altogether, a way of looking out at the world as if you were the other entity.  A kind of letting go takes over.

Teaching a dog English is about as possible as teaching English to a rock.  The dog simply doesn’t have a receiver that can decode linguistic structures. [And, gee, what a surprise: If a teacher and a student aren’t tuned to the same frequency, guess how much communication can take place.]

Here’s the good part: Messages don’t have to be encoded and decoded in human language  patterns.  In fact, human languages are an infinitesimal speck in the scheme of things. And the job gets done all the same. Any English sentence comes encapsulated in a field of information that’s washes over  all entities – such as us humans –  within earshot (and beyond, not doubt). The “lesson” of any school class involves all that, not just the physical sound coming out of mouths.  The message for us all?  Aw, Marshall McLuhan, you were SO right.  The medium is indeed the message.


The Need to Let Go

When you think about how most humans spend their days – even though it’s as natural as can be to pick up transmissions – it may not be so strange, after all, that we miss out on the messages enveloping us.  How often do we let go of intention, lie down in the grass, and let the world speak to us?

Soul in grass

Soul lying down in grass

Ah, yes, telepathy is not so mysterious when we recognize that most of us don’t pay a lot of attention.  Our growing dependence over the past several centuries on the abstracted world of linguistic structures has estranged us from the world of our noses and hearts  and the intelligence they download.  Rosie and Sandra used them both.

And you can, too, reader.  So, how do I use ‘telepathy’ to learn, understand, know, anything?  I allow myself to fall into the medium –  in a physics class, in the new-car showroom, embarked on a new date.  I let it wash over my senses.  I let it massage my nervous system. (Thanks,  Marshall.) The doors of perception open.  But the message is never in the words. Words are merely the vehicle.  Whitman asked, Why, who makes much of a miracle? Good question.



An A student

Natural Learning on Purpose

The way to make use of our natural learning ability is to make sure the our senses and our nervous systems are ‘turned on’ and then to let nature do the rest.   Years ago, a first-grade teacher wrote on  my dear little daughter’s homework, “Try harder, Kathy.”  No, no, no! Try easy!  Your Self knows just what to do.  Let it.

The Heart – The Missing Factor in Most Classrooms

Learning by Heart

Mark Rothko

–Mark Rothko painting

How can you get so good at something that it seems like magic?  If you’ve ever watched a tech work on your computer, you’ve seem her zip through dozens of steps in seconds – without even seeming to have to think about it.  Well, the fact is, she doesn’t have to think about it, and thinking would actually slow her down.   How the hell do people  get so damned good at stuff like this?

Contrary to what lots of teachers commonly say, it’s not by working hard at it.

It’s because they fell in love.

If you want to get good at something, fall in love.  If you don’t love it to start with, fiddle around till you find a door to it’s heart. Then let your own heart connect with its heart.   When you do, you may find yourself spending hours with it, but just like when you’re in love,  you will not even notice.  And no hard work is involved.

My fossil in rock

To get to know plum blossoms,
Both one’s own nose
And one’s own heart.
                                                  — Basho

How it works.

Where did my older brother study French when he was in Europe in WWII?  In bed, of course. You can learn paleontology that way, too, or linguistics, or . . .  you name it. And the heart is the secret ingredient, not logic, not the mind, not sweaty thinking.

We learn with our hearts.

When you fall in love, all the conditions for absorbing the “other” are there.  You fall into the pulsing ruby heart of the matter and become one with it. It’s the same with everything you ever truly absorbed into your nervous system. You’ve been doing it all your life.  If you buy into this metaphor, you can let yourself fall in love on purpose with anything, anything at all, a school subject, a maple leaf, Jupiter, a fly speck.  Take a moment an let that sink in.

If you want to get good at anything, let yourself fall in love with it.

“Get” that principle of learning and you won’t have to worry about getting to know anything ever again. If I’m wrong, sue me.  If I’m right, pat yourself on the back – and send me a check.

To Learn Is to Love

Here’s a little love story about how a dog and a human I met, Rosie and Sandra,  learned/loved each other so thoroughly that their communication seemed like – as it may well have been – telepathy.  It’s a fairly detailed story but too long for one posting, so I’ll give you just some highlights here.  There’s a key in this story to a way of learning for anyone, maybe for  you.  Watch for it.

The Time You Spend

“Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn.”Dune, Frank Herbert


AP student getting an intense vision of the facts.

In the midst of exploring interspecies communication for a book I was working on, how it is that humans and other creatures – parrots, horses, chimpanzees, dogs – are able to get into each others’ heads — what the mechanism of that is, the biology of it, the physics of it, I got an email from our daughter Kate,  who was gathering data for  a government study in the Modesto area out in the San Joaquin Valley.


