A Lesson For Joe

Today is the second anniversary of my last day as your tutor. We did a lot of algebra work on that day and you asked, as you had many times before: “Why do I need algebra if I’m going to be a mechanic?”

A Lesson For Joe

It’s a fair question, albeit one you would not have thought to ask if your teachers had asked it of themselves. Had they done that, they would have been teaching in a way that led you out of darkness and into light — the goal of education.

There’s a terrible belief sloshing around inside of schools, Joe. It’s the belief that a person who can solve problems is an educated person. The way you have been taught is based upon this belief, and this belief is expressed every time a teacher points out that algebra allows one to compute unit prices in a grocery store, or gas mileage, or calorie consumption, or some other such nonsense. All of this bunk. It assumes no other possible power of the mind than solving problems.

Read this paragraph carefully Joe. It’s important. Problem solving is to education as getting wet is to swimming. You must do the one before you can hope for the other, but you don’t achieve the other simply because you do the one. Yes, educated people solve gas mileage problems. Big deal. Uneducated people solve gas mileage problems too. The world is (and always has been) full of problem solvers. Just as the world is (and always has been) full of problems. Crime, war, drug addiction, famine, broken families, etc., are realities, and problem solvers are unable to transform reality.

The reason you should study algebra (and language, and history, and science) is because doing so can give you the ability to know, and the ability to know can instill in you the ability, in your own mind, to unravel, tinker, and perhaps transform reality.

You see Joe, an education does not exist in the sense ordinarily conveyed by that word. You will not find it anywhere in the world. It is not in the air or under the hood of a car. Education exists only in a mind. And even then it exists only in a mind that chooses it. A teacher can show you some maneuvers, but you must do the work.

If you do, you will have it in your mind that you can know something, not just believe in it, or be informed of it, but actually know it. And when you come to know something you will quite likely come to know something else, and again something else. It’s fun to wonder where such a cascade will lead.

You should learn algebra because it will show you the way, in your own mind, and made by you alone, to know. This is swimming — the confidence that comes from knowing that no matter what the problem solvers of the world tell you, you have a shot at changing it. Problem solvers require tranquil water, but swimmers—the educated—are comfortable in the often stormy sea of reality.

Solve the problems your teachers create for you Joe. Then recognize that you have it within yourself, if you strive for it, an eduction — the ability to know, tinker, and perhaps transform whatever reality comes your way.

No prudent teacher will ever tell you these things, and I’m not sure that you are ready for them. It takes experience and quiet consideration to embrace education. But time marches on, and you will be “finished” with school in less time than has passed since we last studied together. That’s why I published this most important lesson. I hope you read it, often.

A Lesson For Joe
Written by Matt Manna
May 04, 2018 • CC3A5C59(R01)
Copyright © 2018 By Matthew Manna
Photo by JESHOOTS.com • Pexels

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On Words Part Two: Writing

A friend sent me a note. It’s about my writing and asks a common question: Are the stories published at McManna.com true? My usual answer is, “No, but they’re real.” That’s a chintzy answer of course, but the question isn’t so good either, and I long ago stopped caring if I answered it well.

On Words Part Two: Writing

This time is different. I know and like this person, and he/she (I’m not giving anything away) deserves better, even if the question is a bit of a smeller.

Are the stories true? No, but they’re real — real accounts, about real people, behaving as they really behaved. That’s different from true.

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Talking About The Weather

Why do we devote so much talk to the weather? Weather talk is innocuous of course, but that realization only leads to another question. Why do we devote so much talk to an innocuous subject?


When I meet the Associate Vice-President of Office Supplies on the sidewalk in February, I am given to assert, if it is true, that it’s snowing. That’s a strange thing for me to do. Stranger still, my counterpart will likely confirm my observation. Together, we have agreed on something that needs no agreement. To point the snow out to each other is as useful as pointing out that we both have lungs. (Mine are pink and serve me well. His are the lungs of an administrator; black, crusty, and providing of a wheeze that can be heard well ahead of his arrival. That last bit is useful at times.)

I don’t talk to a friend this way. When I address a friend it’s because I want to know what he/she has to say. My friend has a long history of offering up language enriched with the special powers of logic, order and coherence. The appearance of those things is comforting, and I am well aware that I must do the same if our friendship is to continue.

The Associate Vice-President of Office Supplies is not a friend. He is an administrator. And something ancient stirs inside when I encounter him. My head aches and I become annoyed by the realization that I must come up with a way to acknowledge this fellow without getting chummy. Weather talk does that. It’s a cheap trick, but it’s better than the alternative.

To push the point further, let’s suppose, just for fun, that I skip the weather talk and engage the Associate Vice-President of Office Supplies in a conversation about something he is interested in — paperclips perhaps. He will likely tell me what he knows, and in so doing, his world, the world of an administrator, will be at hand. This is a world I’d rather not explore just now, and not just because we are both standing outside in the cold with snow melting on our heads.

