Stupid is as . . .

For my very first teaching practice observation, I had the pleasure of Amanda in my class.

Amanda spent the hour’s lesson wheeling up and down the aisle on her typist’s chair, from the back of the room to the chalkboard where I was positioned.  The other students sometimes laughed at her comments, but largely ignored her. Novice that I was, I soon worked out that Amanda’s erratic behaviour was the norm.

But this was the ‘90s, and I was not yet (but so very nearly) qualified, and more than a little disconcerted by Amanda’s japes. With inner resilience, I battled on, delivered the lesson, got a decent assessment from my tutor, and lived to fight another day.

That night, I rang a friend.  She was, by this time, an experienced teacher, well-versed in dealing with little darlings, and I needed her advice.

Me: “Are some people just difficult to teach?”

Her: “Oh yes, definitely.  And more than that …

Me: “What?”

Her: “Some are incredibly stupid.”

Her comment came as a surprise.  It came from someone who I knew really respected her pupils – and they tended to love her – and she usually only ever talked about her job in terms of the pleasure she got from it.  I absolutely knew she was a good teacher.

If I’d only known then about Professor Carlo M Cipolla’s essay, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity (1976) I might have understood.  Reading it recently, it all now falls into place – Amanda’s tactics seem so understandable.  Professor Cipolla categorises the laws as follows:

  • Law 1: Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  • Law 2: The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  • Law 3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
  • Law 4: Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
  • Law 5: A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

I’m not convinced that Amanda was the most stupid person I’ve ever met, but I wouldn’t have missed my experience with her for the world . . . or Professor Cipolla’s explanation.

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