I’ve just met an eleven-year-old boxer named Rosie who can do all sorts of things – square root, spelling, getting the remote for the tv – really wild!  Her owner, Sandra Artrip, asked me what my name was.  I said ‘Kate.’ She asked Rosie how many letters were in ‘Kate.’  Rosie tapped 4 times and then cocked her head –“Is that right?”

 Well, that sounded like an unusual dog indeed, so I emailed Sandra and got this reply:


Rosie’s the smartest animal I have ever had in my life, and I have owned many, many animals. Just a quick view of what Rosie can do: Rosie can add, subtract, multiply and divide. She knows her ABCs by sign language. She knows squares and square roots to 144. She knows how many letters in each of  all the primary colors, she knows the states, and about 250 words. She is also a certified service dog.  She turns lights off and on, gets five flavors of soda out of the refrigerator.  She gets towels, washcloths, paper towels and toilet paper and shuts doors.

Also, she does typical dog tricks like high fives and  low fives, and lies down, rolls over, plays dead, speaks, sits pretty, and says the words mom, I love you, go bye bye, no, damn, I’m hungry, playtime.  That probably sounds crazy to you, but I can hear the words plain as day.

I have had vets tell me dogs do not have the ability to do what she does, but I know for a fact she can do it, and after my vet saw it, he could not believe what he saw.

As Smart as You Need to Be

A very, very smart dog?  It may be that lots of dogs don’t learn what their human companions want them to because they don’t feel like it or are too aloof to learn stupid circus tricks for the amusement of humans.  Another boxer I know, Lucy,  seems able to pick up any behavior her human wants – if she feels like it.  Sandra teaches Rosie with food rewards.  Her brother never uses treats with his English bulldog.  His bulldog  thinks  playing dead, doing high fives, rolling over, and performing all sorts of tricks  is marvelous fun.  He does these things not so much to please his human, it seems,  as to participate in the game. Our wire-haired terrier Geordie was the worst student in his obedience class.  I figured on being humiliated when it came time for graduation.  But when our turn came, Geordie trotted at my side out to the middle of the floor, sat down nice as pie, and received his diploma in front of the whole class with dignity and aplomb.  Training – what a colossal bore.  It was more fun trying to bite the Doberman.


“More input! More input!”

Whose Poem Is This, Anyway?

Maybe we’re all, humans as well as dogs,  as ‘smart’ as we need to be. (And maybe school teachers need to think about this.  Who’s business is your education anyway, yours or some “teacher’s”?)  The great news is that  if we can find out how it works, maybe we can get smart on purpose — whenever we feel like it, of course.  That would come in handy, wouldn’t it, when you need to figure out why you  can’t get your cell phone to pair with the device in your  new car or you have to take some required college course you couldn’t care less about. It ain’t gonna happen unless you yourself want it to.

“It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.”

Here’s the chorus from Kathy Mattea’s “Comes from the Heart”  In my college skills classes — and often in other courses, too — I used to play Guy Clark singing that tune.

You got to sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work

If you have the time, you should stop right now and listen to the whole song; it’s great:


What circumstances might have influenced Rosie’s ‘intelligence’?  I arranged to go out to the valley for an interview.  There were four assorted dogs in the chain-link fenced front yard when I pulled up, but Rosie, almost twelve by then, was inside, where it was more peaceful.  She was a brindle boxer with a gray muzzle, stiff joints and advancing hearing loss who accepted a couple of Trader Joe peanut-butter flavored treats from me. Then we all three  sat down on the couch – Rosie in the middle with her paw on Sandra’s lap  ‒  and we got straight to the interview.

Time Spent on Your Rose

I knew Rosie had been taken from her mother a little over two weeks after birth.  She had been  infected with coccidia – a parasite of the intestine that can destroy young animals –  and had been about to be put to sleep.  Sandra took her home.  Most puppies are placed with humans after they’ve been weaned – at about eight weeks – so Sandra had to take over the mother dog’s job of nursing, which involved bottle-feeding Rosie every two hours twenty-four hours a day until she weaned herself about three weeks later.  It took seven months of treatment before the coccidia were completely eliminated.  During that time Rosie and Sandra were together almost constantly, as they have continued to be ever since.  Aha, it’s the time spent on your rose!

It’s the Time You Waste on Your Rose.

To get into each other’s heads – or some prehistoric fossil –  we have to waste a lot of time on each other. (If you waste enough time on it, even a bit of old bone will begin to sparkle.)

