Delivering Understanding Versus Truth

One of the many things I like about Neil is how he parses a high level idea into separate parts. For Neil, education is more than just presenting the truth.

Being an educator means that you have to teach the truth, but you can’t just shove information on to people and say, “Here you go and if you don’t get it, too bad because it’s the truth.”

There is an art of persuasion involved which includes being sensitive to the students state of mind. You can’t just dump data on them, you have to combine the truth with how the student is receiving the information and adjust your delivery mechanism to create a lasting impact.

Likewise, you can’t be solely sensitive to the students state of mind. If they become upset when you talk to them about dinosaurs, that doesn’t mean you don’t teach them about dinosaurs. It doesn’t mean that you stop talking about dinosaurs. It doesn’t even mean that you stop acknowledging the existence of dinosaurs. It means that you find a way to teach them about dinosaurs while also acknowledging the reason they become upset to begin with1.

From 37signals.com:

And to do that, you have to understand what’s already in their head and how those ideas got there. Teaching is about bringing facts and external sensitivity together to have impact. This is powerful stuff and a great lesson for everyone.

Richard Dawkins “gratefully accept[ed] the rebuke” of Neil and then goes on to provide this hilarious quote from an editor at New Scientist that I think goes to show why sensitivity is important.

The editor, when asked, “What is your philosophy at New Scientist?” replied, “Science is interesting and if you don’t agree you can fuck off.”


  1. Feel free to replace “dinosaurs” with any other topic, such as evolution 

You’re Gonna Want to Read All of This

Today is the beginning of fall semester; my last fall semester. I’m aware that this is monumental moment, however I can’t quite bring myself to really believe that this is it: the beginning of the end of 17+ years worth of education1.

And yet it is.

This past summer has been amazing in many ways. I had some amazing conversations with some amazing people, both in my personal life and at work. I still don’t have the future planned out, but that’s okay.

At the end of my high school graduation speech, I quoted a famous Churchill line, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” I think I was about four and a half years too soon on that remark.

This, my friends, really is it. I’m getting ready to write the last chapter in a book I like to call Andrew Ferguson: The First 23 Years.

Thus I think it’s fitting that while I work on closing this chapter and book in my life, I am able to announce the title of my next book – Andrew Ferguson: The Boeing Years.

As my third internship with them was coming to an end, Boeing elected to offer me a job for after graduation.

I accepted.

After some time off to catch a breather, I’ll be returning to my group sometime in the late summer of 2009.

So, stick around. This year is going to be crazy-awesome and as Frank Sinatra sang,
The best is yet to come, and, babe, won’t that be fine,
You think you’ve seen the sun, but you ain’t seen it shine

1 I would actually argue that learning is a lifelong adventure. I hope to never stop being educated. So really, this is the end of my formal education – at least for the time being.