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January 03, 2007

Lying as a Teaching Method

Many years ago, my grandpa raised mink on a ranch in Missouri. In order to keep track of the numerous mink for breeding and pedigree purposes, each mink was assigned an identification number. Imagine wire cages in row after row after row, each with one mink inside. When he would take inventory, he would walk the rows, stop at each cage, and read off the ID number. His assistant (e.g. a grandchild) would confirm that the ID number was the next one on the list.

As you might imagine, this process -- read out a number, check it off on a list, repeat -- could grow mind-numbingly tedious. Therefore, Grandpa would do something to make sure you were paying attention. Once in a while, he would read a number wrong. If you weren't paying attention, you might just say "check". Then he would know that your mind had wandered. It was a great way to keep you on your toes.

(Well, at least he said that he read the numbers wrong on purpose. I suppose it's possible that he was the one who wasn't paying attention. I never experienced this firsthand, because the mink market collapsed and Grandpa got out of the mink business. Instead, he switched to raising and breeding Scottish Terriers and West Highland Terriers. This was much more fun for a grandchild! Imagine always being greeted by dozens of dogs when you visited your grandparents and always having at least one litter of puppies to play with! But I digress.)

Switching gears, back when I played Dungeons & Dragons, I tended to be the Dungeon Master. One thing that I told my players at the start of a campaign was that I would sometimes lie to them. I would tell them that some country was filled with evil Orcs -- even though it wasn't -- because that's what everyone thought. I would tell them upfront that I was sometimes going to lie to them because I wanted them to think about what I told them and consider whether it made any sense.

I was reminded of these two examples of lying for a good purpose after reading a recent post by pjammer called My Favorite Liar. Here is an excerpt:

What made Dr. K memorable was a gimmick he employed that began with his introduction at the beginning of his first class:

"Now I know some of you have already heard of me, but for the benefit of those who are unfamiliar, let me explain how I teach. Between today until the class right before finals, it is my intention to work into each of my lectures ... one lie. Your job, as students, among other things, is to try and catch me in the Lie of the Day."

And thus began our ten-week course.

Very cool! I love this idea! What is great about it is that it sounds like a fairly easy way to turn students from passive observers to active participants in the class, which in turn makes them more likely to retain what they have learned.

Link: My Favorite Liar.

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January 3, 2007 in Education | Permalink


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So what did grandpa breed for? We do mink dissections here at Swarthmore College, and I always wonder what life is like on a mink farm. Proabably pretty grim for the minks, but for the breeder there are probably some interesting tidbits to pay attention to.

Posted by: Colin Purrington | Feb 2, 2007 2:21:16 PM

Grandpa bred mink for their fur -- the ubiquitous mink coats that the well-off wore at one time. Most of what I know about the topic of mink breeding comes from a 1950s newspaper article that featured an interview with Grandpa and a few pictures of him with the mink. (I seem to recall that it said that Grandpa had the largest mink ranch in Missouri, but I can't find the article at the moment to check my memory.) By the time I came along in the 1960s, Grandpa had gotten out of the mink breeding business and gotten into the dog breeding business (specifically Scottish and West Highland Terriers). As you can imagine, the dogs enjoyed it much better than the mink ever had. If I remember correctly, the mink tended to be a bit vicious, so leather gloves were required when handling them. The dogs were much more fun!

Posted by: Wally Hartshorn | Feb 9, 2007 10:34:49 PM

Oh, but the minks must have had their charm. They're supposed to be playful critters, and probably fun to pet, even through leather gloves.

Posted by: Colin Purrington | Feb 17, 2007 8:27:44 PM

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