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The Limits of Classroom Instruction

February 3, 2015

“A military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the Army even if I should be graduated, which I did not expect.”

That’s what former President Grant wrote in the early pages of his memoirs.  His father had not consulted him before securing the appointment to West Point.  Grant struggled with all the courses except math and horsemanship.  He accumulated a long list of demerits for tardiness and sloppy dress.  He graduated 21st of 39 in 1843.

So, how did Grant get his portrait on the fifty-dollar bill?  By success in battle during the Civil War.  And how did he achieve that success?  By exceeding the limits of what he had been taught in the classroom.

“Some of our generals failed because they worked out everything by rule.  They knew what Frederick did at one place and Napoleon at another.  They were always thinking about what Napoleon would do.  Unfortunately for their plans the rebels would be thinking about something else.”

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