I’m leery of this fellow, and I don’t want to offer language that hints of a possible long term comradeship. This winds-up being a good move, because in a few days time I will hold in my hands a printed, multi-page report, written by this very person. The report begins, “It has been brought to the attention of this office that the monthly consumption of staples has increased by…”

This report (which is held together by staples) sets me to wondering. What good is this person? How does he differ, if at all, from the stuff that oozes from leaky radiators? How can he rise to the level of Associate Vice-President of Office Supplies and write such a monstrosity of an opening? And exactly how can an office have attention?

Perhaps I should write this person (or office) a reply: “Dear Sir (or office), I am surprised and troubled by the ineptitude of the first ten words of your most recent report. We shared a nice few moments in the snow a few days ago and I had thought it possible that we might graduate from “weather talk” to something more substantive. But now my hopes are dashed. Perhaps you’re going through a rough patch. Everyone deserves a second chance. Why don’t you try again and write something else? You might want to start with an apology. Regardless of what you do next, it is vital that you soon improve your writing skills.”

We like to imagine that we normal folks are somehow, deep down, where it really counts, superior to the pointy-headed nincompoops that write reports about staple usage. And we are! Nevertheless, these people need to be dealt with from time to time, and weather talk does that. It allows us to acknowledge their existence, which is courteous, without getting too close, which, when it comes to administrators with titles like Associate Vice-President of Office Supplies, might be fatal.

Talking About The Weather
Written by Matt Manna
Oct 25, 2017 • 87F77B5E(R02)
Copyright © 2017 By Matthew Manna
Photo © tapichar • Fotolia.com

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In A Word: Institution

Institutions spring to life for any number of reasons; but once living all institutions strive to stay alive and do whatever else they do only to that end. Unlike other living things however, institutions are incapable of humility, restraint, or self-sacrifice. And when we complain that government, or public schools, or the legal system, etc., are failing, it is because we don’t understand the nature of institutions. Institutions succeed and grow as a consequence of complaints against them. In fact, the more we complain the more power and wealth institutions will claim in order to address our complaints.

In A Word: Institution

And in America—an exceptional country dedicated to individual freedom, individual rights, and private ownership of property—institutions make this most menacing and contradictory claim. Institutions, we are told, must have the authority to claim individual freedom, individual rights, and private property in order to foster individual freedom, individual rights, and private property.

This claim is dangerous nonsense and it’s not new. Thomas Jefferson addressed it directly in 1816, “The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves…”

Jefferson understood the menacing danger inherent in institutions. And Jefferson knew, as did America’s earliest functionaries, that the specific responsibility of “the people” is to simultaneously keep institutions at arms length and under foot. Today’s functionaries think that too don’t they? Well, don’t they?

Imagine you are a functionary of this or that institution in whom there grows the desire to claim, for whatever supposedly good purpose, the individual freedom and private property of the people. Which would you rather face, those with or without long arms and strong feet?

People so endowed will require proof that your actions will, in the end, generate more individual freedom and private property than that which is destroyed. They will review your previous actions to determine if you have done so in the past. They will look back in history to a time when America’s institutions were much smaller and much less powerful, and utterly fail to identify instances when people were in need and were left to go derelict. Most concerning to you as functionary, people will, after doing these things, be far less willing to accept the next desire of yours that comes along.

Conversely, people with short arms and weak feet are easily manipulated by slogans, appeals to the common good, and vague promises of a better life. As functionary you may find these people useful. You may seek them out and tailor your actions to ensure their numbers grow. You may even consider it the primary task of all functionaries everywhere to do so. This behavior is not only perfectly possible, it’s perfectly real.

But that is not the worst of it. The worst of it is, functionaries assume what is wholly beyond the scope of human achievement: a total and superior understanding of individual human beings by other individual human beings. Humans lack that ability. Humans have always lacked that ability. And all the pursuits, of all the functionaries, of all the institutions in the land, cannot achieve it.

In A Word: Institution
Written by Matt Manna
Jul 31, 2017 • 37D3F6F5(R04)
Graphic © ioannis kounadeas • Fotolia.com

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Work Cited
Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816 , from The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes. Federal Edition. Collected and Edited by Paul Leicester Ford.

The Fickle Finger of Free

Getting more for less makes the brain feel good in ways no amount of exercise can match. But what happens when less becomes zero? Do the good feelings persist? Or are they reliant upon the transfer of money? Maybe not, but then again…

The Fickle Finger of Free

This story begins in 1979, the year my first vehicle rolled off the Ford Motor Company assembly line. It was a fully equipped Econoline E150 van furnished with wall to wall carpeting, AM/FM stereo, rear bench seat, two barrel chairs, and reclining front bucket seats.

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