I asked Sandra if she thought the way Rosie started out in life, the mother role being played by a human rather than a dog, might account for much of her phenomenal responsiveness to Sandra’s teaching.   That seemed likely, Sandra said, since she  hadn’t done doggie things with the puppy.  She hadn’t wrestled with Rosie or held her down when she needed discipline  the way her natural mother would have.  Rosie had had to pay close attention to cues from the only mother she knew and had developed a unique psychic and physical bonding  with a human.  Getting into each other’s heads may be no more complicated than that.

Sandra had had lots of dogs and Rosie did far more human things than any of the others. Of them all, only two came close to being as smart as Rosie, and like her, they had been taken from their mothers at a little over two weeks of age and hand fed by Sandra.  If they had had round the clock teaching the way that Rosie had had, might they not also have become ‘smarter’?

Unique in all the world

Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince had his own flower, a rose  he had tended every day and thought was unique in all the world. But in his travels he discovers there are millions of roses and is saddened to think that his rose is not so special after all.  Not so, the fox informs him,  “It is the time you have wasted  on your rose that makes your rose so important.”

The Time Wasted on Rosie

To get Rosie to  flip the light switch on or off, Sandra would hold Rosie’s paw over the switch, click it with the paw, say ‘light’ and give her a treat.  She did this  every twenty minutes or so, two or three times each, but not more than that so that Rosie  wouldn’t get bored.  The lessons were spaced out with only a few repetitions at a time.  Once she caught on to the process, Rosie got faster and faster at learning all the things Sandra had listed in her email. (Recently Sandra had to get a dog-proof refrigerator.  Her other dogs had watched Rosie and were getting into the old one any time they felt like it.)


Mark Bittner wasted tons of time on these guys.

What’s striking about Rosie and Sandra getting ‘inside each other’s heads’ is that the process is identical with the way one gets to ‘know’ anything, an ipod, crab apple blossoms, the  world inside an atom, a cherry-headed wild parrot, an autistic person, The Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra, or a peach pie.

Sandra had had an absorbing interest in animals of any sort – she had even had a petting zoo at one time.  Getting to know something  starts out, usually, as a playful curiosity and becomes so absorbing that one forgets lunch and dinner.  That’s always the key, an involuntary relinquishing of objectivity; you can’t help yourself.  The situation opens to you and you fall in.  When the wall between the worlds dissolves, the skateboard and the skater become one.

The Wall Between Worlds

                                                                          The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

Sandra had taken on the role of surrogate mother – with no strings attached.  There had been no barrier between the two mammals – tiny puppy and human – and there was physical contact during the feeding.  Information flowed back and forth between the two organisms, altering the wetware in each other’s skulls, absorbing each other’s sensory data.  They were quite literally inside each other’s skulls and on each other’s senses (and deeper still, in those pulsating subatomic frequencies sheathing the ‘physical’ world).  The puppy’s brain absorbed Sandra’s world and reconfigured itself.  The human brain absorbed the world of the creature in her arms.  No wonder Rosie turned out to be so smart.

This is always how the curtain between worlds is drawn aside.  Richard Feynman walks around inside the atom.  David Greybeard, a wild chimpanzee, touches Jane Goodall’s hand on a river  bank in an African jungle. Interest, attention, absorption.

Once you fall into each other, you have each other’s ‘number,’ and you can ‘call up’ each other.

Once you fall into each other, you have each other’s ‘number,’ and you can ‘call up’ each other.

In the midst of exploring the atom, say,  you get absorbed into it; meanwhile, the atom has got inside your head and heart.  It keeps on chatting with you, revealing itself even when you’re out sailing or watching ant trails across the kitchen floor.  This is how one can ‘talk’ with a rock.



And then there’s telepathy – which goes to the heart of the matter.  In fact, until that breakthrough into telepathic communication – where it is not necessary to translate – the process is not complete. Telepathy between Sandra and Rosie goes on all the time.  Rupert Sheldrake’s Dogs That Know When Their Owner’s Are Coming Home is full of anecdotes of telepathy between animals and humans and between and among humans, too. “If I think of going to the refrigerator, Rosie is there waiting for me as if she heard me say it.  If I think of leaving the house, she will go to the gate.   I’ll wake up from a dead sleep with this feeling that she’s telling  me she needs to go out or that her water bowl is empty.”

There’s more to this story, but I’ll save it for another posting.

Doing Hard Things

No Hard School Subjects

Contact Artist at Work

Calculus Student at Work

x(t) = a0     + a1 cos (wot + q1) + a2 cos (2wot + q2)
+ … + aN cos (Nwot + qN)



In my December 8, 2013, post  I said,

You can do anything you really want to do.

