#62 Moral of a silly old joke
I have always liked this silly old joke, which I first heard decades ago:
A man takes his dog to see a talent scout, proudly claiming that his dog can talk. Of course, the talent scout is very skeptical. To convince her, the man asks the dog: What’s on top of a house? The dog eagerly responds: “Roof, roof!” The unimpressed talent scout rolls her eyes and tells the man to leave. The man seizes a second chance and asks the dog: How does sandpaper feel? The dog gleefully responds: “Rough, rough!” The scout gets out of her chair and moves to escort the man out of her office. Begging for one last chance, the man asks the dog: Who was the greatest baseball player of all time? The dog enthusiastically responds: “Ruth, Ruth!” The fed-up talent scout removes the man and dog from her office. Out in the hallway, looking up at the man with a confused and crestfallen expression on his face, the dog says: “DiMaggio?”
Part of why I like this joke is that “DiMaggio?” strikes me as the perfect punch line. I have seen versions of the joke in which the dog says: “Maybe I should have said DiMaggio?” I don’t think that’s as funny as the single-word response. I also don’t think the joke would work nearly as well with Mays* or Aaron or Williams or Trout as the punch line, because those names are so much easier to pronounce than DiMaggio**.
* Joe Posnanski, from whom I have copied this footnoting technique that he calls a Pos-terisk, ranks Willie Mays as the only baseball player better than Babe Ruth (here).
** A name that works nearly as well is Clemente. Having grown up in western Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 1970s, my favorite baseball player will always be Roberto Clemente.
What in the world does this have to do with teaching statistics, which is the whole point of this blog?!
Please forgive me, as I’m a bit out of practice with writing blog posts*. Now I will try to connect this silly old joke to the whole point of this blog.
* I again thank the nine guest bloggers who contributed posts during my hiatus in July and August. If you missed any of these posts, please check them out from the list here.
Please consider: What is the moral of this joke? Let me rephrase that: What did the man do wrong? Or, to put this in a more positive light: What should the man have done differently?
I’ll give you a hint, as I often do with my own students: The answer that I’m fishing for contains three words. Want another hint? Those three words contain a total of 16 letters. One more hint? The first word has the fewest letters (3), and the last word has the most letters (9).
All right, I’ve dragged this on long enough. I suspect that you’ve figured out what I think the moral of this silly old joke is. In order to achieve his (and his dog’s) lifelong dream, all the man needed to do was: Ask good questions.
That’s where the man messed up, right? His obvious mistake was asking questions for which the answers correspond so well with sounds that an ordinary dog makes. The man’s incredibly poor choice of questions prevented the dog from demonstrating his remarkable ability.
I repeat: What does this have to do with teaching statistics?! I suspect that my moral is abundantly clear at this point, but please allow me to summarize:
- To help our students learn, we need to ask good questions.
- To enable our students to demonstrate what they can do, we need to ask good questions.
- To empower our students to achieve their potential, we need to ask good questions.
I said in my very first post (see question #8 here) that these three words capture whatever wisdom I may have to offer for teachers of statistics: Ask good questions. I tried to provide many specific examples over the next 51 posts (here). That is the whole point of this blog. I think that’s how we teachers should focus most of our time, effort, and creativity. Whenever I start to forget this, for example when I momentarily succumb to the temptation to believe that it’s more important to master intricacies of Canvas or Zoom or Powerpoint or Camtasia or Flipgrid or Discord or LockDown Browser or Github or even R, I remember the moral of a silly old joke.
P.S. My professional leave for the 2019-2020 academic year has come to an end, and I am preparing to return to my full-time teaching role*. I’m hoping to find time to resume writing weekly blog posts, because I greatly enjoy this and hope that these essays have some value. But I won’t have nearly as much time to devote to blogging for the next nine months, so I’ll need to make the essays shorter or fewer. Please stick around, and we’ll see how it goes. For the month of September, I ask for your indulgence as I write some short and unusual blog posts that are less directly applicable to teaching statistics than my typical essays. As always, thanks very much for reading!
* Our fall classes at Cal Poly will begin on Monday, September 14. I’ll be teaching online for the first time in my 30+-year career. Wish me luck!
P.P.S. Thanks to Julie Clark for providing a photo of her dog Tukey. As far as I know, this Tukey cannot talk, but I would not bet against him being able to draw boxplots.