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March 23, 2004
Micklethwait's Law of Educational Complaint

I love Laws. Not law Laws, that the Police moan about if you break. I hate most of those. I mean Laws like Murphy's Law or Parkinson's Law, and before I die I hope to have one named after me. I am extremely proud of Micklethwait's Law of Negotiated Misery, and will go on saying this until others take up the mantra and save me the bother. Micklethwait's Law of Negotiated Misery is true. It explains something very important about the world, which is why so many people are so miserable all the time, despite rising living standards, DVDs, etc. It is blackly humorous, which is very important for these Laws, and it is in general a most excellent Law which I commend to you with pride and enthusiasm.

Here is another.

Re my friend who was complaining at the end of the previous posting here today about the quality of her education, she now strikes me as a fine example of Micklethwait's Law of Educational Complaint, which says that the better educated a person is and the better they subsequently do in life, the more loudly they complain about their early education. My two favourite examples are Einstein, who moaned all his life about the blundering fool who first taught him science, and Yehudi Menuhin, who still rages about the man who first taught him violin.

But I would reckon those those those two long-dead pedagogues did, you know, okay. I mean, science to Einstein? Violin to Menuhin? They must have been doing something right.

In contrast, all the people you meet who seem utterly convinced that their education was wholly excellent seem, as a general rule, to be completely useless human beings, good for nothing except droning on about how their schooldays were the happiest days of their lives, despite the fact that they were beaten senseless by their teachers, sexually molested by their fellow pupils, made to do completely stupid things in vile weather or hideously drafty and dirty classrooms, etc. etc., none of which "ever did us any harm", etc. etc.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:49 PM
Category: Famous educationsThis and that

I break your rule, Brian. I went to state schools and a state sixth form and ended up at Oxford, but always speak very highly of my schooling. I do tend to think myself lucky for having had good teachers though. Perhaps this is another common phenomenon: Good State School Teacher Exceptionalism Theory.

Comment by: Jason Holdcroft on March 23, 2004 03:14 PM

"I went to state schools and a state sixth form and ended up at Oxford, but always speak very highly of my schooling. I do tend to think myself lucky for having had good teachers though."

Weird. Close as dammit that's the story of my early life, and what I was about to say when I opened this comment box.

Except, being a sarcastic git, I was going to start it by saying, "Gee, Brian, thanks ever so much for your kind words."

Comment by: Natalie Solent on March 23, 2004 10:26 PM

A counterexample: Peter Drucker had very kind things to say about his 4th grade teachers.

Comment by: david foster on March 24, 2004 03:16 AM

You also had a theory to explain why Micklethwait's Law of Negotiated Misery should be true, but you've offered no such theory for Micklethwait's Law of Educational Complaint.

Can you provide us with one, or are you inviting us to accept it as axiomatic?

Comment by: Andy Wood on March 24, 2004 10:11 AM


The Educational Complaint thing is less serious than the Negotiated Misery Law, which I really truly think is true.

However, there is, I think, some truth in the Educational Complaint Law, which is that smart people do two things when being educated:

(1) They do not like everything they are made to do, and remember keenly the things they were made to do which they disliked.

(2) Being smart, they make the most of it all, including the stuff they disliked.

I believe that what successful people have in common with each other is that at an early age they take a grip on their own lives and self-propel themselves along. Education both feeds into and interrupts that process.

With less driven people, neither of those things are so likely to happen.

Maybe that makes sense of it, somewhat.

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on March 24, 2004 10:27 AM

I'm another counter-example. Dedicated, caring parents who taught me to read and my times tables before primary school. Prep school, then public school, surrounded by some of the most dedicated and gifted teachers you could wish for. Good degree from a top-ranked UK Uni. Currently living and working in a tropical paradise getting good money for a job I love and used to do for free (thereby counteracting the Law of Negotiated Misery, to boot). What, smug, moi?

Comment by: David Gillies on March 24, 2004 10:02 PM

Since all Brian's getting are counter-examples, I'll weigh in and say I agree with his formulation and fit it myself, at least so far as I've gotten. Nearly all my recollections of my 13 year sentence in Denver Public Schools are absolutely awful, and I complain about it to no end.

Comment by: Noah Yetter on March 25, 2004 06:29 PM
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