Here are three ideas from that post:

  • No one taught you how to learn; you were born with that ability.
  • You have a brain that solves problems for you.
  • You don’t solve problems with your conscious mind.

No More Difficult Than a Banana

For far too long I used to think there are some really tough realms out there –  walking the Appalachian trail, understanding particle physics, chemistry – all sorts of things I thought were way beyond my reach.  Then one day it came upon me that those “difficulties” were not out there at all.  “Difficulty” was an idea in my head, not an aspect of whatever it was I was looking at. What I was looking at didn’t come with a label reading Very Difficult Stuff. What a great insight that was.

Come to think about it, you shouldn’t get out of bed without knowing there’s nothing outside your head that’s hard or not hard.  “Difficult” is an idea you have about something.  That “something” is totally indifferent to whatever labels you throw at it.    All those strange squiggles in a calculus book or a chemistry book? They’re  just there.  They’re no more “difficult” than a banana. They don’t bite. “Difficulty” is something you decided.   (Do you really think card sharps, pickpockets, magicians started out that way?)

I’ll get back shortly to how you can get the upper hand on any school subject – no matter how “tough” you may have decided it is – or anything else in your life – once you know that it’s you who decide.

A Pink Rubber Ball

Contact juggler Richard Hartnell, Photo by Mike Kepka, The SF Chronicle

Photo by Mike Kepka, The SF Chronicle

Here’s just one anecdote from among a drawer-full  I’ve collected over the years of “impossible” things people have mastered.  I read in the San Francisco Chronicle (9/16/13) about a contact juggler named Richard Hartnell who does such magical things with a pink rubber ball that people toss folding money at his feet just because he’s so wonderful – which turns out to be plenty to pay his rent and food bills. [See for yourself:  Richard Hartnell Contact Juggling in London – You Tube]

When he was three, Hartnell saw something he thought was wonderful, a scene in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth in which David Bowie appears to magically manipulate a small crystal ball with the tips of his fingers.  The magician was actually Michael Moschen hidden behind Bowie and doing the juggling “blind.”  Moschen’s juggling, Henson said,  was the closest thing to real magic he had ever seen.  That bit of magic so impressed Hartnell that later as a teenager he bought a pink rubber ball and tried to pull off what Moschen had done.  Well, reader, you know what’s coming, don’t you?

I messed around and I did everything wrong,” Hartnell told the Chronicle reporter Mike Kepka.  “It got so hard I stopped.”  I’ve know thousands of students – and myself, too, when I was younger – who bumped up against something too hard . . .  and stopped.  But, then, here’s the great thing Hartnell learned, and it applies to just about anything:

The technique was called contact juggling and,  looking back, Hartnell called learning that technique “a really bad learning curve. It’s not like regular juggling, where you can learn to juggle three balls in, like, a weekend.  Contact juggling sucks for a long time.  It’s like the violin of juggling.” So he stopped, but later on he witnessed some amazing fire juggling and decided to give contact juggling another try, and after some relentless practice, he developed the ability to do the basic moves.

Practice Is Magic

Here’s what Hartnell said about that stage of learning a “hard” thing, and it’s something every learner needs to know and accept:

“You just have to be really open to being terrible at something. Generally, if you can think about it and practice hard enough, you’re going to get it.”


Balancing the ball on the outside of his bent elbow, he told Kepka, “That took me six months to learn.”  What he added was such a profound insight that I’m putting it in bold type: “I think practice is magic.”

The Role of Feeling in Problem Solving


It’s a feedback loop.


How you can get the upper hand on any school subject:

Once you begin to catch on to something, you want to do it more.  You can feel the rush of pleasure – I got it! – and you want to keep going.  Moving a 90mm ball around his fingertips, Hartnell went on to say, “This is what I want to do and get better at.  It’s a feedback loop. The more you do it the better you get at it, and the better you get at it, the more you want to do it.”

The Mess-Around Theory of Learning Re-visited


                                                            How to study

How to Study

Differential calculus: Take a little pail and a little shovel, open your textbook and  start messing around just the way you used to at the beach. When you were three, playing in the sand was not something you had to do.  And even though you may never have been there before, you did not think of it as hard.  Well, differential calculus is a sandy beach.  Play around in that sand and pretty soon, you’ll start to notice little things, and after a while you’ll begin to get curious. Go ahead.  Do everything wrong.  Sooner or later you’ll do something right. Hmm.  Before  you know it,  you’re making a castle.  While you’ve been messing around your non-conscious mind was busy sorting things out, piecing together a pattern, telling your conscious mind what tools you need.  You know exactly how this works.  You’ve been here many times.

