John Bennett, UConn Professor

John Bennett is an emeritus engineering professor and associate dean at the University of Connecticut.

I’ve taught for many years, and this post is less about why I chose to teach than it is about an observation on the broader state of education. Imagine the surprise recently when I was sent a list of quotes from Will Rogers. Born in what is now Oklahoma, Will Rogers was many things, including cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator, and actor among others. These roles are expected. But Education Sage? To me at least, intended or (probably) unintended, he is. Consider the following:


John Bennett is a long-time faculty member at the University of Connecticut.

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” How often do we watch our students continue the same approach time after time believing somehow that the result will be different, better (a quote of another favorite, Albert Einstein, comes to mind: “Insanity – Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”)? If Will Rogers was thinking education, he might have continued … stop digging and self-assess. We need to help our students learn the value of regular self-assessment: stop and ask what’s happening and how might it go better. As the quote suggests, assuming you recognize you are in a hole, stop making it worse and figure out how it might get better.

“Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement.” Much good education advice in this quote. Consider the word “judgement” appearing twice. Building on the discussion associated with the first quote, it is our students’ judgement that is so critical to their effective learning. The first judgement is before any efforts are initiated. It is important that we encourage our students to truly understand the situation, the possible solution options, and use their judgement to select the best option to use initially. That judgement is important — but, of course, never perfect in real situations.

The second judgement comes after executing the chosen option. The goal should not be simply getting an outcome; the goal is the best possible outcome for the situation faced. Only this second judgement opportunity can determine if “best possible” has been achieved; is there a better option now in hindsight? If yes, then on to documenting and reporting; if not, back to planning and execution of the now believed better option.

Finally, there is the third judgement – the reflection closely linked with the quote. After all efforts, documentation, and reports are completed, it is so important to reflect on the overall effort: what worked well (good judgement) and what didn’t work well (bad judgement). As Will Rogers noted, the good judgement next time will arise from reflection on both the good and bad judgement that occurred this time.

The real message may not be deciding Will Rogers is an education sage; to me, it is being alert to the pieces we read and hear. One should never dismiss any piece based upon anticipated relevance. Our goal for ourself and our students is to organize our learning and experience into visions that will help us address real-world situations. As in this instance, maybe it’s a quote or two from Will Rogers that makes the difference!

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