Outwitting the Devil: Napolean Hill’s Suggestions for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

A few days ago I was strolling through Em Quartier’s sprawling Kinokuniya book store in the heart of Bangkok. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular since I was already reading through three books simultaneously. I was just looking for anything that would catch my eye.

And then, something did.

On my way out of the store, I glanced over at the Special Offers shelf. I saw ‘Napolean Hill’ sprawled over the cover of what looked like a very unusually entitled book: ‘Outwitting the Devil’.


I finished the book in two days. It absolutely amazed me.

From the depths of despair

Napolean Hill sets the scene in his book by describing the recent pain, suffering and dread he was going through. He describes being totally broke after making a number of unwise decisions to leave behind businesses he had started. His interview with the Devil starts at his second peak of total despair in his life – totally out of money, sat in front of the Lincoln monument wondering what to do with his life.

Napolean Hill makes it very clear in his book that he really believes that the Devil came to him at his lowest point and answered his questions.

The entire interview was produced in manuscript form in 1938, but the entire Hill family were so concerned about the way it would be received by the churches, the education system and society as a whole, that they decided to keep it locked away.

The final book was published in 2011, and contains some very radical thoughts on education. Here are the three that resonated with me the most:

1. Reverse the present system by giving children the privilege of leading in their school work instead of following orthodox rules designed only to impart abstract knowledge. Let instructors serve as students and let the students serve as instructors.

card games

In my article on differentiation, I describe a great technique for getting individual students creatively involved. The technique is talked ‘teen teachers’, and involves getting students to teach a sub-topic or topic every now and again to the whole class. Oftentimes this is done as a revision aid, rather than a way to introduce new knowledge to a class. 

Surely we can’t trust students to teach themselves! 

Or can we? 

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book! A must-read for all teachers!”

Hill’s Devil seems to imply by this quote that students should be involved in the curriculum design and then decide how to teach it, with the teacher being a stimulator of ideas, facilitator and behaviour manager. 

Thankfully, we are seeing a move in this direction in a number of schools, especially with respect to getting students to be more involved in teaching themselves (the use of instructional software and project based learning for the International Baccalaureate come to mind). However, we’ve yet to see massive strides take place in the area of student-led curriculum design. Is this a good idea? 

Certainly, students would learn tremendously important skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, creative design and leadership qualities; all of which are vital in business and management fields. But how would all of this be assessed? Does it need to be assessed? 

2. Ideas are the beginning of all human achievement. Teach
all students how to recognize practical ideas that may be of benefit in helping them acquire whatever they demand of life.

different words

The Devil makes the point time and again in the interview that successful people always have definiteness of plan combined with definiteness of purpose. 

When one has goals in mind and works towards those goals every day, ideas naturally come along in the process. These ideas should be written down in some fashion and pondered, say on a weekly basis, to determine which ones are valid and reasonable to implement towards the pursuit of those goals. 

How many students leave school actually knowing this stuff? How many kids have no clue what they want to do with their lives at age 18? 

All too often we quickly suggest that a clueless 18-year-old is just young and inexperienced and it’s perfectly normal and fine to not know where you want to go in life at this age. 

Napoleon Hill disagrees.

He argues that people without goals are ‘drifters’ – shaped by the circumstances they find themselves in rather than shaping those circumstances with their thoughts. 

How much goal setting actually takes place in schools these days? I’m not talking about ‘I’d like to get a grade C in maths’ goals, I’m talking about ambitious, long-term, life-shaping goals that are truly inspirational. 

3. Teach the student the basic motives by which all people are influenced and show how to use these motives in acquiring the necessities and the luxuries of life.

walking around wt laptop.jpg

Since a young age, I’ve wondered why human psychology, conflict resolution, and human relations aren’t taught in any great detail in today’s schools. 

Surely these are vital skills, right? 

What’s more important at the end of 15 years of schooling – knowing how to perform Integration by Parts or understanding how to negotiate with people? 

We hear the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” all the time, but how is this ever reinforced in the education system? 

Hill makes a valid point that knowledge of common courtesy, respect (for yourself and others) and good communication skills form the fabric and fiber of every successful person on the planet. 

Surely our students need to know this, right? 

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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