JOY in Chinese Letters


There are no hard subjects.


Don’t waste your time taking notes. 

Don’t let your school work interfere with your education.  – Mark Twain.




The Universe posing as students taking notes

If you write down everything that happens, you may as well be a stenographer.  Stenographers are paid to do transcripts, not to understand what a lecture boils down to.  That’s what you’ll want to know, and you can’t be actively looking for the big idea and writing down stuff at the same time.  Yes, I know people are always advising you to take notes.  It sounds terrific. These  same advisers, like Polonius,  will tell you to be good, work hard, always say thank you, and use your napkin.

If you get to class a bit early, though, you can get your mind in gear but thinking about what happened last time and what’s likely to come up.  That’s called formatting, and what it does is set up a little web in your mind, a little skeleton,  so you’ll have someplace to lodge big ideas that come sailing by.

Your Own Invented Shorthand

Native Speaker

Expert Note-taker

During class, as a sharp observer, you will have jotted down – while the lecturer was clearing her throat – maybe half a dozen words or phrases in your own invented shorthand mixed with abbreviations and texting-type stuff.  You’ll have put those key ideas into your own words,  words that will jog your memory later on when you want to recall what that lecture boiled down to.  This is the sort of thing a self-respecting human being who values his or her time here on Earth, obliged to play the school game, would be doing.  You’re in charge.  You call the shots about how you deal with lectures. Speakers has there purposes; you, I would hope, have yours.

Your job is to watch for the main point. 

There will be only one.  You could be asking yourself, “What’s she getting at?”  If you figure that out, then you’ll want to know how she justifies that point.  She’ll probably have two or three sub-points.

Finally, while everyone else is escaping by the nearest exit, you will look over those bare-minimum notes you took.  You’ll be thinking, “OK, which of these is the big idea?”  You’ll mark that with a star or you’ll underline it or highlight it or put a big Roman numeral I beside it.  Then you’ll decide which are the key sup-points and mark them 1, 2, and 3 or A, B, and C.  And just to clean it all up, you’ll add any reminders that seem suitable.

Finally, finally, while your still sitting there, write down in your own words, the fewest  possible, the gist of the lecture.  If you skip this step, within a few minutes you’ll forget 80% of what you just sat through .  That’s just the way short-term memory works. This step reinforces what you just culled from the lecture and moves it into your long-term memory, which is where it needs to be.


Words are the source of misunderstanding. — The Little Prince



Then you’ll go relax and see what’s happening in your neighborhood.






[You can Google Jennis Jerz’s Web article: Taking Notes: 5 College Success Tips/ Jerz’s Literacy Weblog for some more good ideas.]



Passing Grade, Least Effort

If  you’ve decided you want a passing grade with the least effort – for whatever reason – you’ve come to the right place.  (If you’re taking a course that sets your mind on fire, you’ll do the things I’m suggesting  intuitively.)  Your guiding principle? Take charge.

                                            True or False: A classroom is where everything isn't.

True or False? A classroom is where everything isn’t.

Game Plan for Boring Lectures

Here’s how you can almost guarantee yourself a C or better—even if you do nothing else outside of class:

  • Pay attention –  playfully.
  • Attend every class — playfully.
  • Be sure to take every quiz and test — playfully.
  • Playfully.

These tactics work when you have teachers who see themselves, even in 2013,  as transmitters of information and feel guilty if they don’t “cover” everything in class. For a lot of them, the text is back-up material.

                                                                                     A guide to wakefulness

A guide to wakefulness



[In my November 11 post,there’s a streamlined way to dispatch textbooks quickly and efficiently:  “INTELLIGENT READING —  A 20-Minute Complete Course.”  So you can have some fun with your textbooks, too. When you put yourself in charge, things brighten up considerably.]





You can be pretty sure the tests these teachers think up will focus on what they talk about – what they emphasize.


                                                                                                 How to take tests

How to take tests


[ In my post of May 6, 2013,  “Turning Tests into Crossword Puzzles,” there are some tips and reminders on how to enjoy –yes, enjoy! – taking tests.]





If you don’t intend to study at all, make sure you select teachers who like to lecture. Then apply smart tactics in class.  The bottom line is all the time you’ll free up to go and pursue your education.  Above all else, do make a game out of taking classes. The worst thing you can do is to take all the rigmarole seriously. You mind won’t put up with it.  Till you wise up and start enjoying yourself, you’ll get headaches, diarrhea, insomnia,  and so on,.

What’s nice is that if you love a  subject you’re enrolled in and want to master it, these same techniques will focus your mind on  all the important information.  As you well know, a class that inflames your mind is sheer joy – and easy – “easy” in the sense that being fully engaged feels effortless.

