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A Handful of Common Sense Is Worth a Bushel of Learning *

January 26, 2010

Overheard yesterday on Monday of week four of a ten-week quarter. Thirty percent of the class is over. Midterms are next week. It’s after class and the teacher is trying to vacate the room so another group of students can enter. This is paraphrased, but you’ll get the gist:

Hi, I’m Anonymous Student. I’m finally here. I haven’t been to class yet because I had a conflict with work, but I’m here and ready to get caught up.

The teacher says: I already dropped you. The teacher might be thinking: Are you kidding? Are you nuts? This is the first time you’re contacting me? Haven’t you ever heard of phoning or emailing? We could have taken care of this much earlier and I could have told you not to take this course if you weren’t going to be able to attend. (Clearly, no eavesdropper is privy to interior thoughts. I am making this up based on what I am thinking about the situation.)

Avoidance is a form of procrastination. Putting off talking to a teacher about just about anything is not a good idea. Putting off contacting someone about a financial aid problem is not a good idea. Putting off contacting a credit card company about the trouble you’re having making a payment is not a good idea. Some problems go away if you ignore them. Most of them don’t.

It seems like avoiding avoidance would be plain old common sense, but the overheard conversation reminded me of something Mark Twain and Ben Franklin and Voltaire have all been credited with saying: Common sense is not so common. And it’s probably not so common because it’s more difficult than it sounds to be commonsensical. Some people just seem to be better at it than others. I’ve encountered so many students–and other people–who don’t seem to have developed this ability that I’m convinced it’s something schools should deliberately teach instead of assuming that students have common sense and are choosing not to use it. I also believe that a person might be able to self-develop the attributes of common sense.

It’s important to develop critical and creative thinking skills. It’s also important to develop problem-solving skills based in common sense that include giving deliberate attention to using good judgment, thinking things through, considering intended—and unintended—consequences of actions (or lack of them), weighing options, and making sensible decisions.

On a scale of one to ten with one being “have none” and ten being “role model for humanity,” rate your common sense.

The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.
• Thomas Alva Edison

* American proverb

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