by Robert C. Oelhaf

Jack was one of our brightest students. He was quick, forceful, outgoing, with his eye on Harvard, though he actually did not want to go there. He only wanted to be admitted. Jack did not take only the required three achievements on the College Board, but six, and did well on all. He was tri-lingual. But there were two things Jack did not like at all.  

Jack’s mother had enrolled him in the Waldorf School to balance out his intellect with the artistic and practical subjects. Jack was good-humored about it, but clearly did not like it and made this clear at any convenient opportunity. Since our Waldorf high school had been founded particularly to emphasize the arts and practical arts along with academics, he had plenty of opportunity to complain.

About half way through Jack’s first year, his math teacher began to tire of the complaints, good-natured as they were. At length he came up with a little exercise to illustrate what teachers had been trying to explain verbally. The teacher, who also taught physics, brought a box of wooden blocks to math class one day, filled with square pieces of a 2″x4″ piece of lumbar. There were some 20 or 30 blocks in the collection, each 3½ inches by 3½ inches, large enough to place one’s foot.

Spreading the blocks out on the floor, Jack was challenged to build a tower and stand on top.  Immediately seeing the foolishness of the assignment, yet always up for good fun, he built the tower and sought to place himself on top. Of course the tower collapsed to good laughter from all present.

Next was the challenge to place the blocks in two piles and stand on them. Jack was able to balance himself for a short time on the top, then all collapsed as before.

Finally Jack was to place the blocks in three piles and stand on top. This act he was able to do with little trouble, waving his arms in triumph and smiling broadly. We all applauded.

The teacher then explained the point of the exercise. One can rise fast on one column or even two, but they are unstable, and one cannot in the end go so far. On three pillars, one has a firm foundation, can build reliably and reach much further in the end.

We heard no more complaints from Jack. After university, he got a job in a European art museum, eventually leading to a position designing and managing international art expositions, thus putting to excellent use his abilities in art and practical arts as well as academics.

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