Build new habits, but for heaven’s sake, don’t try to change twelve years of habits overnight.  One step at a time. Enjoy the challenge, and don’t take it seriously. It’s pitiful to watch the inevitable collapse of a massive self-improvement program, usually about one week later. The tactics I’m suggesting here are intended to be absorbed gradually at your own pace.

Use what you can now and add on as you go. Your own temperament is your best guide; build on that.

Teach yourself to pay attention while you are sitting there and you will be able to complete most of your work right in class. Occasional review could be enough to get by.

How to Be a Brilliant Student Without Even Trying

Escape from the Prison House

I was talking recently with my friend and former colleague of thirty years Karl Staubach about his time in the Army during the Korean War. He had finished a year or so at the University of Michigan when he abruptly enlisted, even though he would have been deferred.  Why?  Well, he told me, he couldn’t stand sitting in classes. Out of class he was never bored.  He had a wonderful life out of class – curious about everything, doing all sorts of physical and intellectual stuff –  but schooling was driving him nuts.  When he told the dean about how bad it was, the dean promptly said, “Join the Army.”

Where everything is

Where everything is

After a year an a half, he was discharged, resumed college and had a fine time.  I asked what had changed.  “I didn’t take it seriously anymore.  I took complete charge, including how to deal with teachers and classes.”  From then on he enjoyed the university and used all the good things a school does have – library, labs, telescopes, microscopes, artists, poets, brilliant minds to be engaged – he just didn’t let schooling interfere anymore.  He hardly spent any time on schooling, but got great grades and a beautiful GPA.  Meanwhile he was educating himself, just as he did when he spent summers as a forester on Mt. Adams inWashington or making his own sailboat out of Volkswagen van top or a guitar out of a cigar box.  Film, mythology, linguistics, optics, mathematics – you name it.  Once he was running the show and not his teachers, it was all fun.

  Shades of the Prison House

You Will Not Be Surprised to Learn:

Kids get more and more mind-numbingly bored as they progress through the grades.  In college they’re a little less bored, but, gee! over a fourth to two/thirds of your youthGYAOOC Pic disengaged?!

High school seniors: 28% of their time they’re  bored — mostly in class or studying for tests.

College students: 39% of their time they’re bored — mostly in class or studying for tests.

Humming birds, saints and poets?  Hardly ever.

“A classroom is where everything isn’t.” – Karl Staubach.

hummingbird 2

An A student


How to Take Classes, Part 1

GYAOOC PicOnce you think about it, it will be obvious that school subjects are not English, history, chemistry, biology, and so forth.

School subjects

reading textbooks
taking classes
doing assignments
taking tests
handling stress


Right? Of course. When you go to school, you spend your time on those things. They make up the structure of schooling – not of education. They are what is learned or not learned. But if you get good at them, you can actually enjoy your schooling. You can even have time for your education. Academic subjects are inherently fascinating, but to get time to get at them, to get “an intense vision of the facts” as William Carlos Williams might put it,  you need to dispatch these hidden school subjects first.

                         THE PASSIVE CLASSROOM

                                            True or False: A classroom is where everything isn't.

True or False: A classroom is where everything isn’t.

Even though research shows lecturing to be one of the least effective teaching methods, more classes than not are still conducted with students seated passively in rows and the teacher in front doing all the talking. Lecturing is so ingrained I’ve actually seen a teacher droning on at four silent and polite students seated in front of him. Another arranged the seats in a circle but lectured all the same.

Most college teachers don’t know much about what works and what doesn’t, even though common sense, much less the research, is right in front of them – if they ever bothered to look. Have a degree in physics?  OK, here’s your podium, never mind that you’re boring the kids to death. The old, counter-productive methods persist. Fear —”You’ll be tested on this”—is still used to motivate students, even though a warm and friendly atmosphere is known to result in better learning – with fewer neuroses. Classrooms still try to transmit information even though there’s Google out there,for god’s sake,  even though kids are falling asleep (if they bother to show up at all).  Antiquated, ignorant practices actually dull the mind.   What most students learn in boring classes is how to be passive, and of course, passive mental habits lead to C’s or worse for the majority of students. How often have you looked forward to your classes?  How often have all your senses, how often has your fully functioning mind, been engaged?

Get this: there’s good research that shows  95 per cent of these same students can succeed in other settings.

And, how about this: Even in crumby classes,  five per cent do succeed. They are not necessarily smarter. And they often work and worry far less than C students.

