Experience is the Best Teacher?
In my two classes with students from the Division of International Studies at Ewha Womans University, we're doing a workshop on presentations. I've decided to give a presentation today in those two DIS classes so that the students can experience what a presentation is like. Not every presentation has to be written out in full beforehand -- shorthand notes can suffice for some material -- but I'm writing out today's presentation in full because . . . well, you'll see why:
When I was growing up, I was often told that the old are wiser because they have more experience. "Experience is the best teacher," they said. Who said? The old. And they of course knew best, for they had . . . experience. But there's something suspiciously circular about all this, wouldn't you agree? Perhaps the white-haired old gentleman who handed down that piece of folk wisdom was right. But might it not also have been a piece of self-interested wisdom, coming as it did from an old fellow. Why, it gave him an advantage. Power to veto my views. A hammer to pound sound sense into my thick head. And besides, if he were right, if he were really and truly right, if experience genuinely is the best teacher . . . why listen to him? I should listen to my own experience, right?It's mostly a tongue-in-cheek performance, of course, one that I hope will entertain the students even as they learn from it. I think that it might work, for the DIS students are rather advanced in their English skills.
Better than listening to old fools, of which there are too many! The English poet Philip Larkin had them pegged when he wrote, "What do they think has happened, the old fools, / To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose / It's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools, / And you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember / Who called this morning?" Larkin should know. He's dead now. What could be older and wiser than that? Wisdom of the ages, you might say. Except that Larkin can't say anything anymore. And his poem grows older but no wiser. Why, then, am I listening to him, the old fool?
For that matter, why are all of you sitting there listening to me? I'm an old guy. You should be learning from your own green experience! The next time some old fellow intones, "Experience is the best teacher," just retort, "Oh really? Well, if experience is the best teacher, why are there so many old fools running around?" And there are! Surely, you've noticed. No? Then, you'll just have to trust me on this one. I know from experience! Better yet, don't listen to me. For all I know, I may be one of those old fools. I mean, if I were, I wouldn't know it, would I?
So, take the advice of an old man who's learned from hard experience. Don't believe a word I say! Get up out of your chairs! Toss those textbooks in the trash. Take the advice of the late Timothy Leary: "Turn on, tune in, drop out." You'll learn a powerful lesson that way . . . from experience, the best teacher. Granted, you might learn that dropping out was a big mistake -- that listening to Leary was the biggest mistake you ever made -- but you'll have learned this valuable lesson from experience. Believe me on that.
Yes, believe me when I advise you not to listen to old fools but to learn from your own experience, as I have learned from mine. Old fools like me merely pretend to have your interests at heart. I have learned from bitter experience that the old and experienced impose their wisdom on the young because doing so serves their own interests. Theirs -- and therefore mine -- is a self-interested wisdom, a power of veto over your views, a hammer to pound sound sense into your heads. Is experience the best teacher? If you've listened carefully to my words of wit, you know the answer: No. Experience is the worst teacher, for its lessons come too late. And I should know. I'm old and experienced. So, listen to me when I urge that you not listen to me.
After giving this presentation, I'll provide it on a handout, and we'll go over it in class so that they can see its tight organization despite its informal tone.