Any normal person, can figure out  the structure and use  it to get top grades in less time and with less work. All it requires are some new habits, some easy to acquire, some taking practice and planning.  In fact, the key to success in class and in doing assignments is habit.
Kid in Park





A classroom is where everything isn’t. — Karl Staubach

Mastery Learning

Playing to Win — Updated from Get Your  A Out of College

School is a wonderful place for an education.  Somebody ought to try it sometime.

When we realize we are in charge of our own learning and always have been, it changes everything.  We choose how we learn, when we learn, and what.  It’s an absolutely wonderful freedom and empowerment.  You know that’s true, don’t you?300px-Poker-hand-and-Chips

Success versus Failure

Imagine a game based on success rather than failure, a game in which almost all students of French can count on mastering it, students of auto mechanics can become masters of their craft, students of geometry can fully expect to achieve mastery. When you think of it, that is not at all unreasonable.  And it sure does feel better.

I have resented to this day
When any but myself presumed to say
That there was anything I could not be.
– Robert Frost
You can master anything.

What’s more, there’s plenty of research that shows you don’t have to have talent in a field to master it.  It’s not even necessary.  You don’t even have to like it. If you are mentally and  physically okay—not great, just okay—you can master anything you feel like trying: painting, music, gymnastics, whatever.  (“You gotta sing like you don’t need the money.”)

The A List


The Way of Zen a la Alan Watts

Why haven’t schools rushed to adopt these practices? It’s this simple: If the structure emphasizes grading and ranking, then mastery and achievement would be at cross purposes with that emphasis. Follow the money; it’s all in the registrar’s office, in teachers’ record books, in course outlines, in standards, in the bell-shaped curve, in making up tests.  You will not find much that deals with everyone doing great.  It’s all about sorting and ranking. “How could we tell a B student from a D student?  What would business, industry, or grad schools do if we sent out nothing but A students?”

The Actual Goals


The New Curriculum

And you may be thinking that, too. If you are so accustomed to ranking that you wouldn’t want to be part of a school in which 95 per cent get top grades, don’t worry. These massive institutions are not about to change over. Meanwhile, you can easily get those A grades that only five per cent are allowed to have. All you have to do is discover the actual goals and learn how to play the real game. It’s far easier than you might imagine.

Once you’re onto the game, though, you can figure out the hidden house rules and start playing to win. Were you ever taught how to remember, how to take a test, how to cut through the padding in a text, how to keep the knots out of your stomach?   In this website, I’m passing on some of tricks of the trade.  You may already be using some of them intuitively, but using them consciously and deliberately cuts out masses of wasted time and emotion.  And you should never get emotionally involved in a money game.  The message? Take charge.

Take charge.

It’s that simple. You can put yourself in charge of your own learning.  You’ve been doing that all your life outside of school.  What school should be about is remembering how you’ve been doing that, learning how you learn.  That sounds pretty good.  I think I’ll finish this posting with that.

What we need to learn is how we learn.

School is a wonderful place to get an education – a good library, people who started before you did, smart young people like yourself trying to figure out what’s up.  It’s all there.  You just need to learn how to use it for your own purposes – which may not be what the authorities have in mind.   These web postings may gain you the time and peace of mind to start.


A good place for an education

It’s a Sucker’s Game

Schooling Is Not Education

Maybe I haven’t made it clear enough why I wrote Get Your A Out of College. Mainly, it made me feel bad to see my sweet, innocent students trying be play the school game without knowing the hidden rules.   If you take two minutes  – one, if you’re on your toes – you’ll realize that school is a game.

Education can take place in a school but not necessarily because of it.

I dedicated the first edition to “Patty and Kathy [my daughters] who wanted an education and were given schooling.”   I was almost ashamed to be part of this big poker game in which most of the players didn’t have a clue.  The house held all the cards, and it wasn’t eager to share them.  So I wrote the book to give the students a leg up. I was polite, more or less, then.  I don’t feel so generous now.Only the dealer knows the rules.

Only the dealer knows the rules.

(I did have some fun with the title of the book.  I made a big list, my family, and friends tossed in some, but they sounded so teachery.  Finally I was down in the basement one evening in the office I had walled off for myself,  fiddling around with this title and that, when exactly the title I wanted popped into my head from nowhere —  actually, probably from my non-conscious mind, which was probably sick of all the dull titles and sent me the one I chose. I started laughing, ran upstairs and told my wife and called up my friends.  Get your A out of college, kids, and keep on laughing.)


From Get Your  A Out of College  –  with a couple of new thoughts:

The A Book

The A Book


 School and education are not the same thing.

School and education, I have to concede, do sometimes coincide. But education, as you well know, throbs in the veins, sets the nerves tingling, peels the eyeball, sears the intellect, and makes the hair stand up on your neck. It is thrilling, frightening, and alive. It can happen anywhere. But school is an awfully sober and mind-numbing affair.  Far too often, it is plodding through assignments and following rules. It is proper behavior, multiple-choice tests, 500-word themes, teacher monologs, grade-point averages, padded and poorly written texts, competition.

Nonetheless, it’s a game you are expected to play, without knowing the actual rules and goals.


While you may innocently assume the goal is mastery of your subject, here’s what’s really going on:

You are being sorted, ranked, graded, and labeled.

By the time you are out of school, your  A, B, C, D, or F label will be permanent. Not only does the registrar record your label, but your friends, parents, grad school, and employers will think of you that way, too. You may even come to accept it yourself. “Oh, I was always a C student.”

The rule-makers consider that sort of thing reasonable and normal, and most players think so, too.  Even worse, look at what most schools actually  plan into their programs:

Ninety-five percent of the players must be awarded less than A’s.

If you test in the top five per cent you are considered to have succeeded. Everyone else to some degree hasn’t. So there’s a negative cloud floating over the entire campus.  You may have noticed it.  Worse, in some instances, schools themselves may actually cause poor student performance.

And, of course, the rank you fall in is totally artificial.

     Your grade is no predictor of how well you will do in real life.  The sadness is that school doesn’t have to be that way. It is not a law of life. You don’t have to have tests, you don’t have to be graded, you don’t have to compete with your friends, you don’t have to read poorly written textbooks.  You don’t have to give up joy.   In fact, you could toss out the entire structure and do much, much better.  You could look at the night sky.  You could play in mud.  You could look at a flower in a crannied wall. You could ponder things. Absolutely.

You can ponder things.

You can ponder things.

On top of all that negativity, these institutions are well aware that not very much will be learned or retained –  even by A students.

Most teachers know that nine-tenths of what is “taught” will not be retained beyond the final exam.

You can verify this fact by examining the residue in your own mind. Schools accept these depressing results as part of the game. Most teachers are happy if they can occasionally reach three or four students in a class.

It may come as a surprise, then, that it is quite possible for 95 per cent of an average group of college students to achieve success.   I’ll repeat that:

It is quite possible for 95 per cent of an average group of college students to achieve success.

Lots of studies confirm this. Awhile back, Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues at the University of Chicago, for example, designed a school game in which 95 per cent (the top five per cent and the next 90 per cent) achieved the goals specified.  We don’t know  what happened with the other five percent.  They probably went off to Silicon Valley.   Bloom got these results not by watering down the expectations but by changing the learning atmosphere. These experiments expect long-term retention not of a mere one-tenth of what is learned but eight-tenths or better.

 Ninety-five per cent master and retain eight-tenths of what is taught.

Not bad, eh?  Actually retaining eight-tenths of what went on during a semester feels absolutely splendid.  Wouldn’t be great if you had that experience all the time, every year?  Of course it would.  And that can go on all your life.  Sounds like The Realms of Gold to me!

South Shore Path

And if you want to start getting the drop on all this, you came to the right place.

Turning C’s into B’s


Native Speaker

A Warm and Friendly Place to Learn

Test Pics for PostBig News Here:


In most schools and colleges a B+, a B, or a B- is recorded as a B.  A C -, a C, or a C+ ends up in your files as a C.


I’m about to betray the system and reveal one way to tip a C+ over to a B-.


And in the school game – in which fairness and objectivity in grading is riddled with flaws – that ends up a B.  The secret is that teachers fiddling late a night with grades that have to be turned in in the morning are trying to award as few B’s as they can – and even fewer A’s, lest their bosses think they are being soft.  So here’s some kid they don’t know who’s right between a C+ and a B-.  What to do?  Of course, jot down a C+.

But then there is you. 

On the first day of class you sat in the front row, you said, Hi, when you came in and said, Have a nice weekend,  when you left every Friday.  In college, you made sure the teacher knew you and knew your name.  In class you asked occasional questions, reasonable ones if possible — not too many, just enough to stay in the game — and you appeared to be very interested in what the teacher was dishing out.  When the teacher looked your way, you nodded and looked thoughtful.  And so on.

Do you know how alone teachers feel?  Can you guess how grateful they are for any comfort from all those imprisoned souls seated in their classrooms?  Most of them, even the crusty ones, are starved for human interaction, and you can help them feel better.

Crossword 2

It’s a game.

Guess which grade you’re going to get?

But don’t take my word for it.  Check out any good book on behavioral modification.
Or, better, conduct your own research.  Try it out.  Share your findings.